Thursday, August 30, 2012

Waiting In Line at the Salvation Army

This morning I took a friend to the Salvation Army to get food.  You can get free food there once a month if you qualify financially.  Today was our third attempt.  Last week, they were closed.  Yesterday, the line was too long.  And today, she forgot her ID.  She stood in line for almost an hour anyway, confident that they would recognize her or look at her file.  No such luck.  We left empty-handed.  Fortunately, I brought her a few things from my freezer, so I know she won't be going totally without.  But, this whole scenario has me thinking about the differences in our lives.

I've never had to wait in line to get food unless I was at a really popular restaurant.  I've never had to wait for a ride, to wait in line for food.  When you don't have financial means, you have to wait for just about everything.  Food and rides.  A ride to pick up your check.  A ride to cash the check.  A ride to the Salvation Army or St. Vincent de Paul.  A ride to the grocery store.  Add a physical and/or mental disability and you've got a very difficult life, full of waiting.

As I was waiting on the front lawn of the Salvation Army, playing hide-and-seek with my three-year-old, I watched a couple sitting on the step, looking through their grocery bags and smoking a cigarette while they waited for their ride to come pick them up. Then, I started thinking about the price of cigarettes.  I asked my friend, who also smokes, how much she spends on cigarettes per month.  She said probably around $40, and those are the cheap ones.  She wasn't sure of the value of the food she gets at Salvation Army, but I venture to say it is not more than $40 worth.

So, if these people didn't smoke, they could buy their own groceries instead of waiting in line to get them for free.  It would be easy to stop here.  "Don't give free food to people who smoke!"  Done.  But, as I sat there trying to squeeze my foot into one of their shoes, I realize that those forbidden cigarettes are probably the single source of pleasure in their life.  Aside from killing them slowly, cigarettes are the closest thing to an "escape" as they've got.  If they don't have transportation, they are probably stuck at home more often than not.  They are probably living in subsidized housing where pretty things are few and green grass is something of a myth.  There is no summer vacation or Spring Break.  There is no eating out if you don't feel like cooking.  It says something to me, when you can breathe easiest when you are inhaling something that will eventually kill you.

"Assistance to the unfortunate honors when it treats the poor man with respect, not only as an equal, but as a superior - since he is suffering perhaps we are incapable of suffering; since he is a messenger of God to us, sent to prove our justice and our charity..." 

"God did not make the poor.  He sends few human creatures into this world without providing them with those two basic sources of riches - intelligence and will.  But, we allow intelligence to be quenched in ignorance and will to be weakened by vice." 

"And let no one say that in treating poverty...we aim at perpetuating it.  The Authority that tells us we shall always have the poor amongst us is the same that commands us to do all that we can that poverty may cease to be."  -Frederic Ozanam, one of the founders of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society

I worked for the St. Vincent de Paul Society for a year and a half.  For me, working with the poor is a constant tottering between frustration and compassion.  It doesn't seem like things have to be so hard for these people, but they are.  I hope one day I will only have compassion and my frustration will be swallowed up by it.

"God does not value what the poor have, but what they do not have:  self-sufficiency, a closed attitude, a presumption of being able to save themselves." - Fr. Raneiro Cantalamessa

Dear Father of the Poor,  Thank you for the privelege of participating in the lives of the poor.  Thank you for their humility and trust in you.  Thank you for the ways you have blessed me so abundantly in my life.  Lord, please help me and all of those who serve your poor, to do so with a generous, compassionate, and loving heart.  Please remove any judgment that creeps in.  Thank you for teaching us in Your Word that we will be measured by the cup we measure with.  You always give us everything we need.  Help us to remember that we may be the hands you use to deliver it.  Amen.

Monday, August 27, 2012

First Day of School

Today was as good as it gets for the first day of school.  The boys were all smiles this morning, we were on time, and they only had good things to say when they came home.  Wyatt and I had nowhere we had to be, so we played in the dirt, went to the mall to replace a watch battery, and watched a little bit of a movie.  Quality time, for sure. 

My plan was to have cookies made when they got home and to set the stage for our new after-school routine.  But, I didn't get an early enough start and still had to bake them when they got home.  By the time I had the first batch out of the oven, my oldest was already at the neighbor's house and I had "lost" my audience. 

