When God’s Will Hurts

Today I am sitting at a desk that used to be my home-away-from-home three years ago, when I worked for this company full time. I’m here to attend a Christmas party before going to pick up my mom from her daycare facility.

nativity-447767About an hour ago, I was standing outside in the cold, unable to get into the building because — as a contract employee — I had no way to access the building. No keypad code. No card. For the first time, I felt the full weight of what it means to be a contract employee. This was reinforced when someone finally let me in — through the delivery door. (I should point out that this was doubtless not the intention — it was simply that everyone was gathered for the meeting. Most days, I really love the arrangement. It was just unfortunate timing!)

Sitting here at the desk, I ask myself why this bothers me so much. Last week when I found out my application to become an employee again had been passed over in favor of someone else, my immediate reaction (and my reaction for several days after that) was relief. This meant I could keep working from home, and could have a flexible schedule. I was confident that this was the hand of God, arranging everything in the best interest of all his children.

It was just today, standing out in the cold and waiting for someone to see me, that I felt another, darker side: as a contract worker, I don’t really belong, not like I used to. And in that moment, I realized something else: that sometimes following the will of God — even when you know in your head it is the right way — can sting. When Simeon saw Mary in the Temple, holding the infant Jesus, his words to her were a dire warning: “a sword shall pierce your heart.” She had surrendered unconditionally to the will of God.

Still, she had been warned, the way will not always be lined with palm branches and dancing shepherds. One day, that way will involve a cross. One day, she will feel like an outsider — out in the cold, people staring, judging, pitying. She will be the mother of a criminal executed in the most horrific way possible. She will be an outcast by association.

And so, my friends, will you. Because following God’s will always entails a cross. Jesus promised it: “If anyone comes after me, let him take up his cross daily and follow me.”

That wood that once shaped a manger, is the same substance that shaped a cross. And the way that God calls us to follow from the moment of baptism, and again at confirmation … will entail the sufferings that are necessary for us to grow in perfect love.

Mary, Queen of Sorrows, pray for us.

 

 

 

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The Book Whisperer: On Parenting a Grieving Child and Inside Out

Book Whisperer

Grief takes many forms at different stages of a child’s life. I was reminded of this recently when Sarah and I went to the recent Pixar release, Inside Out, which gave us a memorable glimpse into the mind of such a child, and reminds us that grief doesn’t always involve visible tears.

[Inside Out: SPOILER ALERT] In one scene near the end of the movie, ten-year-old Riley has this exchange with her parents after her foiled attempt to run away back to Minnesota.

Riley: I… I know you don’t want me to, but I miss home. I miss Minnesota. You need me to be happy, but I want my old friend, and my hockey team. I wanna go home. Please don’t be mad.

[Riley’s mother and father stare sadly at their daughter]

Mom: Oh, sweetie…

Dad: Were not mad. You know what? I miss Minnesota too. I miss the woods where we took hikes.

Mom: And the backyard where we used to play.

Dad: Spring Lake, where you used to skate.

[Riley breaks down in tears]

Dad: Come here.

[Riley, her mother, and her father all embrace in a group hug, consoling Riley]

With adoption, this grief (a component of trauma) is not something the child can often process so neatly or definitively. In Parenting a Grieving Child (Revised Edition), Mary DeTurris Poust reminds parents that the intruding and often overwhelming feelings of grief and loss affect children differently at each stage of development. From tuning out to hyperactivity to snarking to fear of separation to self-harming, each sign of grief needs a different kind of gentle parental intervention and understanding.  Parenting a Grieving Child Revised

Gregory Flloyd’s daughter Rose, who was four when her brother John Paul died, came down to breakfast the day after his funeral and asked, “Where’s Johnny?”

“That just threw us across the room mentally. You wonder, How could she not get this? We weren’t mad at her, but it was simply amazing,” Gregory says. “She watched his coffin go into the ground yesterday, and she’s wondering where he is. I think that this is the mercy of God because I think the Lord draws a veil and lifts that veil a bit at a time according to what the children are intellectually and emotionally capable of dealing with.” (Parenting the Grieving Child, Revised Edition, by Mary DeTurris Poust, p.53-54).

This severe mercy of grief’s internal “pressure valve” is something foster and adoptive parents frequently encounter. If you are experiencing it right now, this Catholic guide to childhood grief offers simple, practical steps to help you navigate this valley of the shadow.

