I’ve been told (by those who have experienced both life-changing events) that there are some surprising similarities between writing a book and giving birth to a child: The process can often be painful, messy, and even a little embarrassing. But there is great joy in the end. Because of this, I like to offer a Rosary on Fridays for my authors.
In his book Forgiveness Makes You Free, Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga (RIP) writes about the “rosary of my life,” identifying five painful moments from his own life that he continually offered back to God (see pages 10-15). His early memories of his parents, both of whom were killed at different stages of the genocide, were recollected in these mysteries.
As writers, we can take a cue from Fr. Ubald and use the Rosary as a tool to identify the moments of our lives that have shaped us, and to see even the painful moments of our lives as therapeutic and spiritually enriching.
So let me begin by asking you: If you were to write your own mysteries, what five events would they include?
I recently hired someone to redesign my website in preparation for the launch of my new book with Ave, The Ave Prayer Book for Catholic Mothers (October 2021). It’s all very exciting and believe me, you will be hearing more about it … but today I want to tell you about a different book. (More of a booklet, really.)
The 40 Day Marriage Adventure will be made available in the next few weeks — I created the booklet from a series of Lenten posts from 2012 — as a daily prayer exercise you can do on your own or with your spouse to give your marriage a “faith lift”. Each day begins with the “Prayer of Abandonment” by Bl. Charles de Foucauld, which was gifted to me by one of my seminary professors who told me, “If you want to transform yourself, pray this every day. If you want to transform your marriage, say it to your HUSBAND.”
He was right about the first part. This prayer has been a tremendous blessing to me, especially during those times when life became overly stressful and I caught myself resorting to the kind of controlling behavior that tends to backfire in a big way. So … if you’re interested in getting the download, hang in there. It should be available soon.
In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about Blessed Charles (who I understand is on the fast track to being declared a saint, fingers crossed), you can also check out a beautiful website on this desert saint by Fr. Lenny Tighe, a retired priest from Boston who has been promoting the life and message of Brother Charles in the U.S. for many years. He has prayer cards in English and Spanish available. He writes,
“I have been promoting the life and message of Charles de Foucauld in the US for many years. I am humbly called ‘all things Charles de Foucauld,’ and I have given out thousands of prayer cards of the Abandonment Prayer.” He also has a Facebook group on this saint.
This morning I cracked open my brand-new Ave Catholic Note-Taking Bible, wondering what God might have to say to me as I begin a new work day. Craig is in Portland on a business trip with his brother, and though he called me last night to tell me they had arrived safely, I couldn’t shake the sense of dread I felt about them flying in his brother’s jet. Small planes terrify me, and the thought of two sixty-something brothers cavorting in the clouds does not ease my mind one iota. I am not prepared to let my husband fly away to glory. Not yet.
Before he left, Craig and I talked about someone who would be going on that same trip, that same plane, someone whose destructive life choices had fractured his family. I had reminded Craig of the great lengths God will go to at times to get our attention, to get us to turn back to him. “We need to just keep praying,” I said to Craig. “That God will get his attention somehow.”
So … imagine my horror to open the Bible this morning and read…
Truly no man can ransom himself, or give to God the price of his life,
for the ransom of his life is costly, and can never suffice,
that he should continue to live on for ever, and never see the Pit.
Yes, he shall see that even the wise die,
the fool and the stupid alike must perish
and leave their wealth to others…. .
The thought came to me: What would I be willing to sacrifice for this person to turn back to God? Would I be willing to trust God to do whatever it takes … no matter what?
The answer is “I don’t know.” I hope and pray God doesn’t require that of me, and that Craig will fly back and return to me unharmed. But at that moment all I could think of were my self-righteous words yesterday, and how God must have heard them and decided I needed a lesson in compassion. How quick I was to wish folly on another human being (in the guise of “spiritual awakening”) so long as it didn’t cost me anything, and all I had to do was sit back and wait for the fireworks.