I decided I want to reserve the first 5 minutes after they get home.  5 for 5.  5 minutes for 5 details from the day.  If you have girls, this may seem ridiculous - they probably don't stop talking about who was wearing what and how they felt about what so and so said...But, my experience (and the experience of all of the boy moms I've talked to) is that we have to mine for details!!  They do not come easily!  So, my plan is to have a snack on the table when they walk in the door and for everybody to "come clean" during snack time.  I'm 0 for 1, so I can only go up from here.

Miranda Walichowski suggests having a set learning time after school, as well.  That way, they develop the habit whether they have homework or not.  So, instead of squeezing homework in at 7:00 after dinner, we're going to get it knocked out from 4-4:30 (hopefully 1st and 2nd grade homework doesn't take longer than 30 minutes).  Again, I'm 0 for 1, so I can only improve tomorrow!

I also told the neighbor boy he could come every day after school (like he did last year), but he would have to go home at 4, instead of at supper time.

We'll see how my great vision turns out.  I feel like just thinking about these things puts me in a better position than where we were last year at this time.  I'm going for proactive this year.  Reactivity is for the birds.

Here's a little blast from the past.  It's fun (and funny) to look back even just 2 years and read how many things have changed.

August 23, 2010 - 1:59pm 

Today was Brayton’s first day of kindergarten.  I can’t believe it is finally here.  Things I know…Walker still hears Bman yelling even when he’s not here.  He is ready for BMan to come home after 30 minutes.  He can also do “bear duty” (scouring the house at naptime for Wyatt’s bear – normally Bman’s job).  He likes to sleep in Bman’s bed when he’s gone.  He needs ME to play LEGOS with him (and I thought less kids meant less work J.  We also checked his class schedule a couple of times to see what Brayton was doing at any given time.  Brayton was excited to go!  However, we apparently need more crosswalk training.  The crossing guard gave us the go-ahead and Bman started riding his bike 90 degrees away from her, crossing the busy street she wasn’t guarding!  Traumatic, indeed.  I think we’ll be walking from now on.  The bikes can stay at home.   

Anyway, the only tears this morning were mine and thankfully, Brayton didn’t see them.  I held them back until he was on his way into his classroom.  I am so proud of him and I can’t wait to hear about his day.  Our schedule is going to be so much different at home.  Dressed, teeth brushed, breakfast eaten, Bman at school, and all of us home again a little after 8!  Wow.  I think I am going to get a lot more done in a day’s time. 

I have felt for so long that my kids were always going to be little and at home with me (even though I know the world is full of grown-ups and I’m one myself), but now I feel the clock picking up speed.  Next year, it is just going to be Wyatt and I after the first day of school.  Unbelievable!  So, here we go, this is the beginning of Phase 2 – having school-aged children.  Yay!

Dear God, Thank you for people who have the gift of teaching and for all of the people who change our children for the better.  Thank you for times of quiet and days that you don't have to leave the house if you don't want to.  Thank you for legs that can walk and ride bikes and for crossing guards to protect them when doing so.  Thank you for being such a gentle teacher.  Amen.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Summer Report Card

I'm getting ready to go to bed and wanted to wrap up the last day of summer with a few thoughts. A quick review of things gone by and anticipation of things to come. Those bittersweet emotions seem to be stirring and they are always well-timed as seasons change and life changes, for good. One door closes and another one opens.

If I had to grade our summer as the door shuts, I'd probably give it a B. Not the most exciting, but plenty of down time with lots of good stuff thrown in. The highlights were swimming, swimming, and more swimming, roller skating (boys' new favorite thing to do), going to the lake in our "junky old boat", a trip to Kansas and a daytrip to the beach. Otherwise, there was lots of Lego-building, reading (unfortunately, they still aren't self-motivated here, but they will do just about anything for video game time -and 30 minutes for 30 minutes works great at our house), Frisbee, Monopoly, and Sequence dotted about, and watching the A-team and eating popcorn after dinner. If you've never heard a 3-year-old white boy talk like Mr. T, we need to get together! 

My least favorite thing was trying to keep the big boys quiet while the youngest one napped. I think this has been my least favorite thing since I've had more than one child - roughly 6 years. Consequently, the thing I am most looking forward to is having the QUIET during that time, starting tomorrow.

If I could have done anything differently, I would have been more patient and less selfish (especially during those quiet times). Generally, the same things I would change at the end of every day. Does it ever get easier? Come more naturally? I'm starting to realize they stop asking so much of me before I meet my potential for selfless giving, so the best way for me to practice is to offer myself without being asked.

