Night Driving

When the kids were younger, we’d sometimes load them into the car right after supper and start  driving, gradually lulling them to sleep by sheer tedium and the gentle lullaby of the wheels on pavement as it lub-dubbed down the highway. If all went according to plan, we would pull into their grandparent’s drive in time for breakfast.

Craig always took the first shift, while I held out for the “night drive,” when his eyelids would start to get heavy despite his best efforts to stay awake to “keep me company.” Within minutes of my taking the driver’s seat, the familiar rumble of sweet sleep began to emanate from the passenger’s seat. And I’d smile.

Not all of it was so idyllic, of course. Pounding all that Diet Coke can give a girl a headache. And yet, for me night driving is the perfect metaphor for parenthood. Most of the time, I drift along in this fuzzy yet pleasant haze. Other times the senses are hyper-alert, painfully aware that any moment something big and dangerous can leap in front of you and endanger all you hold dear while everyone else is blissfully oblivious to your discomfiture, napping or reading or otherwise occupied. Your only real company, it seems, the dog, who creeps up and lays his head on your knee, sensing a need to be vigilant …

It’s not always a bad thing, this conditional solitude. The mind wanders, pondering (and even solving) problems, making lists, ruminating about all the possibilities of life. A welcome respite from a world of unmitigated noise and distraction. You know it can all change in the flick of a radio switch, which makes it that much more precious. And so, you drive.

How is parenting like night driving for you?

Photo credit: Drunken Pineapple

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On Arriving: Thoughts before Christmas

cropped-road-trip.jpg Two days in the car with two kids and a dog. Two days, twelve hours a day.

Suddenly I have a whole new appreciation for what Mary and Joseph must have gone through those final days before the angels sang to the shepherds.

Mary: “Please, honey. Lay off the Diet Coke. My legs are cramping from riding on this blessed donkey, and my ankles are swelling to the size of small watermelons. It’s Bethlehem or bust. NO MORE PIT STOPS!”

Joseph: “Yes, dear. I’ll let my throat parch if you can talk that kid on the next camel into stop whistling that inane tune: ‘100 wineskins of wine on the wall.’ Honestly, one more round and I may have to toss him to the robbers.”

OK, so the Holy Family didn’t have this exchange exactly. After all, they were the perfect couple — the kind that radiated in each other’s sunshine. I’ll bet Joseph never drove Mary crazy by loading up on electronics until the camel blew a fuse, and he never rolled his eyes when Mary couldn’t resist one more cute little trinket from Matzo Barrel.

Our family is not so perfect. We do not practice the virtue of detachment when we travel . . . The other virtues like kindness, neatness, and sweetness get quite a workout as well. And yet, these trips are the stuff of our family history. Years later, the memories are whitewashed and recalled– like the new mother, we forget all about the pain once we hold our loved ones in our arms. (Probably better that way, or there would be no more road trips.)

Halfway through ours, I’d simply like to give thanks for the highlights:

* For parents who are always happy to see us at the end of the road, no matter how late we arrive or how disheveled the house is when we leave.

* For a seven-passenger van, so that the person most in need of solitude can hide in the back seat with a Supersized set of headphones.

* For two kids and a dog who can ride for four days in a car without anyone getting carsick. Even when Sarah bathes in the Justin Bieber perfume Michi’s friend gave her for Christmas (thanks, Matthew).

* For traveling mercies — including the angels that sat on our bumper yesterday, so the Budget truck that swerved into our lane did not hit us (and the SUV in Michi’s blind spot in the next lane sustained only a small dent). It could have been much, much worse.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

The “Prayer of Agony”

This week I’m writing from the beautiful Black Rock Retreat Center in south central PA, attending the week-long “Head and Heart” Immersion Course offered by the Theology of the Body Institute, to seep in the teachings of Blessed John Paul II on the sacramental view of the human body, and in particular through our sexuality.

I won’t kid you, it has also been an excellent opportunity for me to catch up on some much-needed rest. No television or email in the room (I was warned there would be no Diet Coke machines, either, so I came fortified).

For the past two days I’ve been listening to Christopher talk about God’s plan for the human race from the beginning  (“original man”), the restoration of what was lost in the Fall (“historical man”) and our ultimate destiny as the Bride of Christ in the marriage feast of the Lamb (“eschatological man”). All this was helpful in the way of professional development . . . but what helped me most, personally speaking, was something he said Sunday night about the role of suffering in the Christian life: that the “prayer of ecstasy” (think “The Ecstasy of Teresa of Avila by Bernini,” pictured here) is always preceded by the “prayer of agony.”

Christopher explained that, because of sin, the human heart becomes so hard (he called it “full of vinegar,”) it cannot receive the honey of God’s abundant love. In order to prepare us to receive this abundant grace, God has to empty the vinegar and soften our hearts — something that takes place only through suffering. He was quoting from St. Benedict’s “Spe Salvi,” p. 33:

Augustine refers to Saint Paul, who speaks of himself as straining forward to the things that are to come (cf. Phil 3:13). He then uses a very beautiful image to describe this process of enlargement and preparation of the human heart. “Suppose that God wishes to fill you with honey [a symbol of God’s tenderness and goodness]; but if you are full of vinegar, where will you put the honey?” The vessel, that is your heart, must first be enlarged and then cleansed, freed from the vinegar and its taste. This requires hard work and is painful, but in this way alone do we become suited to that for which we are destined[26]. Even if Augustine speaks directly only of our capacity for God, it is nevertheless clear that through this effort by which we are freed from vinegar and the taste of vinegar, not only are we made free for God, but we also become open to others. It is only by becoming children of God, that we can be with our common Father.

As a Catholic, I believe in the concept of “redemptive suffering,” that the pain we bear in this life can be applied in effective intercession for our own intentions and on behalf of those for whom we pray. This “prayer of agony” is aptly named . . . of course none of us would choose it. But in accepting it, even embracing it, we allow God to bring something good out of it. That is my hope. That is my prayer: that at the end of the pain, comes the joy.

Saint Teresa of Avila, pray for us!