31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 23: Sense the Mysteries

child in churchDo you ever tire of the Catholic “mommy wars” over proper parenting at Mass? Cry room vs. front row pew; pro-breastfeeding vs. anti-Cheerios; attending as a family vs. letting each spouse go separately. The only subjects more likely to get fur flying are head-coverings or Marty Haugen. Or maybe pants, eh Simcha?

Now that my children are young teens, part of me actually misses going to Mass when they were younger. Sarah would sit on my hip and sing her version of the hymns (“Amazing grapes…”), while Chris would remind me to listen for the angels when the priest raised up the Eucharist. (I had told them that their guardian angels wanted to join the other angels in heaven at the consecration, but if they were naughty, they would have to stay behind, and would be most put-out.)

One of the most wonderful parts of parenting is being able to experience, vicariously, the wonder of the invisible world: God and angels and saints and heaven … and electricity and Tooth Fairies and Mommy Magic and microwave popcorn and musicals and Mozart. So much of life is conducted behind the scenes, like the miles of tunnels beneath Disney World. Gifts and serendipitous moments are as much a part of life as bedtimes and vaccines. Through our children, we learn that if we spend too much time focused on the minutiae, we lose the sense of wonder, and deplete our own joy.

So … just for today, lets give the taskmaster the day off, and take some time to sense the mysteries and remind ourselves of the innate goodness of life.

*  The explosion of a vine-ripened tomato in a mouthful of garden salad

*  The heady aroma of home-baked bread and the simmer of soup.

*  The gentle flickering of a votive lit in a countryside chapel.

*  The crunch of compacted snow frosted with a shiny veneer of ice.

In these moments, time stands still and we catch a glimpse — however fleeting — of life as it was meant to be lived, experienced, and reveled in. These sweet mysteries whisper of the destiny of all human beings: Not constrained by obligation and responsibilities, but liberated to experience life at its transcendent best.

 

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31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 13: Help Someone

quilting-beeWhen your “to do” list spills onto a second or even a third page, the last thing you want is to add to it. So why on earth is today’s tip about going out of your way to take a line item off someone else’s list?

Hear me out on this one.

Isolation breeds stress. So does self-centeredness. It’s unnatural — we were created to be social (yes, even the introverts). In the pioneer days, women gathered to make quilts and can crops and do all sorts of back-breaking and eye-straining chores (have you ever tried to hand-stitch a quilt?) . . . not because they were incapable of doing a good job on their own, but because it presented an opportunity to get out and connect with other women.

We could learn a lot from our pioneer sisters. If we wait until we have spare time to connect, we miss out on a great gift. Authentic friendship shows itself not at the tea parties, but when it’s time to move or paint a room or check for lice (especially when your own head starts to itch …).

How’s that for a theme party, the next time there’s an outbreak in your child’s class: tapas and tea tree oil?

So … how to find those moments to connect? It starts by listening. The next time you’re sitting on a park bench, at a book club or church meeting, or waiting to pick your child up from CCD, listen for those cues.

  • “You’re painting your daughter’s room this weekend? I always have a tough time getting the lines straight … Why don’t we let our kids play for an hour or two this weekend, and I can help you paint the walls while you teach me a few tricks about doing the corners?”
  • “Are you having a First Communion get together, too? You make such great cakes. Would you be willing to show me how you decorate, if I bake cakes for both of us?”
  • And yes, “Great. Another ‘lice outbreak’ email to parents today. My kid hates these combing sessions … How about we get them together to watch a video, while we check them? I’ll bring the wine.”

Sure, it’s a little more effort . . . but, who knows? Maybe you’ll make a friend, and learn something in the process.

Photo credit: “Quilting Bee” by Lynde Mott at LDS Art.

 

“Mothering Without a Map”: A Book Whisperer Review

Book WhispererEven those who have a great relationship with their own mothers can appreciate how the mother-daughter bond colors the way they parent their own children. Suddenly and without warning, we begin channeling our own childhood soundtrack in recipes, songs, and other traditions — for better or worse (“Because I SAID so…”).

In Mothering Without a Map: The Search for the Good Mother Within, journalist Kathryn Black recounts the experiences of dozens of women who struggle to become the best version of themselves as they take on the life-changing challenge of motherhood.

motheringRaised by her grandmother after her own mother’s death, Black writes about the loss of mothers in her chapter entitled “Ghosts.” Having two children who experienced the trauma and loss of their first mother, the subject of attachment — how they attach to us, their adoptive parents, and we to them — is an ongoing topic of interest. In MWAM, Black references the research of psychologist Mary Main, who identifies attachment “types” in order to address the ways adults pass along their childhood experiences (including traumas) onto their own children through dismissiveness, preoccupation, or secure autonomy.

