A Sewing Circle of Love

IMG_2078

Queen of Peace sewing day

 

Years ago, when a young woman was about to get married or have a child, the women of her community would gather for a quilting bee, creating a unique yet practical work of art to add to the young woman’s trousseau. Some quilts told a story, others were simply colorful and warm. Each was as unique as the woman for whom it was made.

This past weekend, looking around the Commons area of Queen of Peace parish, I felt a little thrill (like those blushing brides-to-be must have) as I saw nearly forty baby blankets fashioned from fleece and flannel, each soft and colorful — and each intended to wrap a newborn that most of these women will never get to meet in person. These blankets are coming with me to Costa Rica, to the babies and their mothers who come to St. Bryce Mission.

Most of these women, I had never met before that day — and yet in a short time we were chatting like old friends. Kelly Pant, my partner in crime, had brought her mother Francie — a veteran quilter who with utmost patience walked me through creating my first baby blanket, a Dora-the-Explorer confection in pink, then a frog-themed green-and-tan offering. She also made a special quilt for Kenneth, the young boy with special needs who lives at St. Bryce. Other women from the community gathered footie pajamas, diapers, and fabric. The Jubilee women’s group donated their annual collection to a special project at the mission. Another family slipped us $100 for the electric upgrade project at the Center.

IMG_2049IMG_2065Yesterday, Sunday, our pastor Father John Eze called our family up with the blankets, to bless us and send us as representatives of Queen of Peace, reciting from the Book of Blessings that God would bless and protect us as we go to share the Gospel — and ourselves — with the people who come to the Center..

I am so very grateful to my family at Queen of Peace. Thank you for taking this journey with us!

31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 16: Live and Let Live

monster momOver at “4 Moms,” Beth-Anne Jones writes about “discretionary burdens,” the self-imposed expectations we put on ourselves that result in our running a round the house screeching like a fishwife, eyes bugged out and children running scared. “All right, you sneaky little rug rats. WHO ate the M&Ms I left on the counter to make the eyes on the triple-decker reindeer cookies I was making for your class party tomorrow?!??!”

Sure, I could have whipped out the Pillsbury version in a snap, but Noooooo. I have to do my own personal version of “Cupcake Wars.” But with seasonal cookies. (And the fact that I don’t have a picture here should tell you something about how they turned out.)gingerbread-village

Today’s de-stress tip acknowledges that there are two kinds of stress: The kind we receive from the universe (“MOM! I need 27 cupcakes for our class party tomorrow.”), and the kind we impose on ourselves and others. (“Oh, my goodness. I have to come up with something that will top the gingerbread village I made for Sarah’s teacher last year, or this teacher will think I’m a slacker.”)

No, she won’t. Get out the Pillsbury dough, and she’ll be thankful she won’t have to deal with the Supersized sugar buzz like last year’s teacher.

Recently, thanks to Christopher’s current teacher, it also struck me that I need to lighten up on the expectations I put on my kids sometimes, too. For example, when your eighth-grader curls up in the fetal position when you log on to “Study Island,” that might be a sign that he needs to go outside and romp with the dog for a few minutes instead of logging on yet another hour of math fact fun. Yes, he needs to catch up to his peers. But does he have to do it today? Of course not.

Live . . . and let live. Discipline, tempered with mercy. For yourself. For your kids. For life.

What “discretionary burdens” give you trouble?

31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 15: Kiss Me!

ballroom image“Mom! I need my love banks filled!”

The declaration is never entirely unexpected; I can usually read the symptoms: Grumpy, Snarky, Snippy, and all the other objectionable little dwarves take up residence, and the only thing that will drive them out of my kids is a systematic foot massage with corresponding breaks for butterfly kisses, “face tracing,” back rubs, and silly songs.

The truth is, the kids aren’t the only ones with love banks in need of filling. The dwarves come to visit when the adults in our house don’t get the recommended dosage of TLC. When we first met, my husband and I belonged to the University of Michigan Ballroom Dance Club. Every Sunday night he would twirl me around the dance floor in waltz, salsa, West Coast Swing, or cha-cha.

That was fifteen years ago. Swing Girl is pretty much all swung out . . . so is Swing Guy. But Flirt Girl is alive and well, and sometimes what her “love banks” need most is … “Kiss me!”

Not wining and dining. Not a chick flick marathon. Nothing strenuous. Just a cuddle and a twirl. And, yes, That Kiss.

My favorite kind of de-stressing.

#lovebanks

 

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.

 

Putting It On the Line for Love

line dancingAre you a line dancer? No, me either — not usually. But today I’m gonna “put it on the line for love” for a good friend of mine, and invite you to join me.

Today I got a wonderful note from a dear friend — Friend A — who has had her fair share of heartache this past year. One line in particular warmed me from the inside out, “I admire how you continue to write, putting it all on the line for love.”

Her note was particularly timely, as I’d just gotten off the phone with ANOTHER friend — Friend B — that made me want to beat my head against the desk. We’d had one of “those” conversations, yet again. The problem hasn’t changed, nor has this person’s motivation to do something about the problem, other than auto-flaggilate. Which if you think about it is as painful to do as it is to watch.