Lord Jesus, you grew up without ever laying eyes on your Father. Though Mary and Joseph were a constant loving presence, still that longing must have burned in your heart at times. Please pour out your grace upon my struggling child. Give me patience and gentleness, and the wisdom to “weep with those who weep.” Even when that weeping looks a lot like snark. Amen.

The Long-Distance Daughter

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALosing a parent is never easy. All the steps leading up to that moment, whether sudden onset or gradual decline, and whether physical or mental or both, bring their own set of challenges for those who are close enough to assist. But these past few weeks I’ve discovered that being the “long-distance daughter” is its own kind of hell.

Often there aren’t any good options. Drop everything and go? Maybe — of course, it may be only a temporary (and costly) solution to what is likely to be a long-term need. Meanwhile, jobs and kids and responsibilities pile up relentlessly. Airplane tickets cost money, and driving may not be practical.

Stay in touch by phone, praying, and wait for a call to come? Sometimes that is the only thing to do … still (and this may be the “oldest child” in me talking) it’s hard not to feel guilty about leaving the heavy lifting to siblings who have equally busy lives and equally limited resources.

Years ago, I remember my mother commenting how hard it was for her, as the oldest daughter, when her mother chose to move in with her granddaughter, my cousin. Mom felt that she should be the one to tend to her mother’s needs, and make her mother’s last days as comfortable as possible. Yet in the end, Mom’s role was one of welcome visitor, rather than care-taker. It was a painful, but unavoidable, reality: She was the firstborn, but not the one to whom her mother reached out for help.

Rationally, she may have understood why things turned out the way they did, just as I see the logic of my own parents’ choices: It makes sense to have the daughter with a financial background manage the finances, the daughter in closest proximity to handle the medical decisions, and the daughter who is an advocate in her professional life to advocate for my mother’s needs where she is. It is also true that, even if I were the best person for the job, I have real limitations due to the needs of my own family, not to mention the eight hundred miles between us.

Even so, I have to say, it stinks to be the long-distance daughter. With all the engrained sense of responsibility of being the oldest, it’s hard not to be self-incriminating and reproachful. And yet, having watched my own mother walk this particular path, I have witnessed some of the landmines. Resentment. Anger. Helplessness. Pettiness. Fear. Did I mention resentment?

And then, the greatest bugaboo of all: plain, interminable grief. She has not died, though she is no longer herself. A dying of a different kind.

Have you ever been a long-distance daughter? How did you get through it? What did you find helpful?

when mercy moves

easter-breadThis Sunday Sarah and I sat in the choir loft, where Craig was holding court in the bass section. It was going to be the last time he was able to sing in the choir before we move to our new home in Phoenixville. And though he hadn’t been singing with them for more than a year, it was clearly a struggle for him to let go. To leave. To start over.

Me, not so much. Truth is, I have a bit of gypsy in my blood. A kind of restlessness creeps in as the time gets closer for the new adventure. The boxes packed, the electric bill switched, the new house leased. A rush of excitement as I think about being able to unpack all our things that have been languishing in temporary storage.

And yet, as we drive home I cannot help but feel the weight in the car. “Moving stinks,” Sarah volunteers. Craig grunts. I recount all the wonderful things in store: the new au pair who is coming from Germany. The park with swings in our backyard. The big deck for summer barbecues. The beautiful new school we get to visit early in May. And yes, the new parish that has both an adult and children’s choir. Good things, all of them.

Still, the silence. And in that moment, I realize: Those strains of mercy needed most, are those we dispense when we are least disposed to grant it. In the classic work The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis spoke of the Shining Ones who retrace their steps back down the mountain to meet the bus with those from the Gray Town. The grass cuts the feet of those phantom spirits. And yet the Shining Ones urge them farther and higher.

At Easter we remember those whose worlds are touched with gray, that the Spirit would make our joy contagious.

The Priest Who Loved Me, Part II (The Love Project, Day 31)

Today as part of the Love Project, I wanted to reprise an article I wrote several years ago upon the death of another great priest, whose humble service made an indelible mark upon my life. I miss you, Father Roger.

Memorial Day Weekend is a family holiday at the Saxton House. Four years ago this weekend, Chris and Sarah were welcomed into our family through adoption . . . and into God’s family, through baptism.

