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.”

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Lawn Chair Catechism, “God Has No Grandchildren”

Forming Intentional DisciplesJoining the discussion a bit late (week 2) … CatholicMom.com is discussing Sherry Weddell’s new book Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus (OSV). You can read more about the “Lawn Chair Catechism” series here.

This week, there are two questions in the discussion guide:

(1) Have you always been Catholic? How did the instruction and mentoring you received help you – or prevent you – from having a personal relationship with God?

I didn’t become Catholic until I was 30, although the process began nearly ten years before, when I was an evangelical Protestant missionary-in-training. I had been raised to believe that Catholics aren’t “really” Christians, and yet looking back God put faithful Catholics in my path to challenge that idea from my earliest years: my Catholic cousins, who taught me the sign of the cross (and whose First Communion celebrations I coveted); my childhood next-door neighbors, the Bells, who were unfailingly kind even when I commented bluntly on the statuary in their home; my Catholic boyfriend who, when I was pressured to end the relationship, forced me to consider seriously for the first time “what’s so bad about being Catholic?” And finally, a Baptist minister friend whose own conversion (and resignation from his church post) made me seriously consider the teachings of the Catholic Faith.

Long story short, I was going to become among the 53% of the “American adults who have left the faith of their childhood” (p.19). And yet, even then I didn’t see it as a “leaving” so much as an embracing of something more. Like Robin (p.23), I stammered and grappled my way through those first Masses — going up to receive Eucharist, not knowing it was for Catholics only.  The story of me sneaking into my first Catholic Mass is here.

Ironically, when I started the RCIA process, my first sponsor quit after two weeks; she told Dawn (who took up the challenge) that I asked too many questions. Now, from the beginning Dawn and I did not see eye-to-eye on certain theological issues (she believed women should be priests, for example). And she gave me the one thing I needed most: an unabashed, enthusiastic welcome, and a safe place to ponder all God was doing in my life. About a month into the classes, the pastor, Monsignor Connelly, invited me to lunch and listened to me pour out my story. When I was finished, he gently placed his hand on mine and intoned, “Heidi, you are a gift to us.”

I knew I was home. Not because I had resolved every theological reservation (that came later), but because at a time in my life when I most needed to experience the presence of Jesus in my life, I received it in the last place I ever expected to find it.

(2) If you were raised in a Catholic home, are your family members all still Catholic? What events among your friends and family seem to explain why some are Catholic, and others are not? 

I’m the only Catholic in my family of origin. Frankly, my faith irritates and confuses them more often than not. I’ve had more than one family member object strenuously to the idea that Mary is my mother — no matter how often I explain that one can have more than one mother figure. As an adoptive mother, I know this reality firsthand.

On page 42, Weddell points out, “All the evidence is that people feel dissatisfied and consider leaving for a couple of years before actually taking the first step, and that the majority pass through two or three religious changes before settling into a new spiritual home. Most people have mixed feelings about leaving the faith of their childhood … Changes of faith are, for most people, a journey and a search, not an instant, simple, and painless abandonment of belief.

And here, I think, is a flicker of hope for those of us who want to embrace the call to the “New Evangelization.” If we learn to recognize the signs of “searching” and “journeying” in order to become guides and mentors, like our evangelical brothers and sisters, there is reason to believe that it IS possible to draw those we care about back into the fold. However, it will not be an instantaneous or impulsive action, but the sum total of all the consistent, patient, loving actions done in the context of genuine relationship.

When was the last time you invited a former Catholic (or seeking “unaffiliated”) to a church event, or shared a book or CD that you found helpful? 

Love Quote of the Day (The Love Project, Day 8)

religious medalsToday’s love quote comes from Brian K. Kravec from CatholicMom.com. He writes:

I’m sending this along for the Love Project that Meg told us about through CM/FB. I actually wrote this in my wife’s Christmas card this year!

St. John Chrysostom recommends that husbands say this to their wives (and mean it):

“I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us … I place your love above all things, and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you.”

Today’s Love in Action: Did that whet your appetite for a little more romance? Check out this article on “20 of the Greatest Love Stories in History and Literature.”

“What Does It Mean?” Teach your kids the four senses of Scripture

This week at CatholicMom.com, I write an article about parish VBS programs and parish renewal, and reference a song I wrote to teach children the four senses of Scripture (set to the tune of “The Adam’s Family Theme”). I thought I’d share the lyrics here.

What does it mean? (clap, clap)
What does it mean? (clap, clap)
When we take a look in God’s Holy Book?
What does it mean? (clap, clap)

God showed his love in Jesus,
Who made the Church to lead us,
God’s Word, the Scriptures, show us,
That we’re God’s family.

The Church gives us for reading,
Four lights that show the meaning,
These Scripture senses leading,
They guide us as we read.

What does it say? (That’s the literal)
Who wrote it, what way?
Historical prose? Story or poem?
What does it mean?

Three senses categorical
Anagogical, allegorical
And don’t forget the moral
The spiritual senses, three.

What does it say? (That’s the literal)
For my life today? (The moral)
Does it point to Christ?
Or the end of our life?
What does it mean?

What does it mean? What does it mean?
Four senses we need
When God’s Word we read,
To know what it means!

Four senses we find,
Will light up our minds,
That’s what it means!

Four senses we’ll use
To find all the clues,
And know what it means!
(shout) THAT’S WHAT IT MEANS!

