Friday, July 26, 2013

A Case For Kids

My boys are coming home from my friend's house today.  They have been gone for 4 1/2 days.  I am eager to see them, hug them, and hear all about their adventures, but I also have thoughts like: 

1.  More noise
2.  More chaos.
3.  More mess.

I am ashamed that these thoughts precede all of the other good things about them being home, which are eternally greater in value, and exponentially greater in number:

1.  More love.
2.  More laughter. 
3.  More joy.
4.  Stories at bedtime.
5.  Seeing them sleepy-eyed in the mornings.
6.  Child-led prayer at mealtimes.
7.  Bike rides to the park.
8.  Having people to swim with in the deep end.
9.  Never have to jump on the trampoline alone.
10.  Never bored.
11.  More generosity.  Less selfishness.
12.  Having a reason for driving 45 minutes to the nearest skating rink.
13.  Unbridled enthusiasm over something seen or imagined.
14.  Always having a date for Happy Hour at Sonic.
15.  More humility.  They do not care who I think I am.

List B is the substance of my vocation.  List A are merely the accidental effects of my vocation, and every vocation has some.

This week proved it is possible for a house to be cleaned and stay clean.  I will not be stuck in the hamster wheel of cleaning for the rest of my life.  Good to know!

Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest.  Proverbs 14:4, NIV Student Bible

Translation for parents:  Where there are no children, the house is clean, but from the lives and love of children come an abundant harvest.

Just as the farmer has to guide the ox for an abundant harvest, we have to guide our children for the same.  How do we do that?!  By asking the perfect question!

My friend, Janet, texted me the other day about something she was reflecting on.  Her text read, "My reflection for this afternoon:  if my love for my children is a reflection of the way God loves wonder if I had a day with God in person, would I feel happy if he interacted with me the same way I interact with my kids?"

I told her I was "stealing" this idea (with her permission, of course), because it really is the true test of what we're doing as parents!  If we were on the receiving end of our parenting, as administered by God, how would we fare?  I love how she used the word "happy".  Would I be happy if God engaged me (or not), fed me, played with me, prayed with me, and disciplined me, the way I do these things with mine?

Dear Lord,

Thank you for keeping my children safe while they were away.  Thank you for my friend who kept them.  Thank you for Janet, and her wisdom.  Thank you for canoe trips down the Brazos River, and finding a perfect arrowhead on that sandbar.  Lord, please forgive my negative thoughts about motherhood, and all that it entails.  Thank you for time to reflect on many (but not all) of the irreplaceable gifts that my children bring into my life.  Thank you for the substance of my vocation.  Please help me to keep List B in front of me at all times, and to tuck List A away under the bed to gather dust.  You are an awesome God!  In every piece of tree that has turned into rock, fossils from animals that lived who-knows-when, and clusters of shells from an old ocean floor, I think of Your Majesty, Your Timelessness, and Your Fidelity to Your creatures.  Thank You. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Running Away From Home

I have an incredible friend who offered to keep my boys for five days.  (No, I will not email you her contact information :)).  Today is Day 3.  I talked to them last night and 2/3 wanted to come home.  This morning I texted with a friend who I am planning to sit with during her chemo treatment this afternoon.  She is the mother of ten.  Incredibly beautiful, holy, and wise.  When I told her that I would be there unless I had to pick up my kiddos, she said, "I never talk to my kids when they are away in the evening.  Things always look brighter in the morning."  Lesson learned.

Anyway, the past two days have been incredibly quiet, extremely productive, very relaxing, and awesome, in general. However, considering my time may end shortly, I've been thinking about what I enjoy most about being "free". 

*I like waking up early and not having to be quiet, for fear of waking someone up.
*I like choosing what to do next.  Filling up the hours of the day is fun, when you're not dragging a string of little people behind you.
*I like being able to run away from home.  Somewhere other than on my street, because I don't want to be out of earshot when my kids are home. 
*I like eating lunch out of town, just because I can.