“Other researchers found that being able to reflect clearly on [how they treat their own children] wasn’t related to personality, self-esteem, intelligence, education or other social, economic, or demographic factors. What distinguishes the autonomous adults is that they understand themselves and others and can relate a coherent narrative about their pasts.”

If you’ve ever wondered if unresolved issues with your own mother is having a negative affect on your ability to connect with your own children, this book might help you to identify those areas in need of healing. Although the author does not address the need for forgiveness from an explicitly Christian perspective, she does offer the reassurance that “one doesn’t have to have had a good mother to become one,” and how even “wounded daughters” can indeed become “healing mothers.”

31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 8: Choose Contentment

sarah 2006One of the best things about being a blogger is being able to go back several years and read with a degree of amused detachment what my life was like … oh, about seven years ago.

School starts up again next week, and not a moment too soon. Take today, for instance. I spent the morning with Sarah, scrubbing toothpaste off the carpet and walls (don’t ask). Shortly after lunch, I was loading the dishwasher when a commotion started in the bathroom. Someone had decided to see how far a glass of water would spread on the bathroom floor. To make the game a little more fun, they added a liberal dash of red food coloring to the cup. Then they frantically emptied the dryer (whites, of course) to cover up the mess.

Long story short, everything we own is now pink.

Clearly, the kids needed a little physical activity, so we went outside for a quick dip in the pool. Sarah began to shiver, so when they were both safely out of the pool I ran to get a large towel … and stepped on an inch-long piece of glass. Someone had dropped my candy thermometer, and decided not to tell me about it. I lifted the offended foot to assess the damage … and promptly injured the other foot on another shard.

That did it. After bleeding all over the house on my way to find a suitable bandage, I picked up the phone and called my darling husband, the one person in the world I can always count on for kindness and concern. His response to my request that he come home ASAP? “Gee, honey. Urgent care is a bit expensive … do you think you can hold out until tomorrow, and see your regular doctor for the tetanus shot?”

Yes, folks, I’m ready to turn in my “Mom” badge.

Okay, Heidi. Breathe. That’s what I want to tell the old me. Just wait … you will have bigger messes to clean up, and if you lose your sense of humor now, you won’t have it when you really need it. Now, go bandage up your foot and make another dino jungle on “Painter” with your artistically inclined five-year-old. You’ll be glad you did.

In one of my all-time favorite books, Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegone Days, the author observes, “Some luck lies not in getting what you thought you wanted, but in wanting what you have. Which, if you are smart enough, you will discover it is what you would have wanted all along, if you had only known.”

Contentment is the half-sibling of her cheery sister thankfulness. On the bleakest days, when “thankful” is too much to muster, “contentment” can be more manageable — in any circumstances. Hands open, rather than clenched.

Try this little exercise the next time you feel you’re losing equilibrium — such as when your little darling dumps the red sock in the whites. Gently place your hands on his face, cupping his cheeks in your hands (again, gently), and say quietly, “It won’t always be like this. What are you trying to teach me here, God? I choose in this moment to look for you.”

31 Days to De-Stessed Living, Day 7: Be Thankful

vegetable lasagneWhen was the last time you were thankful for the body God gave you? Now that I’m staring fifty squarely in the path ahead, I can see the wisdom of teen fiction author Melody Carlson, who laments:

Instead of thanking God for my two strong legs that are able to run and jump and climb, I whined about my ‘thunder thighs’ and ‘thick’ ankles. Instead of rejoicing that I have two capable arms that can lift and carry and balance my body, I complained about the flab that hung beneath them.

I have been totally and unbelievably ungrateful for everything. Like a completely spoiled brat, I took my healthy body for granted. I criticized it and despised it. With crystal clarity, I know that I do not deserve the good health that God has mysteriously blessed me with. Not only have I been unappreciative of my body and its amazing working parts, I tortured it by over-exercising, and I put my entire health at serious risk by starving myself.

What on earth was wrong with me? As I watch these kids with their less-than-perfect bodies, I feel so thoroughly ashamed of myself. I mean, how could I have been so stupid and shallow and self-centered?