©2010 Heidi Hess Saxton. All rights reserved.

NOTE: These words may NOT be reprinted or used without permission of the author. Reprint requests should be sent to me at heidi.hess.saxton@gmail.com.

Healing Childhood Trauma

This week on CatholicMom.com, my column deals with the signs parents should watch for in their children that may indicate they are experiencing trauma and need professional help. The source of the trauma varies from child to child and from family to family: divorce, death, separation, neglect, abuse, financial stress, the list goes on. For children touched by adoption or foster care, unresolved trauma from the circumstances that caused them to be separated from their birth families can affect them into adulthood, even if they are loved and supported by their new families. Love, in and of itself, does not always “conquer all.”

What I wish someone had thought to mention to us when we first got our children, is that unresolved trauma can lie dormant for a time — only to bite you in the glutes as the child approaches adolescence. So parents need to keep a watchful eye, especially in children who have been diagnosed with “invisible disabilities” such as autistic spectrum disorders, ADHD, ODD, attachment issues, and so on. And parents of children with a history of abuse and neglect must never let their guard down entirely. Sneakiness and deceit — even with children who are otherwise good and truthful — is part of the disorder.

Another thing I wish had been pointed out to me is that trauma affects parents, too. After years of dealing with acting-out behaviors, your parent brain may not catch the more subtle signs of “something is not right here.” Not only do your kids need help in healing . . . You may also need help in dealing with the stress.

This week’s Gospel, in which Jesus gives dire warnings to those who cause one of his “little ones” to stumble, predicting millstones and a watery destruction, also provide a faint hint of hope to those who hear with the ears of faith. For the Christian, “death by water” has an entirely different connotation than it does for those who have not experienced the “dying with Christ” and “rising to new life” that baptism represents. Through our baptism, we do have all the graces we need to complete the journey. The path is not without suffering, for we follow in the steps of the Savior who suffered and died for us. But as we travel the road together with our children, we can persevere in faith, trusting in the perfect healing that is to come.

Mother Antonia Brenner: A Story of Redemptive Love

In the next few days, I will be posting a review of a remarkable documentary entitled “La Mama” by Jody Hammond on the life of Mother Antonia.  Mother Antonia Brenner is the founder of “Servants of the Eleventh Hour,” an order for mature women (most ages 45-65) who serve the impoverished and imprisoned in Tijuana, Mexico and parts of the U.S.

One aspect that I did not address — and felt I should do so — is the fact that Mother Antonia was twice divorced prior to taking the habit. I have not yet read the biography of her life, and don’t know whether one or both of her marriages were annulled prior to taking the habit. Since her order was formally received by the bishops of Tijuana and San Diego, I would hope so.

However, I recently ran across this explanation from a Deacon John Cameron on the Catholic Answers website that offered a helpful perspective, which I thought I would share here:

While there are general requirements for novitiate and profession in institutes of conscrated life and societies of apostolic life, there are additional requirements that are imposed by the proper law of each. Should your mother pursue this, the director of novices or admissions would be in the best position to discuss the prospects of assuming vows following divorce and what would take place.

Rather than speculating about possible grounds of nullity or the prospects of a decree of nullity, these are things that would be directed to the tribunal via the parish priest if the marriage does in fact end in permanent separation. The determining error of canon 1099 about the sacramental dignity of marriage (or even as the closely related intention contra bonum sacramentalitas of canon 1101, § 2), mentioned above as a possibility, is difficult to establish, and the jurisprudence is complex. We do best to let tribunals investigate and assess the legal impact of the facts in marriage cases.

For purposes of general information though, Rome has permitted couples to remain married, dispensed them from the obligations of marriage without dissolving it, and then to enter religious life or ordained priesthood. Decrees of nullity were not involved.

One of the aspects of Mother Antonia’s story that I loved was how God has used even the painful aspects of her life — the failures and sufferings — to minister to those she met with true humility and compassion.  This is the mark of a true penitent, one who acknowledges one’s own failures without excusing them on one hand, or dodging the consequences on the other.  In a very real sense, the work Mother has done for the past thirty years are an expression of penance, of restitution — and of gratitude to God for his great mercy.

In Titus 3 we read . . .

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.

You have only to look at the face of Mother Antonia — and at the faces of her “sons” to see this mercy at work in a powerful way.  Watch the movie, and you’ll see.  This is not the story of a woman who is “trying to make it up to God.” It is the story of a weary soul who has drunk deep from the well of mercy, and is intent on showering that water of life on other parched souls as well. Not the empty gestures of “works righteousness,” but the fruitful labors of one whose life has been transformed by love.

Not all of us are called to “make amends” by spending decades inside a Mexican prison.  But each of us are given opportunities every day to model mercy to those who need it.  Are you ready?

Today at CatholicMom.com: “A Loving, Sober Moment”

Today my latest column at CatholicMom.com is up, entitled “A Sober, Loving Moment.”

No matter how long you’ve been married, true intimacy is measured not in years but in sacrifice. For richer, for poorer — in sickness and in health — in freeze-dried, chocolate chip mint ice cream and a gentle covering of the afghan in the middle of the night.

We love not for what the other person does for us, but because of who we are when we are with that person. True love — the self-donating, unselfish variety — is one that gives more than it takes. It “believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” In a word, it keeps loving, no matter what.

Have you abandoned yourself entirely to your marriage?