I wish I would have been more charitable with the neighbor boy, who would often arrive at 9am and not leave until we "kicked him out" at supper time. He had parents at home, but no siblings, and he preferred (and prefers) to be here. However, I also wish I would have been more restrictive about the amount of time he spent here. For 99% of the summer, this seemed like a contradiction to me - To be charitable and to be limiting. However, too much time lead to increased fights, boys who didn't listen as well, a messier house, and a tired husband.  I would have loved him (and my family) better if I would have limited his time here; I wouldn't have been as frustrated by his continual presence and I would have felt more in control of the environment in my home.

I hate it that I don't have a boundless supply of love to give.  I hate it that, at times, my heart feels stony and cold and little sacrifices seem huge.  But, I am not surprised.  I know I am more loving now than I was a year ago, and way more than 10 years ago.  So, I'm encouraged by the progress, but it's much harder to see moving forward.  The nearer I draw to Christ, the more love I will have to give.  Simple, but not easy.

So, here's to you and your summer report cards.  It's okay if you didn't get an A+, but I'll bet you didn't fail, either!

Dear God of All Time and Seasons, Thank you for the summer that ends today.  Thank you for the memories that we'll carry for the rest of our lives.  Thank you for the confidence gained as the boys learned they could touch the bottom in the deep end.  Thank you for letting us "go deep" and bringing us to the surface again.  Even the bubbles are trying to get to You!  Please give me the grace to be the mother that my boys need.  Please increase their desire to know and love You and to bring Your love to others.  Please keep us safe and free from harm.  You are so faithful and Your watchfulness so enduring.  Thank you.  I love you.  Amen. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Crying Twice in the Same Day

It's been a weird day.  This morning after breakfast, we all loaded up to buy a new bed for my oldest son.  The youngest has had his own room since he was born and the two big boys have bunked since then.  We decided that the crib really needed to go and a real bed needed to replace it.  A 3-year-old shouldn't have his own room and a new big bed, so the oldest won out and everybody else shuffled a spot.  Middle to top and Little to bottom.  Everybody is happy.  Especially the oldest and youngest!  But, the middle will probably be happiest of all when his daddy puts up a new shelf, just for him. 

Anyway, after lunch Walker and I went to run a few errands.  On the way out, we stopped by a garage sale on the next street over to see what treasures we could find.  Sure enough, a belt for $.50, a couple of old prayer books, and a bunch of stainless steel butter knives, which is perfect because when we have company for dinner, I have to put the two we have in the middle of the table and we all share!  They apparently work great for digging in the yard and cutting stuff when you are too young to score a sharp knife.

All is well until I get back in the van to drive away.  My left knee is "frozen" in the position it landed in when I got in the car.  When I tried to move it up or down or sideways - excruciating pain.  Am I 100 years old?!  What the heck?  I can't really make sense of it, and my right leg is fine, so I drive the block back home and yell at my husband to see if he can help me out of the car.  Only when he tries, I really won't let him because everything he did (including make me laugh) hurt me, a lot.  So, I sat there sweating in the driver's seat for an hour or so and hesitantly decided I needed to go to the ER.  I cried like a baby when he and our neighbor put me in the backseat.

In the ER, the X-ray tech saved the day.  She had to SLOWLY straighten my leg out to get the x-rays.  On the fourth one, whatever it was that was in the wrong spot, moved back home!  Thank you, Jesus!  I went home with crutches, a referral to an orthopedic doctor, and a signed paper that said I will likely pay them a huge, but unknown amount of money, and they will hunt me down if I don't.  Now, I wish I would have let my husband just carry me in the house at the get-go, but it's a little late for that.

I quickly abandoned the crutches when I got home, as I'm pretty sure I was jamming my knee into the ground trying to get the timing right.  I'm glad I don't know how much I will pay for them, yet.  At least they can entertain three little boys.  So, I "eased" around, shuffling stuff from room to room and making dinner.

Normalcy seemed to return during the bath routine, as there was lots of water on the floor and standard territorial battles during brushing of teeth.  However, normalcy fell through the floor when I went to read my little guy his bedtime stories.  The rocking chair is in his old room (now his big brother's room) and he's settled into his Thomas sheets on the bottom bunk.  So, for lack of choices, I sit on the floor beside his bed and start to read Book number one.  The tears just start coming (like now).  I'm able to read through them, and he's none the wiser.  I'm not ready for the end of our rocking chair days.  Those times are my favorite of all times.  In a hopeful (and maybe a little desperate) moment, I asked him if he'd like to sit on my lap and finish the story.  He surprised me with a "Sure, I'll sit on your lap."  And when he sat down, he said "This is like a chair!"  Yes, like a chair.  I guess I don't have to quit the rocking chair cold turkey, but times are a'changin'.