We always try to spend as much time as possible together, enjoying each other, on these weekends. And yet this weekend, I confess there is a bit of a pall over our festivities. Yesterday a dear friend of ours passed away — Father Roger Prokop. I wrote a little about him at Mommy Monsters.

Today’s Gospel, then, speaks very clearly to me today, from John 16:

“For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me
and have come to believe that I came from God.
I came from the Father and have come into the world.
Now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”

I wonder how the apostles felt when Jesus said this to them. Did they know just how little time Jesus had left? Did they contemplate what life would be like without Him? Did they suspect, even momentarily, that they would experience such profound spiritual intimacy with the Eternal One? Or did they simply get caught up in their dread and grief?

It’s been four years now since the Saxton Family became the Saxton Family. It’s been longer than that since Father Roger and I saw each other with any kind of regularity — we joined a parish close to our new home shortly after the kids arrived. And yet, I miss him. I know that, even now, he continues to pray for us — even as we pray for him.

Other priests — good men, all of them — have become a part of our lives. But Father Roger will always hold a special place in my heart. His life was to me a living reminder of the God who loves His children, no matter how far away they move.  Rest in peace, dear friend. 

Today’s Love in Action: Today please remember all those faithful men of God who have gone to their eternal reward. Thank God for how their spiritual fatherhood affected your life.

When a Loved One Dies: “Say His Name” (The Love Project, Day 14)

ol sorrowsToday at HuffPosts Parents I came across this poignant article by Jackie Moore, on how she survived the death of her 19-year-old son, by following the example and advice of her father. She writes:

Daddy’s words to me were simple and direct: “Don’t stop talking about him. You say his name everyday.” I’m not sure if I would have taken such direct advice from just anyone, but I knew my father’s experiences with loss. Daddy’s advice was him speaking what he had lived. The way I knew about my aunts, uncles and paternal grandparents was because Daddy didn’t stop talking about them. He said their names and his eyes lit up with the memories they invoked.

Every time I called him in the weeks and months after Jordan died, sometimes barely able to speak because I couldn’t catch my breath from crying, he would calm me, soothe me, always telling me he wished he could take some of the pain away. He never failed to remind me of his feeling that holding in my grief would make me sick. Then he would ask, “Are you talking about Jordan? You make sure you keep talking about him.” I always told him, “Yes, we talk about him everyday.”

To read the whole article, click here.

Today’s Love in Action: Do you know someone who has lost a loved one? Encourage that person to tell you a story of her loved one’s life. In that way, you will walk alongside your friend and share her burden, if only momentarily.

Married or Not, Please Read This (The Love Project, Day 6)