“Look,” I finally said to Friend B. “Right now you have a choice. You can’t change ____, and you can’t change ___, but you CAN change one thing: how to spend the next hour. Set a goal for yourself, and while you work, try to think of 3 things to be thankful for. When you’re done, see if you don’t feel better!”

When I was done with the “tough love,” it was time to “put it on the line.” I reminded Friend B of all she had been through in the past year — all the loss, all the stress, all the pressure — and suggested that perhaps it was finally time to deal with all the feelings that had been set aside in order to deal with the immediate crisis. “Sooner or later, you have to deal if you want to get to a happy place. Talk to someone who understands these things. Let it out. You’ll be glad you did.”

Buck up, Buttercup. It’s time to dance!

As women, we sometimes forget to take care of ourselves, whether in the heat of crisis or in the aftermath. Sure, we need to eat right and exercise and rest. But we also need to release that little pressure valve inside us, setting up little victories for ourselves, slipping off those ratty old house slippers and donning our leather-soled dancing shoes.

By now you may be wondering what line dancing has to do with all this. In the chapter “God and Godiva” of Hallie Lord’s book Style, Sex, and Substance, Karen Edmisten suggests we “dance in the kitchen” — and thank God for the “raw and energizing power of music.” Excuse me … I think I’m gonna go dance now. “Line dancing,” if you will.

stuck for good

“If I had any other choice, I’d leave.” It’s funny, really, how many times I’ve heard that phrase recently. It’s been spoken in several contexts, but always with the same conclusion: Circumstances beyond their control were keeping them in situations that were otherwise . . . just short of intolerable.

Listening to the sad stories, I was struck by how much they had in common:  In every case, the pain of the present was caused by an injustice of one kind or another. And in each case, their reason for not rebelling absolutely against said injustice was the same:

In a word, love.

For love we hunker down for all kinds of reasons: to provide, to protect, a promise kept. For a spouse, a parent, a child. We endure the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the unjust. All because love compels us to stay.

Here’s the thing: There comes a certain point in life when you realize that running away only delays the inevitable. Because sooner or later, everyone takes a place under the celestial microscope of suffering. In truth, it’s the only way for the really important virtues to take root and grow: humility, detachment, and faith. Plodding through the valley of shadow, we glimpse a sliver of light on the horizon and allow ourselves to hope, however faintly, that better times are in store.

We are stuck, to be sure. But it’s only a matter of time before we find our way back for good. In the meanwhile, we dive, knowing that even in this awful, uncomfortable, frustrating place, there are lessons to learn. There are people to love. There are infinitesimal fragments of grace.

Thank you, God.

 

A Mother’s Faith

This morning at 3:00 I woke up, angry. I stared at the ceiling, railing over circumstances beyond my control. Over a justice system in which there is no justice for those who need it most. Over the helplessness of being unable to protect or defend a twelve-year-old boy from the powers that be. I wonder, Blessed Mother . . . Is this how it felt for you to stand beneath the cross?

My stomach was in knots. I got up and went to the dining hall for a cup of tea. Then I vented in an angry email to my dear husband. That didn’t make me feel better, so I went back to bed and punched a pillow.

“Do you want to talk about it?” I didn’t know my roommate, apart that she was an elderly woman who has a healing ministry. “I’m good at listening,” she said.

She was right. She listened. And passed me a tissue. And listened some more. And asked if she could pray. And then, she spoke, gently and calmly.

First, she stood against the powers of anger and fear and helplessness. That last one really got me … for that is what had me in its grip. Then she asked the Blessed Mother to wrap my son in her mantle, so he would feel his mother’s love and protection. And she asked Michael to ward off the evil forces that are tormenting him.

In that moment, I felt the anger melt away, and my heart grow light.

“Talk to him now,” she said. “Talk to your son. Even though you are not biologically related, you are connected to him spiritually in a powerful way, and your angel speaks to his angel. He can feel you with him, and he can receive message in his spirit from you. Speak to him now — I’ll leave you in peace.”

And so I did. I spoke to him, heart to heart, in the privacy of that room. I realized, in that moment, that part of what I was feeling was undoubtedly Christopher’s pain and fear and anger. Ginny affirmed this. “And when you feel those things, ask the Blessed Mother to take them to her Son . . . and to transform them into love and peace, to send back to your son. God chose you as the mother of those children. He has given you everything you need to take care of them. All you have to do is ask.”

And so, on this first day in the Year of Faith, I held out my hand . . . and asked for the miracle I needed.

What miracle do you need today?

Signs and Sacraments: When a Dress (or a Heart) Is Something More…

Parachute Wedding DressThe other day I came across this heart-warming story about a young Jewish couple, interred in one of the work camps during World War II. She wanted to be married in a white dress, and he wanted to make her dreams come true. Sixty years and dozens of brides later, the dress was showcased in the Holocaust Museum. Made from a parachute, the well-worn dress became a symbol of love and hope in a time when hatred and despair prevailed.