I'd prefer not to cry twice in one day, but I'm thankful that I can.  (My grandma says her tears dried up a long time ago). 

Tears are the humble created water of my heart that corresponds to the powerful uncreated water of the Spirit's life in me.  Tears are perhaps the most rejuvenating and re-creating water of all, the evidence that I have allowed grace to melt the ice at the center of my being. - Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis

Dear Creator and Divine Physician, Thank you for creating me and fixing the things that are out of place.  Thank you for laps that are like chairs and for things that fade away instead of ending abruptly.  Thank you for your love and mercy and desire to be in communion with me, and all whom You have created.  Thank you for tears when our hearts spill over, with joy or grief, elation or despair.  You know us so well.  Help us to know You well, too.  I love You.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Four Wives

I cut this out of a bulletin years ago.  I loved it then and still do.  Enjoy and Ponder!

Four Wives  

Once upon a time there was a rich King who had four wives.   He loved the fourth wife the most and adorned her with rich robes and treated her to the finest of delicacies.  He gave her nothing but the best. 

He also loved the third wife very much and was always showing her off to neighboring kingdoms.  However, he feared that one day she would leave him for another.

He also loved his second wife.  She was his confidant and was always kind, considerate, and patient with him.  Whenever the King faced a problem, he could confide in her, and she would help him get through difficult times. 

The king’s first wife was a very loyal partner and had made great contributions in maintaining his wealth and kingdom.  However, he did not love the first wife.  Although she loved him deeply, he hardly took notice of her!   

One day, the King fell ill and he knew his time was short.  He thought of his luxurious life and wondered, I now have four wives with me, but when I die, I’ll be all alone.”  Thus, he asked the fourth wife, “I loved you the most, endowed you with the finest clothing and showered great care over you.  Now that I’m dying, will you follow me and keep me company?”

“No way!” replied the fourth wife, and she walked away without another word.  Her answer cut like a sharp knife right into his heart.

The sad King then asked the third wife, “I loved you all my life.  Now that I’m dying, will you follow me and keep me company?”

“No!” replied the third wife.  “Life is too good!  When you die, I’m going to remarry!”  His heart sank and turned cold.

He then asked the second wife, “I have always turned to you for help and you’ve always been there for me.  When I die, will you follow me and keep me company?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t help you out this time!” replied the second wife.  “At the very most, I can only walk with you to your grave.”  Her answer struck him like a bolt of lightning, and the King was devastated.

Then a voice called out: “I’ll go with you.  I’ll follow you no matter where you go.”  The King looked up and there was his first wife.  She was very skinny as she suffered from malnutrition and neglect.  Greatly grieved, the King now took notice of her and said, “I should have taken much better care of you when I had the chance!” 

In truth, we all have four wives in our lives:

Our fourth wife is our body.  No matter how much time and effort we lavish in making it look good, it will leave us when we die.”

Our third wife is our possessions, status, and wealth.  When we die, it will all go to others.”

Our second wife is our family and friends.  No matter how much they have been there for us, the furthest they can stay by us is up to the grave.

And our first wife is our Soul; often neglected in pursuit of wealth, power and pleasures of the world.  However, our Soul is the only thing that will follow us wherever we go.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

My 35th Birthday

Today is my birthday.  35 years old.  I still feel like a pup.  For me, birthdays are like New Year's.   A great place for looking back over the year's blessings, and another great starting place for improving some aspect of my life.  It's easier to keep track of progress.  I'm giving up soda today - trying to decrease my sugar consumption.  I've been hearing (again) about how bad it is for your health.  It's one of the most obvious places for improvement, so I'm going with it.  I'm trying to increase my body's health, but decrease in other ways, so the Lord may increase in me.

The year's highlights include my first silent retreat and joining Regnum Christi, officially.  I have really learned the value of examination of conscience and it helps me live each day with greater focus.  I also had the joy of facilitating a couple of classes at Church and sharing the stuff of life with many beautiful women in the process.  Another thing that jumps out at me is consecrating myself to the Blessed Mother in May.  I haven't done anything differently because of that, but I feel good about putting myself in her hands.  I understand that I will remain there unless I make a conscious choice to remove myself, which I have no plans to do.  A couple of trips to Minnesota and the beach have been great, too.  I love going places and it really doesn't matter where.   

