I was so grateful for the warm welcome we received at St. Thomas More Parish in Pottstown, PA . More is the patron of adopted children, and Pennsylvania will always be for us the place where went through the most trying time of our lives together, when Chris was placed in therapeutic care for over a year. I’ve never talked about that time publicly before … but afterwards a mother came up to me with tears in her eyes, “That happened to us, too, our foster child. Unless you have been through it, it’s hard to understand. Thanks for sharing your story.”
We were unable to see Sarah Christmyer, who was sick… but we reconnected with several other PA/Ascension friends. So grateful!
Next day Craig and I continued to “Pray Across America” at the National Padre Pio Center in Barto, PA.
I had been cleaning out a bookshelf and came across some old journals from my twenties in California, and started reading them. It was a real eye-opener, seeing my twenty-something self make choices that, had my daughter made similar ones, I would have moved heaven and earth to “fix.” Trying to decide what to do with these incriminating scribbles, I told Craig about what I had found. He sat very quietly for a minute (did not ask to read the journals, thankfully), and said … “But if you hadn’t gone through all that, we never would have met.”
Truth. Right between the eyes.
My first impulse was to apply this to the reality in parenting: that we can never fully protect our children from bearing the consequences of their choices. And while this is true, it is also true that, as adults, we do sometimes weigh ourselves down with the baggage of the past in ways we don’t always admit or even understand. For example, my husband has watched no more than 2-3 sports events a year in part because of one unfortunate chapter in my dating history, when I was involved with a gambling addict. And so, when Craig and I got engaged, we made a deal: he would limit his sports consumption to a few games a year, and I would make it worth his while (culinarily speaking) on the days he DID watch. Twenty years later, it honestly wouldn’t bother me if he watched more often — his love healed over that particular sore spot. But he doesn’t. I guess he must really like those crab stuffed mushrooms … and he really loves me.
Last year I created a “20 year edition” of my 40 Day Marriage Challenge.Yes, it’s that time of year again! If you are feeling the need for a marriage refresher, why not head on over to take the challenge (perhaps take your spouse with you this time). Let this be the beginning of a happily ever after for you both.
Remember the good news: God measures our stories not in days, but in decades. So go love your spouse … all the way to Easter!
Like most things about 2020, Thanksgiving has become an ongoing exercise in detachment. Sarah and I are encamped with our three canine companions (including Dad’s sidekick Gracie) at our family cabin in East Jordan.
Mom is spending it with her new friends in her group home. Craig is putting out fires at work in southern Michigan, having (predictably enough) been alerted to another work emergency in lieu of a family vacation. Chris went with him late last night to prevent his father from falling asleep at the wheel … and now is spending Thanksgiving dinner with relative strangers while Craig works. My sister and father are spending their day trying to get Dad discharged from the hospital (again) in Cartersville.
So here I am, keeping vigil with a 23 pound turkey in the oven. Sarah is downstairs, headphones firmly in place. Pies are made, our traditional pistachio salad and cranberries in the cooler, roasted veggies and stuffing ready for the oven. There will be no festive conversation, no furtive feedings under the table, no clinking of cutlery or glasses full of cranberry ginger ale. Just a few quiet moments to reflect about the giving, and the taking, of thanks.
“Some luck lies,” noted Garrison Keillor in his arguably greatest novel, Lake Woebegon, “not in getting what you wanted, but in wanting what you have … Which, if you are smart enough, you will discover is what you would have wanted all along, had you only known.”
However you are spending Thanksgiving this year … may your day be as full of thanksgiving as thanks-taking. God bless.
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.
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!
One of the highlights of my publishing career occurred in 1998, when I had the privilege of being invited to the cabin home of Billy and Ruth Bell Graham. At the time Servant was publishing a gift book with Ruth and her daughter Gigi, and it was hard not to dissolve in a mushy pile of goo and fan-girl all over myself when I entered that peaceful retreat and was warmly welcomed by Ruth herself. (Billy was on a trip at the time, as he often was.)
She served iced tea on that hot July day, and I admired the mantel of the large stone fireplace and thought about the august company whose privilege it had been, before me, to sit in this space. She struck me as a deeply prayerful woman who made it possible behind the scenes for her husband to carry out a very public ministry — including counseling a half-dozen American presidents.
As a parting gift, Ruth gave me a volume of her poetry, which has a pride of place on my “fire shelf.” Here is one poem that seems particularly apt today: