Monday, December 31, 2012

Zero Desire to Please My Children

I woke up with the same feeling I went to bed with last night - I'm frustrated with my kids.  We were given free tickets for the hayride at Santa's Wonderland (A Christmas light display with "over a million lights").  I've been wanting to go for years and haven't because my husband is vehemently opposed.  So, last night, we went with Grandma and a friend of hers.

The lights were awesome and worth the money we would have paid for the tickets.  No doubt about it.  But, a few things along the way crept in and insidiously stole my joy.

Walking the football field-length gravel parking lot, in the dark, carrying a 3-year-old, and trying to get the older two to STOP throwing rocks and playing tag between all of the pedestrians and parked cars, was #1.  It might not have been so bad, if I didn't have to grab my boys by their coats before they heeded my voice.

The gravel-lined path for the hayride waiting line also proved too much temptation for little boys.  They HAD to pick up the rocks and fill the one hood between them, in between trying to kick them a reasonable distance.  No problem, except the aforementioned line is full of people in close proximity.  Fun.  #2.

After a reasonable wait, we happily climbed aboard the hayride on the second trailer, the farthest away from the diesel fumes.  The moment we've all been waiting for...  We were getting ready to go under the first tunnel of lights, but I had to cajole my 3-year-old to look at it, as he was looking at the ground move underneath the back tire.  He was cold, but refused the jackets I brought, and was that "I'm ready to go home" kid about 1/3 of the way through.  #3.

We completed the light tour with many oohs and awes, some musical chairs on the hayride, lots of "I'm ready to go home, now's", and overwhelming appreciation that the entire light display ended with Jesus rising from the tomb (a resurrection/ascension combo, if you will).  Jesus Christ got the most important "spot" and for this I was uplifted.  At least, The reason for the whole production had been remembered, and honored.  I was happy for Jesus.

To make the night complete, we agreed by consensus, that we would drink some hot chocolate by the blazing bonfire, and listen to some live music.  I volunteered to stand in the hot chocolate line and everyone else settled in by the fire.  15 minutes later, I rejoined the group, looking forward to melting away the remnants of the early accumulation of trivial irritations. 

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Oldest is pouting because he needs a straw (#4), youngest is sad because it's too hot to drink (#5), and I can't really relax because I'm holding two cups of hot chocolate (#6).  As comforting as holding one warm drink is, holding two screams, "You cannot relax because things are not as they should be!"  I was officially in my 3-year-old's camp, "I'm ready to go home, now!"  On the way out, my middle son begged for kettle corn because he was so hungry (#7).  Sorry, I just spent $13.50 on hot chocolate.

~After writing the first paragraph, I recognized the problem.  I have been wanting to go to Santa's Wonderland for years.  My expectations were simply to high, from the get-go.  I wish I could have recognized and released myself from those ugly, little things!  That doesn't mean that my kids shouldn't have been better behaved and more appreciative - these are things parents should expect from their children!  But, the fact that they fell short highlights the areas where I've fallen short.  Maybe that's another reason I wasn't able to let go of all the little stuff, like I supposed I should.

I don't ever remember being ungrateful as a child.  Wait.  Would I remember that?  . 

Anyway, I'm sitting here this morning, with zero desire to please my children.  My efforts yesterday proved that they can't be satisfied.  So today, for now, they're on their own.  Maybe I'll feel differently after I offer my prayer...

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for the awesome light display at Santa's Wonderland and for the finale, Your Son, Who lives and reigns, forever and ever.  Lord, I am frustrated with my children's lack of obedience and gratitude.  Every morning, I offer you my life, including my boys and my parenting.  I have already done that today, but I am doing it again, now.  Lord, please guide me.  Help me to practice Your mercy and love.  Please give me the wisdom to know when and how to discipline them, so they may be pleasing to You (and to us).  Please forgive my impatience, ingratitude, and failures in charity.  I love you.  Amen.       

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Day After Christmas Ponderings

Just chillin' the day after Christmas, listening to a Mariachi Pandora station blare from my nephew's phone, and a fire crackling in the fireplace.  After watching the boys open their presents yesterday morning, I spent the bulk of the day in the kitchen.  Biscuits and gravy for breakfast, caramel corn for snack, turkey, sweet potatoes, and apple pie for dinner (My in-laws brought the rest).  As I was enjoying the solitude of the kitchen while remote control helicopters and Nerf sword fights swirled about, I wondered (for the millionth time) if I should be more "engaged" in the robust activity of my boys.  More and more, their activities stray from my interests and abilities. 

After pondering this throughout the day, I came to the conclusion that my biggest role now, and in the foreseeable future, is to be a positive force in the kitchen.  To be available to listen, welcome, love, and "light up" when my boys enter the room.  Unfortunately, food and its preparation are of the utmost importance to my family, and yet, one of the things I am worst at. 

I hate this irony, but have yet to figure out how to get around it.  I have a friend who is a personal chef and have proposed washing her dishes, just to be in her kitchen and glean some little nugget here and there.  We'll see what comes of that...  Meanwhile, I'll keep trying, and baking, as I can't seem to go wrong when sugar is one of the ingredients.

On a separate note, this Christmas has been one of the best for me.  After my brief self-centeredness episode (as detailed in the Stuff of Life post), this is my first year to feel totally detached from material things come Christmas Day.  There was nothing I wanted, nor expected.  The adults in the family previously agreed that we would buy for kids only this year.   I wasn't expecting to be, but I'm a big fan.  The end result was less pressure, less stuff, more money, and a palpable peace.

To be honest, I don't think I could have imagined being so happy receiving nothing before this year.  One of my continual goals is to detach from all things, and this year, God granted me the best gift of all - the joy and peace of detachment.  I am not going to guess at how long it will stay or presume that I am officially "detached", and can move on to other spiritual pursuits, but I am extremely thankful to have experienced it for at least a couple of days. 

If I needed another reminder that things don't bring lasting happiness, all I had to do was watch one of my sons unwrap all of his presents (a real gun and a telescope in the mix) and stand in the middle of the living room, looking a little sad.  When I asked him what was wrong, he said "I just didn't get to unwrap very many presents this year."  Ugh.  Maybe he would like to try the "Get nothing for Christmas" experiment next year. :)

New Year's Day is around the corner, which always leads me into a review of my life and looking for areas to renew or replace.  I'm sure I'll be writing again soon...

Merry Christmas to You!

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for Baby Jesus!!  Thank you for sending us a Baby to adore and love.  Thank you for salvation, Jesus in the Eucharist, time with family, fires in fireplaces, warm houses on cold nights, and grandmas two doors down.  Thank you for grace and peace.  Please teach me how to give my children good things without encouraging them to expect lasting happiness from them. Help me teach them that true happiness and peace come from You and You only. Please help us find You in each moment.  Help us recognize "the point of intersection of the timeless with Time."  Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Ebb and Flow of Marriage

I can easily write about motherhood, because my kids don't care to read what I write about them.  Writing about marriage is a little trickier because there's a husband to consider (and he knows when I've blogged because we're friends on Facebook) :).

But, I had coffee with a friend this morning and our recent (over the past week)marriage experience has been virtually the same, which confirmed something I already knew:  There is an ebb and flow phenomenon in marriage.  Sometimes you're "clicking" like there's no tomorrow and at others, well, you're not. 

I think it's worth writing about because we were extremely surprised that the other's experience so closely mirrored our own.  If we know that the ebb and flow is normal (in theory and in reality), and consequently experienced by most married couples, my hope is that the isolation and temptation to panic during the "ebb" times will be diminished...

A week ago today, my husband took the day off so we could spend the day together Christmas shopping (in lieu of exchanging gifts on Christmas morning).  The day was awesome and I felt like we were newlyweds in a town far away (except for going to his work Christmas luncheon and being at Post Oak Mall). 