This was also the year for the beginning of this little "ministry" - my blog.  A Soul Laid Bare.  It seems to be helpful and encourage a small few.  Maybe 20-25 people on a regular basis.  My success is not mine to judge.  I know only God can make it fruitful.
The day has been beautiful!  A fruit plate for breakfast from my oldest, a chapel lamp lit (I still don't know who did that!), a Mass said, prayers offered in front of the Blessed Sacrament, cookie dough scented hand sanitizer from the neighbor boy, early morning phone calls from the fam, Facebook wishes out the wazoo (Thank you!), and a few birthday packages besides. 

As I was writing, someone just knocked on the door - It was my neighbor, Ms. Hannah.  She gave me a kente from Ghana (she bought it for me when she visited her homeland last summer!) and a wooden elephant.  Amazing, since we usually just smile and wave across the street to one another.  What a great surprise!!!

We'll eat dinner at home tonight and go out for Spoons later.  Life is good.  It seems like God is blessing me every time I turn around.

Overall, I am learning more and more that I am a small, but important piece of God's plan.  Thomas Merton sums it up well in his prologue of No Man Is An Island:

Only when we see ourselves in our true human context, as members of "one body" we will begin to understand the positive importance not only of the successes but of the failures and accidents in our lives.  My successes are not my own.  The way to them was prepared by others.  The fruit of my labors is not my own:  for I am preparing the way for the achievements of another.  Nor are my failures my own.  They may spring from the failure of another, but they are also compensated for by another's achievement.  Therefore, the meaning of my life is not to be looked for merely in the sum total of my own achievements...It is seen, above all, in my integration in the mystery of Christ...No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

Dear God, Thank you for my life!  Thank you for my parents who cooperated with you to bring me into existence.  Thank you for blessing me beyond all imagination.  Help me to be the woman, wife, mother, and friend that makes You happy and does Your will, no matter what.  I am overflowing with gratitude and love.  Amen.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Oceans and Antibiotics

I'm back!!!  The me that I like, anyway!  I am finally back to feeling great (after 9 yucky days).  Good-bye, random bacterial infection!  Thanks be to God!  It's amazing how when you don't feel well, everything else seems like an affront to the senses. 

I'm learning about times of consolation and desolation in the spiritual life and how God uses them.  My spiritual director told me that you should NEVER make/change a decision during a time of desolation.  I can see why!  My perspective shrank down to such a limited one.  No wonder the devil wants us sick, tired, or discouraged...he seems much more powerful during those times than he really is. 

Yesterday, we got to take my brother and his fiancee to the beach.  They live in Kansas and it was her first time.  We got to spend the day enjoying God's beautiful and powerful ocean, and each other.  Oh, how I love to watch my boys from a distance!  They have beautiful smiles and great energy.  It feels good to see and experience them, independently of myself.  I would be an awesome mom if I lived next door to them! 

But, parents of young children can't do their job from a distance - long or short.  Being a parent of young children is intimate.  The interactions are many and close.  It can be messy and lack proper grace.  Parenting with love is practical - not perfect, but enduring.  At the end of a day, there are "I love you's", night prayers, and a kiss goodnight.  It doesn't matter how many talking-to's or time outs the day held; there are things that are the same no matter what - and that is what love looks like.

This is a timely reflection for me (as they always are when you write your own blog :)), because parenting hasn't been pretty at my house for the past couple of weeks.  Not feeling well lent itself to more time at home, less swimming, shorter tempers, and more sibling fights.  I guess it's true, "If momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."

I guess feeling badly about my parenting and second-guessing almost everything at times has its upside - It means I still care if I'm doing a good job or not.  It means that I have room for improvement and that I know I have room for improvement and I can act on that knowledge.  A little daytrip to the beach was a great start, made better only by the many graces received at Mass this morning. 

I hope you are happy and healthy, and if not, that you submit to God's plans for you (and take antibiotics, if necessary).  He is faithful and is always leading us to Himself!

Dear God, thank you for being available to us in Mass.  Thank you for sending Jesus to be our bread from heaven.  Jesus, thank you for being the sacrificial Lamb and the new manna.  Thank you for your generosity and patience.  Thank you for the ocean and all of your creation.  Thank you for good health and the means to attain it.  Please forgive my lack of faith and self-centeredness during that past week and a half.  Please help me to be the woman that you had in mind when You created me.  I love you.  Amen.