Melody Carlson in Faded Denim: Color Me Trapped

Okay, so if the truth were known, I tend toward the opposite end of the “starve myself and over-exercise” spectrum. Stress eating and vegging in front of the television at night, when I’m feeling depleted from the day (with a Supersized glass of wine for good measure) is one of my guiltiest pleasures. (Especially when I watch the physically-fit au pair head to the basement for a session with the treadmill.)

So starting today, I choose thankfulness. Thank you, God, for my strong body and active mind. Thank you even for the flab and puckers, the treadmarks of the soul that remind me of the goodness you have poured into my life every single day. Amen.

Photo: “Veggie Lasagna,” which I make for our vegetarian au pair. This year I’ve eaten more vegetables, thanks to her, than in the previous fifty years of my life. Sadly, this does not impress the love handles, who stay firmly entrenched.

Heart of a . . . Spinster?

RNS-INAUGURAL-MASSIn recent news, Pope Francis is widely being reported as having called a group of 800 women religious “spinsters” and “old maids.” Predictably, the secular media excoriated the pope for insulting and demeaning the sisters. (One might have thought that their response — peals of laughter, rather than collectively throwing their rosaries at him — might have given the media a clue that something else was going on here.) CNS gives us the bigger picture here:

In his talk to the women, Pope Francis said their vow of chastity expands their ability to give themselves to God and to others “with the tenderness, mercy and closeness of Christ.”

However, “please, let it be a fruitful chastity, a chastity that generates sons and daughters in the church. The consecrated woman is a mother, must be a mother and not a spinster,” he said. While the sisters were laughing at his use of a very colloquial Italian word for “spinster” or “old maid,” he added: “Forgive me for speaking this way, but the motherhood of consecrated life, its fertility, is important.”

Spiritual motherhood, in other words, is about bearing and nurturing life with a focus that is outward rather than inward, on the good of others instead of one’s personal ambitions.

I don’t know about you, but I believe this particular challenge is an important one for wives and mothers as well. In the work God gives us to do, how often do we resort to a “spinsterish” heart — closed, unwelcoming, cold? When a child reaches out for me, and messes with my carefully constructed plans about what the day should bring, do I respond with the heart of a mother, or a spinster?

I hate to admit it, but I still have far to go in releasing my “old maid ways.”

Thanks for the reminder, dear Father!

Mommy Love: Guest Post from Sarah Reinhard (The Love Project, Day 11)

Sarah ReinhardToday’s guest post is from one of my favorite “mommy bloggers,” Sarah Reinhard, who is also celebrating her birthday today — happy day, sweetie! And thanks for sharing a snippet from your newest brainchild — a wonderful resource for pregnant moms.

I had a few years of enjoying young children in the form of younger siblings and nieces and nephews before I was married and started having my own. I thought I was ready for the reality of children saying the darndest things.

Nothing, though, could have prepared me for the hilarity—and heartbreak—I have experienced as a mom. From my children’s mouths I’ve heard tender expressions of love but also explosions of anger. They’ve made observations that have lifted my spirits and others that have cut me to the quick.

When Mary and Joseph find Jesus after three days of searching for him (see Lk 2:42–51), they must have had some heat in their words to him. Maybe I’m projecting a bit, but maybe worry is, to some extent, a natural reaction of parents to the experience of losing a child in a crowd or a store.

What I learn from this mystery is how the story continues with him going home and being obedient, even in the face of what seems to be a smart-aleck remark from Jesus—”Didn’t you know where I’d be?” This seems like it would be a prime time to uphold parental authority, but in the silence, I find a lesson in humility.

Jesus was in the Temple all along, though his parents didn’t know it and had to search for him. Their inability to find him didn’t change where he was the entire time.

In the Temple, Jesus was listening and asking questions much like a typical twelve-year-old. Yet he was anything but typical. I find comfort, though, in the idea that he wasn’t born with all the knowledge he needed. In this way, his humanity is expressed in this mystery, as is the quandary of his parents: do they punish him after this or are they so glad to find him that they just let him off the hook?

In this mystery, we can find ourselves at Jesus’s feet, asking for the guidance to be the kind of parent he’s calling us to be. Though it’s early in the journey of parenting this particular child, we don’t have to wait to ask to be able to cooperate with the graces God sends our way in our parenting journey.

This excerpt is from A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism, by Sarah Reinhard and is used with the author’s permission. Find out more about Sarah and her writing at SnoringScholar.com.