All this to say, that we had a "clicking" day just a week ago, but it feels a lot longer than that. 

When a feeling was there, they felt as if it would never go; when it was gone, they felt as if it had never been; when it returned, they felt as if it had never gone."
-George MacDonald

There are simply times when I feel uninteresting to my husband.  Not that there's any problem or conflict, just that "There's just not much going on," in his words.  During these times, I know he isn't mad, but wonder if he's dissatisfied and feel as though he just doesn't like me.

I know I can overthink these things, so two days ago, I asked him, "Are we okay?  I feel like you don't like me."  (I hope it didn't sound as pathetic as what it reads here).  He reassured me that all was well and spent all of yesterday asking lots of questions about my day and making overt gestures to make sure that I knew he "heard" what I was saying. 

I really hate to quote Sigmund Freud, but I think he's onto something here, "The need to be looked at with acceptance and the fear of being looked at with disapproval, or not being looked at at all, are two of the most powerful forces in our lives."

I think this explains why it can feel so devastating when we feel uninteresting, overlooked, or disapproved by anyone, but especially by our spouse - the person for whom we've peeled away every layer and exposed our unprotected essence. 

I don't really know where to go from here, except to say that knowledge is power.  I already feel better about my position during the "ebb", knowing that I'm not alone, that it's normal, and that it is short-lived.

My security always needs to come from my relationship with Christ, and that is my life's work.  Second to that, I need to make sure my husband knows I see him, am interested in who I see, and that I approve.  Because, that's the truth.  I suspect that if I do this well, the ebb will disappear into the flow, and I will be wondering if there ever was an ebb at all.

Dear Almighty God and Father, Thank you for the gift of marriage.  Thank you for my husband and his way of reflecting Your Love for me.  Please forgive my temptation to insecurity during the "ebb" times.  Your Love is supreme, help me to rest securely in that.  Please help me communicate my love and zeal for You above all, but also for him.  Please bless our marriage and all marriages, especially those whose who are on the brink of divorce or separation.  Help them to "see" their spouse with Your eyes, to let them know that it is good that they exist.  Amen.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Day in the Life of a Young, Single Mom

Can you imagine living by this schedule every day or even for one?

*Get yourself, a 2-month-old and 16-month-old fed, dressed (warmly), and out the door to walk a block to the nearest bus stop by 9am.

*Take the bus to the pediatrician's office

*After the appointment, take the bus to drop off your kids at daycare

*Take the bus to H-E-B.  Work from 12pm-8:30pm.

*Take the bus back to the daycare center to pick up your children

*Take the bus home

*Bathe kids and put them to bed

*Repeat tomorrow morning
This past Friday, I picked up this mother and her two kids at the bus stop because they were waiting in the cold.  In the short time between the bus stop and the doctor's office, I learned that she was from Kansas City, MO and moved here to find work.  She moved here with nothing, but her daughter, and lived in a women's shelter upon her arrival.  After moving here, she learned she was pregnant.  She said she has plans to begin school soon.  I didn't ask when or how that would come to pass.

I dropped them off and headed home to my cozy little house to work on sorting some things for the Good Samaritan project.  I couldn't stop thinking about how wonderfully simple and easy my life was compared to this young mother's!  The only things on my schedule for that day were things I volunteered to do!  A few hours later, I visited an elderly friend for lunch.  We were seated around a table with 6 elderly widows.  I relayed my encounter with the young mother.  A lady in a Santa hat quickly replied from across the table, "After you have the first one, you know where they come from after that!"

I was so wrapped up in trying to imagine living that young mother's life, that I didn't have time to blame her for her circumstances.  It hadn't occurred to me that her life didn't have to be so hard.  But, it is.  The choices have been made and they are being "paid for" daily. 

As a mother who unintentionally had 2 children less than a year apart, I know how ignorance works.  I also know how those ignorant and unintentional choices can add beauty and love to the world, beyond all imagination.

