#PrayerStories Home Is Where You Are

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.

Reunited… Mom and Gracie

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.

Where do you find “home” in your life?

Mommy Monster Grows Up

Sarah, circa 2007

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.

#PrayerStory A Matter of Trust

Trusting God for three generations… My mother and daughter and me, four years ago.

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!

#GodIsInControl. #PrayerStories. #SoThankful

Remembering Ruth

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.)

https://billygrahamlibrary.org/from-the-collection-of-ruth-bell-graham-divine-service/Living room of Billy and Ruth Bell Graham near Montreat NC (Photo Credit: Billy Graham Library)

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:

There will be less someday —

much less,

and there will be More:

less to distract

and amuse;

More, to adore;

less to burden

and confuse;

More, to undo

the cluttering of centuries,

that we might view

again, That which star

and angels

pointed to;

we shall be poorer–

and richer;

stripped — and free:

for always there will be a Gift,

always

a Tree!

Ruth Bell Graham’s Collected Poems, p.127.

The Blessing of Witches

Joseph replied, “Do not fear. Can I take the place of God? Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve this present end, the survival of many people.” Gen 50:19-20

As I write this, the news reports that thousands of women are plotting to cast a “binding spell” on the President to prevent him from being elected to a second term.  (A #MagicResistance was also reported in 2017 – perhaps if you want to blame someone for 2020, you might look a little farther afield than the White House. Play with the devil, ya gotta pay.)

Image by SplitShire from Pixabay

Meanwhile all across social media, Christians have decided not to take this current darkness lying down. Prayer groups have sprung up all over. “Praying for Justice Barrett & Family” has more than 18K members.  “Prayers for President Trump” has more than 24K, while “The Presidential Prayer Team” has over 41K.

Now, I leave it up to God to sort out what happens on November 4. I’ve done my part, having stood in line for three hours with my daughter to vote. But this morning my eyes flew open just after 6:30, and would not close again. That never happens. So I decided it was a sign, went down to my office, grabbed my rosary, and turned on the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Mom stirred, and I set aside the beads and went to help her with her morning routine. As she got up off the bed,  she wrapped her arms around me and just held on to steady herself. We stood there for several minutes as the music continued to pray:

For the sake of his sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Over and over, the words repeated the soothing refrain. Technically I wasn’t praying the Chaplet – my rosary beads were on the other side of the room. But as I held my mother close, I thought about the words of the prayer – and about how our bodies at that moment reflected the spiritual posture of those who know they have no power to help themselves. Through the Chaplet, we confess our utter dependence on the Almighty to drive away the shadow that is encroaching over the nation, and to revive  us again.

Lord, you bring the sun to shine on the good and the wicked alike. Your mercy extends beyond our understanding, for you are Father to us all. Open the eyes of those blind to your goodness, the ears of those deaf to your truth, and make straight the paths of those who have lost their way. Jesus, we trust in you.