Are We F-I-N-I-S-H-E-D Yet?

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Last night I found myself in the middle of a chaotic exchange between my teenage daughter, my elderly mother, and myself. My husband was gone, and both of them were unhappy with me for reasons that made no sense to me. (I chalked my daughter’s tantrum up to teenage hormones, my mother’s up to dementia. Mine, simply to the resentment of being squeezed into an impossible situation.) When will it end? I kept asking myself. When will the nonsense end?

It was tempting to hold a ginormous pity party for myself. Or simply to put my foot firmly down, and insist that it was “my way or the highway.” But what would that have done? It would have led to a stubborn standoff, each of us retreating to our separate spaces feeling resentful, bullied, and misunderstood. Instead I took a deep breath.

I think we need to lighten things up a bit — how about a game of Scrabble?” I pulled out the board I’d inherited from my maternal grandmother, a Scrabble shark if ever there was one. Mom’s eyes lit up … dementia or no, she can always give me a run for my money. And Sarah likes nothing more than to see her mother beaten, fair and square.

I drew my seven tiles, then made my play: d-a-r-n-e-d. Six letters, not bad. Double points.

I heard an intake of breath, then with slightly shaking hands my mom built on my final “d”: F-I-N-I-S-H-E-D. Using all her tiles, she put her score light-years ahead of mine. She caught my eye, the triumphant gleam unmistakable. “You’re FINISHED!” she crowed.

Not quite, Mom. But someday. Someday.

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“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.”

Going up . . . the gift of spiritual authority

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, when the Lord returned to heaven in his glorified body.  “All authority on heaven and earth has been given unto Me . . .  now go unto the whole world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them … and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Mt 28:16-20).

The gift of spiritual authority, passed from Jesus to his apostles and on to their successors, and the corresponding teaching/obeying dynamic that characterizes the spiritual relationship between pastors and their flock, can be a rare and wonderful thing.

Unfortunately, the idea of owing obedience to anyone is an increasingly foreign concept to most of us. Our parents obeyed their parents without question; as adults they deferred to authority figures such as pastors, teachers, and community leaders simply because of their position in society.

How that cultural paradigm has shifted!

Children regard authority figures with skepticism, even suspicion as their parents believe themselves to be their own final authority on everything from political sensibilities to personal ethics to moral values. “That might be right for you, but I don’t see it that way . . .” is irrefutable proof.   

The problem, of course, is that so long as we are our own plumbline, we can never know for sure when we are the ones who need to adjust our perspective. “Be ye not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . .” We hear it in church or read it in quiet time, and never stop to consider the possibility of just how, precisely, we are to know what parts of us are still in need of personal transformation.

It’s easy to see the flaws and frailties of those around us, and know instinctively how much better off they would be if they would only change, how much better off we all would be if they would just have a “come to Jesus” moment and turn their lives over to God.  And so we pray, and ask for divine intervention.

And all the while it is our own hearts that are most in need of transformation. That person has been placed in our lives precisely because  God wanted to show us just how far from perfection we can be. Today in his homily the priest told a story about a father whose son was severely developmentally disabled, who somehow got a place on the school baseball team. At one game the team was losing so badly that the coach told the father he would put his son up to bat at the end of the inning.

When it was time for the boy to face the pitcher, the team was down three runs. They needed a homerun to win the game. The kid swung, and missed. Then a teammate came up behind him, and helped him hit. For some unfathomable reason, the other team purposely let him get on first base, then the next and the next. This small, spastic kid won the game. “Sometimes I get mad, and I ask God how he can be ‘perfect,’ and still create someone like my son,” admitted the father. “But in that moment, I realize that with his life, he was creating that perfection in other people — because of how they responded to him, they were given a chance to be more perfect than they otherwise would be.”

Who is that person in your life? That emotionally stunted, morally obtuse, intellectually clueless individual whose very existence causes your innards to twist?  Someone . . . whom God has entrusted the responsibility to be the thorn in your side, forcing you to grow in loving perfection not because of their example, but despite it?

Heavenly Father, take the blinders from my eyes. Let me see the beauty beneath the brokenness.

Guide me, step by step, towards the moment when at last I see you, and understand it all.   

Go placidly amid the noise and haste…. Words to live by.

This past week some drama at school reminded me of one of my favorite poems, which offers wise counsel for those who find themselves the object of undeserved criticism. The temptation, of course, is to confront the troublemakers to set the facts straight and clear our names. 

However, there are times when it works much better to refuse to engage in the conflict, and to take advantage of the gift of silence. This is especially true when the other party has demonstrated a fundamental unwillingness to reconcile … and there are others better able (more detached from the situation) to “stand in the gap.”

In 1927 Max Ehrmann wrote “Desiderata,” and this sitation reminded me once more of his wise philosophy of life. I’d like to share a link to this wonderful poem with you here, to encourage you this week. It begins …

“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant;
they too have their story. … “

To read the full poem, click here.