I have often thought that if the Lord were to bless me with a vast amount of time and money, I would pour myself into a ministry for single mothers.  No matter the path they took to get there, they are there.  They are trying to do singly, what I sometimes struggle to do with help; help from another who is equally responsible for my children.

Christ continually comes to us in the middle of our self-made messes.  He never says, "You know, it didn't have to be so hard."  "You made your bed.  Now, lie in it."  "Peter, I'm not going to pull you out of the water.  You shouldn't have looked down."

God is a just and merciful God.  His mercy prevails over His Justice!!

"Oh, how much I am hurt by a soul's distrust!  Such a soul professes that I am Holy and Just, but does not believe I am Mercy and does not trust in My Goodness.  Even the devils glorify My Justice but do not believe in My Goodness.  My heart rejoices in this title of mercy...the greatest attribute of God."  ~Diary of Sister Faustina 

Help me, O Lord, that my eyes may be merciful, so that I may never suspect or judge from appearances, but look for what is beautiful in my neighbor's souls and come to their rescue.

Help me, that my ears may be merciful, so that I may give heed to my neighbor's needs an not be indifferent to their pains and moanings.

Help me, O Lord, that my tongue may be merciful, so that I should never speak negatively of my neighbor, but have a word of comfort and forgiveness for all...

(Sr. Faustina's prayer)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Stuff of Life

A lot of things have been rolling around in my head lately.  I planned to post something on Friday, but after learning of the tragedy in Newtown, CT, nothing seemed important anymore.  The dead and their families are looming large in my mind, and yet, I shush my own children to watch the news... 

However, as we celebrate this third Sunday of Advent, we are called to be a people of joy.  A people of hope.  A living people.  A people who believe that God can and will redeem all things.  I will continue to pray for those who died and their families who are left behind.  I will also continue to live as a person who believes that Jesus is near, and live my life accordingly.

At the risk of seeming imprudent, I am going to go ahead with what I was going to write on Friday.  Mostly, because I have the time and I would like to clear my head.  None of it really matters, in the face of this or any tragedy, but it is still the stuff of life~

Before Friday, I was reveling in a small victory.  I showed up empty-handed to a cookie exchange.


It was a victory because I spent a good part of the day making, rolling out, and cutting sugar cookies, so I could participate and feel good about the effort I had made to do so.  However, I only had 30 minutes after dinner to decorate 6 dozen cookies and three boys (7 and under) on my decorating team.  Snowman heads were falling off, stars were breaking, and the icing knives were being licked in between jobs.  I was starting to lose my cool (rapidly!) and knew something had to give.  After a brief inspiration from the Holy Spirit, I decided that allowing my kids to enjoy the cookie decorating was way more important than showing up somewhere else with a plate of pretty cookies, so I left them at home.  What my vanity suffered was more than made up for by my children's joy.  I'm just sorry I robbed them of it in the first place.

Prior to that, I have been musing on the irony of Christmas.  I was given a little Christmas money with the stipulation that I had to spend it on myself.  Combine that with the "What do you want for Christmas?" question, and I am suddenly more self-centered than I've been all year!  How do you like that for timing?!  Goodness!  God bless my three-year-old who got to join in on the adventure of deciding what I wanted and then trying to find it!

My first thought was that I would spend my money on some of those tall boots that everyone is wearing these days, since I'm usually struck by how nice they look when I see them.  However, it hadn't really occurred to me that if you can see someone's very tall boots, they are probably wearing skinny jeans!  This is not a jump I am willing to make.  I'm pretty sure I would feel like a "showcase", drawing way too much attention to myself, and yet, everyone else seems to pull it off just fine.  Do you think we could just reverse the trend to regular jeans and loafers, please?  That way, I wouldn't feel like a frumpy prude and we could all be friends.  :)  Scripture says we are not supposed to worry about what to wear, so I'm leaving my fashion dilemmas here.