11891-Two-Entwined-Golden-Wedding-Rings-Clipart-PictureIs your marriage struggling, or just not as golden as it once was? Today’s contribution may speak to you.
“When I got home that night as my wife served dinner, I held her hand and said, I’ve got something to tell you. She sat down and ate quietly. Again I observed the hurt in her eyes. Suddenly I didn’t know how to open my mouth. But I had to let her know what I was thinking.
I want a divorce. I raised the topic calmly. She didn’t seem to be annoyed by my words, instead she asked me softly, why? I avoided her question. This made her angry. She threw away the chopsticks and shouted at me, you are not a man!
That night, we didn’t talk to each other. She was weeping. I knew she wanted to find out what had happened to our marriage. But I could hardly give her a satisfactory answer; she had lost my heart to Jane. I didn’t love her anymore. I just pitied her!
With a deep sense of guilt, I drafted a divorce agreement which stated that she could own our house, our car, and 30% stake of my company. She glanced at it and then tore it into pieces. The woman who had spent ten years of her life with me had become a stranger. I felt sorry for her wasted time, resources and energy but I could not take back what I had said, for I loved Jane so dearly.
Finally she cried loudly in front of me, which was what I had expected to see. To me her cry was actually a kind of release. The idea of divorce which had obsessed me for several weeks seemed to be firmer and clearer now.
The next day, I came back home very late and found her writing something at the table. I didn’t have supper but went straight to sleep and fell asleep very fast because I was tired after an eventful day with Jane. When I woke up, she was still there at the table writing. I just did not care so I turned over and was asleep again.
In the morning she presented her divorce conditions: she didn’t want anything from me, but needed a month’s notice before the divorce. She requested that in that one month we both struggle to live as normal a life as possible. Her reasons were simple: our son had his exams in a month’s time and she didn’t want to disrupt him with our broken marriage.
This was agreeable to me. But she had something more, she asked me to recall how I had carried her into out bridal room on our wedding day. She requested that every day for the month’s duration I carry her out of our bedroom to the front door every morning.
I thought she was going crazy.
Just to make our last days together bearable I accepted her odd request. I told Jane about my wife’s divorce conditions. . She laughed loudly and thought it was absurd. No matter what tricks she applies, she has to face the divorce, she said scornfully.
My wife and I hadn’t had any body contact since my divorce intention was explicitly expressed. So when I carried her out on the first day, we both appeared clumsy. Our son clapped behind us, “Daddy is holding mommy in his arms.” His words brought me a sense of pain. From the bedroom to the sitting room, then to the door, I walked over ten meters with her in my arms. She closed her eyes and said softly; don’t tell our son about the divorce. I nodded, feeling somewhat upset. I put her down outside the door. She went to wait for the bus to work. I drove alone to the office.
On the second day, both of us acted much more easily. She leaned on my chest. I could smell the fragrance of her blouse. I realized that I hadn’t looked at this woman carefully for a long time. I realized she was not young any more. There were fine wrinkles on her face, her hair was graying! Our marriage had taken its toll on her. For a minute I wondered what I had done to her.
On the fourth day, when I lifted her up, I felt a sense of intimacy returning. This was the woman who had given ten years of her life to me. On the fifth and sixth day, I realized that our sense of intimacy was growing again. I didn’t tell Jane about this. It became easier to carry her as the month slipped by. Perhaps the everyday workout made me stronger. She was choosing what to wear one morning. She tried on quite a few dresses but could not find a suitable one. Then she sighed, all my dresses have grown bigger. I suddenly realized that she had grown so thin, that was the reason why I could carry her more easily. Suddenly it hit me… she had buried so much pain and bitterness in her heart. Subconsciously I reached out and touched her head. Our son came in at the moment and said, “Dad, it’s time to carry mom out.” To him, seeing his father carrying his mother out had become an essential part of his life. My wife gestured to our son to come closer and hugged him tightly. I turned my face away because I was afraid I might change my mind at this last minute. I then held her in my arms, walking from the bedroom, through the sitting room, to the hallway. Her hand surrounded my neck softly and naturally. I held her body tightly; it was just like our wedding day. But her much lighter weight made me sad.
On the last day, when I held her in my arms I could hardly move a step. Our son had gone to school. I held her tightly and said, I hadn’t noticed that our life lacked intimacy. I drove to office…. jumped out of the car swiftly without locking the door. I was afraid any delay would make me change my mind…I walked upstairs. Jane opened the door and I said to her, Sorry, Jane, I do not want the divorce anymore. She looked at me, astonished, and then touched my forehead. “Do you have a fever?”
I moved her hand off my head. Sorry, Jane, I said, I won’t divorce. My marriage life was boring probably because she and I didn’t value the details of our lives, not because we didn’t love each other anymore. Now I realize that since I carried her into my home on our wedding day I am supposed to hold her until death do us apart.
Jane seemed to suddenly wake up. She gave me a loud slap and then slammed the door and burst into tears. I walked downstairs and drove away.
At the floral shop on the way, I ordered a bouquet of flowers for my wife. The salesgirl asked me what to write on the card. I smiled and wrote, I’ll carry you out every morning until death do us apart. That evening I arrived home, flowers in my hands, a smile on my face, I run up stairs, only to find my wife in the bed -dead. My wife had been fighting CANCER for months and I was so busy with Jane to even notice.
She knew that she would die soon and she wanted to save me from the whatever negative reaction from our son, in case we push through with the divorce.— At least, in the eyes of our son—- I’m a loving husband….
The small details of your lives are what really matter in a relationship. It is not the mansion, the car, property, the money in the bank. These create an environment conducive for happiness but cannot give happiness in themselves. So find time to be your spouse’s friend and do those little things for each other that build intimacy. If you are not in a relationship now, remember this for the second (or third) time around. It’s never too late. Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up. ♥
Today’s Love in Action. Are you thinking about getting a divorce? Before you do, consider taking the 40-Day Challenge . . . Or, if your spouse will join you, consider Retrouvaille.