Like many of the signs and symbols of our lives, the worth of this sacramental of love far exceeded its monetary value. I recently broke down and replaced my three medallions — tiny silver likenesses of St. Teresa of Avila, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and St. Scholastica (Benedict’s twin sister). One was actually irreplaceable — I had purchased the original in Avila when my husband and I were in Spain eight years ago. I lost them in the move a year ago, and only now have reconciled myself with the idea that they are never going to materialize . . . So I got a new set when I decided to start blogging again. This time, I added a tiny St. Christopher medal. Somehow, he is never far from my thoughts these days.

The sacramental worldview — informed by the belief that God gives us extraordinary graces through the tangible universe — is an intrinsically “Catholic” one. The God who reached through time and space to relate to us through the Incarnation, by enfleshing himself as one of us forever altered the way the physical universe interacted with the metaphysical one — including the communion of the saints.

One of the most important ways we can lead our children to God is by making the family of God  more “touchable” — engaging all the senses in order to better understand who God is, and what he wants from us. These points of connection, like my faith medals and the heirloom wedding dress, are important signs of life and faith, pointing us not only to where we have been but to our ultimate destiny.

So, moms, what are you going to do this week to make signs of God’s presence come alive in your children’s lives?

Thoughts of a Working Mom (to Be)

Anyone re-entering the workplace after taking time to pursue other goals — college, family, or writing the next Great American Novel — knows that finding the ramp back to the fast track can be a daunting experience.  (For those who live in Michigan, it’s more of a “painfully slow” track, but I digress.)

Coming up with a plausible explanation for any gaps in the resume is one thing; being able to articulate how these non-revenue-producing endeavors have contributed to one’s personal bottom line is something else.

So this past week, I’ve been thinking about my vocation as a wife and mother, and above all as a child of God.  Even the word “vocation” is more complex for me now than it was when I was single.  It is infinitely easier to look “together” and “successful” without a captive audience to witness those less-together moments. As a single adult, I led the worship team and managed sixty projects a year.  As a wife and mother, I sat in the church’s “cry room” and aspired to a shower before dinner.

Here’s the thing:  As time went on, I discovered more than a little overlap in the life lessons I”ve learned between the “two me’s.”  For example:

One day at a time.  Projecting too far into the future based on one’s present circumstances can be problematic for mothers and editors alike.  As a new mother, I had to pull focus from “building a writer’s platform” and concentrate on the immediate challenges at hand (like getting that aforementioned shower).  My kids needed me to be fully present.

Now this lesson takes a very different form: I try not to obsess over the “big picture” of what God has planned for my life. Instead, day by day I take up the challenge at hand, always trying to remain attentive to that still, small voice of the Spirit. A Spirit who often speaks to me through my own family.

Rest in the knowledge that God knows me best, and loves me anyway.  Like most people, I have at times wished that life had a rewind button.  As a mom, I’ve cringed over my children’s boisterous behavior in public. My inner critic howled over the injustice of going from choir director to cry-room dropout in just a few short days.

Now, having come I’m through the worst of it, it’s alot easier to silence that inner critic where other people are concerned. Not that I have a flawless record. Like most people, I’ve said and done things that — in retrospect — were cringeworthy. And yet, my children have taught me something about God’s unconditional love, which helps me to extend tolerance and grace to others.  

The Iceberg Principle:  Human beings are like icebergs: There’s a lot more than meets the eye. These “hidden mysteries” inform and motivate both our actions and reactions.  However, with time and effort it is possible to develop an instinctive sense of the “danger zones.”

For example, I can always tell when one of my children “forgets” to take a certain medicine or has had a bad night.  The brother-sister banter is edgier, with shriller howls of protest. Cereal turns to mush as the kid in question makes umpteen trips to and from the breakfast nook. Directions go unheard and unheeded. As the mom, I understand why this kid is acting like a gerbil on crack. It’s not intentional, but aggravating nevertheless.

The Iceberg Principle applies in the workplace as well, motivating us to invest on a personal level with those on our “team.”  If we fail to do this, behavior that a friend might interpret to be  “collaborative” (or “proactive”), to a casual acquaintence might seem “lazy” (or “egotistical”).  Misunderstandings (or being misunderstood) is an occupational hazard for those who refuse to map out  those hidden layers.

What do you think? Have you made the transition from stay-at-home to either work-from-home or work-away-from-home?  If so . . . are there any aspects of parenting that have made you a more valuable employee?

“What Do You Do?” A Mother’s Pondering

Today at Mommy Monsters, I posted a little introspective (hopefully  not too self-indulgent) bit on personal transitions and changes.

For many of us, the innocent question “What do you do?” is not as simple as it sounds. So many of us have lives that are fragmented, bits and pieces of obligations and expectations that never seem to end.

Are you feeling a bit fragmented today? Listen to these soothing words from the Book of Isaiah, a man who knew something about being over-extended and over-whelmed, leading the Children of Israel out of captivity:

 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  (Isaiah 41:10)