On a separate note, I found an old-school book at the St. Vincent de Paul store yesterday:  A Woman In Her Home by Ella May Miller.  There's a lady standing on the front wearing an apron, holding a tray of something delectable for her family to consume.  I feel good about the price - It originally cost $.95 and I got it for a quarter.  These kinds of books make me smile and I usually glean something, besides.  I'm 2/3 of the way through and here is the high point so far, "To be a mother is difficult and dangerous, but no one else can replace her.  Will women never see how important they are?  Their power of doing good and doing harm is beyond measure, and it is done in private where no one can stop them, but themselves." - Dr. John Bowlby, Ladies' Home Journal, November 1958

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for the gift of life.  Please comfort those who are left behind with empty arms and unanswered questions.  Please give them the grace of Your peace.  You and Mary know the pain of watching Your own Son suffer and die, please help them have recourse to You.  Thank you for Advent.  Thank you for giving us a reason for joy and hope.  Thank you for the stuff of life and for Your Presence throughout it all.  Please help us, those who believe in You, be a beacon of light, hope, and peace for those who need it.  Jesus, I trust in You.  Amen.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Slowing Down To Celebrate Christmas and the Sacrament of the Present Moment

It's Advent.  A season of waiting and preparing our hearts to receive The Infant Jesus on His birthday.  How can I prepare a dusty and cluttered room for a King?!  It seems more than a little bit beyond what I am capable of.  But, I know I can't (or at least shouldn't) do nothing.  So, I need to begin by sweeping it out and letting some fresh air in.  In other words, I need to go to confession.  I need to acknowledge and let go of all that is ugly, selfish, and stained. 

Once I've cleaned His room as much as possible, how can I celebrate His arrival?!  Simply by being with Him.  Slowing down to joyfully receive all that comes, without rushing ahead or lagging behind.  To bear in mind the words and ideas of St. Francis de Sales:

We must attend to the business of life carefully, but without eagerness or overanxiety.  Gently flowing rivers bear barges with rich merchandise.  Make haste slowly.  We are always soon enough when we do well.  Accept the duties which come upon you quietly, and try to fulfill them methodically one after the other.  Remember the productive honeybee, who quietly goes about its business, while the bumblebee just makes noise.

If I can slow down, I can begin to celebrate the sacrament of the present moment.  It is a perpetual victory for Christ when one is aware of His presence in all things!  It is foolish to think He is pleased to be an afterthought and that He doesn't mind waiting until I'm finished with everything and everyone else.  If we remain unable to see Him in others and ordinary circumstances, He will always be last.  Reserved until the end of the day, when all of the others climb into bed, and we're too tired to pay Him any worthy attention at all.  

"The power of the most High shall over-shadow thee (Luke 1:35), said the angel to Mary.   This shadow, beneath which is hidden the power of God for the purpose of bringing forth Jesus Christ in the soul, is the duty, the attraction, or the cross that is presented to us at each moment."   Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence

If I can get his room in shape and slow down enough to spend time with Him there, only one question remains.  How can I bring Him to others?  By taking Him in the love which wraps our daily acts of kindness.  If those who receive them ponder the love, if they question the love, if the love they feel gives them pause, they will find Christ from Whom all love emanates.

If we can accomplish these things (Cleaning the King's room, Slowing down, Living in the present moment, and bringing Him to others),  We will honor Christ's birth and His life.  We will be like His Mother. 

Dear Baby Jesus and Savior King, Help me to prepare a room in my heart that is worthy of You.  Help me to slow down and attempt only one thing at a time.  Please give me eyes to "see" You in every person and circumstance.  Please give me the grace to be more like Your Mother.  I don't want to leave You for the end of the day, when I don't have anything else to give.  I know how I fare without Your Help in this, for that is where I am today.  Thank you for your mercy, patience, and love.  Thank you for trusting humanity enough to come to this world as an infant.  I am in awe of You and I love You.  Amen.