But this morning I was reminded: redemption always comes at a cost. And very often, that cost may be the one thing we hold most dear. Am I willing — as Abram was willing — to trust him by putting my all on the altar?
I love hearing people’s prayer stories — how they put their faith on the line with Jesus (or, in some cases, with his mother, who is also a powerful pray-er. Kind of like my mother). And somehow, their prayers were answered, often above and beyond what they originally asked.
Now, God is not some great Bubblegum Ball Machine in the Sky. You can’t force his hand with selfish demands, like a petulant teenager. “Okay, God, either you give me ____ or I won’t speak to you again” won’t wash with the Almighty. Or his mother.
But God is a patient Father — a patient adoptive father at that. He knows that the bonds of trust take time to build, and that they will be tested. And so, he often goes the extra mile for those who come from hard places, who are looking for him to connect with them in sincereity and truth.
And when those answers come … those, my friend, are #PrayerStories.
Let me give you two such stories, one of which I told recently on Fr. Edward Looney’s podcast “How They Love Mary.” He had invited me to come and talk about my friend Fr. Ubald (+), and what it was like to help him write his book Forgiveness Makes You Free. I confessed that the first time I met Fr. Ubald, I was a little weirded out. It was at a WINE pre-conference gathering, and as I watched him usher in the Holy Spirit and saw several good Catholic women I knew “resting in the Spirit” on the floor … I panicked. I had seen this kind of thing as a Protestant, and had no idea Catholics sometimes prayed this way, too.
But my “inner nudge” told me to stay and be patient. And then I heard him tell the story of how he survived the Rwandan Genocide, in which more than a million people died in just 100 days, including thousands of his own family, friends, and parishioners. Miraculously, he survived … and spent the next 27 years working to bring peace to his country, and healing to the rest of the world. His healing gifts became so well known, in fact, that when he died of COVID-19 complications on January 7, 2021, at his funeral people were already asking how soon his cause would be open.
A little selfishly, I had an entirely different question. Which brings me to my second #PrayerStory: For as long as I’ve known him, I’ve asked Fr. Ubald to pray for my daughter’s healing. When we foster-adopted Sarah and her brother in 2005, we had no idea what a long, hard road was ahead. But now her Bipolar II symptoms, combined with other disabilities, make her future uncertain. So at the wake I approached his casket, touched my rosary to his hands, and said, “Okay, Fr. Ubald. Now you’ve got God’s ear. Pray for my daughter. Ask God to heal her.”
It’s a #PrayerStory I’m longing to tell — and one I suspect I’ll be telling for a very long time. Because very often healings don’t take place instantly, or in the way we expect. Some healings take a lifetime of incremental infusions of grace.
The first thing you’d notice was not his collar, but his smile. Despite the great sorrows he had experienced — or perhaps because of them — Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga was full of joy. I think that this joy was actually a source and sign of his healing gift, for both things emanated from the same place: an unshakable trust in the God who never failed him.
Not when he lost first his father, then his brother and mother and dozens of members of his own family, in the genocide against the Tutsi people.
Not when his own parishioners cast him out of the parish he had served faithfully for ten years … and went on to slaughter thousands of their brothers and sisters in a matter of days.
Not when thousands of people pressed him from every side, desperate for healing. It happened everywhere he went — from the big diocesan cathedrals to tiny country parishes here in the US, to churches across his homeland in Rwanda, and especially at the Center for the Secret of Peace, which he labored so hard to build as a testimony to the power of forgiveness in the heart of a nation. (Something we need so desperately today.)
Sadly, I had not been in touch with Fr. Ubald for some time before he died; like many authors, his friendship was a gift to me for a time. Now that he has gone to his reward, I can only look back on those beautiful days and thank God for what he taught me about being willing to let go of anything that does not keep us in the presence of the Father. And how the willingness to forgive and to be forgiven is the first and more important step to finding healing for our deepest, most painful wounds of body and spirit.
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.
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.
These sober words were recorded by Dorothy’s granddaughter in a 2017 issue of Americamagazine, 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.
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.
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!
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.”