In a word, I like the ability to "Go".  I never feel more free than when I'm heading out to cover some great distance.  Over the years (and prior to children), this has been on horseback, on foot, in a canoe, on a bicycle, or in a car.  On horseback, I competed in endurance riding.  Riding 25, 50, or 100 miles in a day.  My first experience with the sport was driving a truck and trailer for a lady (in a group) who did this across the Pony Express trail.  We were gone for two months, and they rode 2,000 miles.  Prior to that, I biked across Kansas the long way (which is about 400 miles), with a guy who pushed his way in a wheelchair.  After kids, almost every summer, my husband and I drive a long way, to hike a long way, in some part this incredible country.

One day, I'd like to walk across England (an article in a magazine that gave me that idea), the Appalachian trail, or the Continental Divide. 

I've never really thought about why these things appeal to me so much, but if I had to guess, it would probably be because I like to feel free.  I find God most easily in the quiet and in His Creation.  And when I spend a prolonged period of time in the quiet and in Creation, I find Him most profoundly.  There is also something planted deep within me that tells me I am made for a journey.  And when I perceive with all of my senses that I am covering distance with my Creator, that something rings true. 

We were not created to lead drab, narrow, or constricted lives, but to live in the wide-open spaces.  We find confinement unbearable, simply because we were created in the image of God, and we have within us an unquenchable need for the absolute and the infinite.

Interior Freedom, Jacques Phillipe

However, as much as these first thoughts are noble and true, there is also part of it that rewards my selfishness - the shedding of responsibility.  The escape.  Which just goes to prove that all godly things don't have to feel bad.  They can be good for God, and me.  And they usually are.  But, it doesn't really put life (especially a very blessed one like mine) in a very nice light - to talk about it as something that needs to be escaped from.  It is not a prison, or a plantation before the Civil War. 

Monotony, stress, exhaustion, etc... are only some of the accidental effects of any given vocation.  What you need to get hold of, and examine, and pray about, and give thanks to God for, and not allow to go to waste is the substance.  It is the vocation itself about which you must be sure:  when you have got the cause right...You will begin to see a pattern about your life.  It will not be a muddle of dreary duties that are mercifully interrupted every now and then by pleasures:  it will be a related whole; it will have unity.

The greatest pleasures in life are not those that are superimposed - any more than they are those that represent escapes.  The greatest and most lasting pleasures are those that emerge out of life itself.  They are these that come in virtue of the vocation, not in spite of it.  The taste of the fruit is not the sugar you put on it...As a rule, it is not that the fruit is bitter, but that we have a wrong idea of sweetness.

Holiness for Housewives (and other working women), Dom Hubert Van Zeller

*Note:  A vocation is a strong inclination to follow a particular course of action; a divine call to God's service or to the Christian life.

Back to unity and reality...I have three kids who have zero interest in riding their bikes beyond the park that's only two blocks away.  So, how do I create unity between these critical parts of who I am to them and what I want/need for me? 

For now, I will work it out in little ways.  Take the dog to Lick Creek park and "disappear" for a couple of hours.  Go swimming at the local pool until I can't pause long enough on the end to catch my breath.  Drive an hour to the National Forest and hike until I'm ready to stop.  Canoe the Brazos.  And of course, continually take my kids with me, as far as they're willing and able to go.

Which reminds me -  I am at home.  Alone.  And the day is stretched out before me.  Catch you later.

Dear Heavenly Father and Author of All That is Good,

Thank you for time to reflect on all of the good things You have given.  Thank you for the phone call while I was writing this that said "All is well. Everyone wants to stay."  Thank you for being available to me every second, of every minute of my lifetime.  Thank you for the wisdom of mothers who have raised ten children or any one child, well.  Thank you for a husband who I love to soak up the time with.  Thank you for the beauty and wonder of Your Creation, and the way it draws us to You.  Thank you for all of the opportunities in my life to set out on a journey.  Thank you for the journey I'm on now, and for those to come.  Please forgive my selfishness and help me always to recognize the substance of the work You have blessed me with.  Please bless all parents!  Especially those who are at home with little ones, who take two naps a day.  Please bless those on the other end of life who are dying from loneliness - The ones who would give anything to spend a day with a child.  Especially, Ms. Eva.  Thank you for this day, and all days.  Thank you for a home to be comfortable in. A home that I'm happy to leave and even happier to come home to.  I love You.  Amen.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Friendship and the Power to Change the World

It's barely 8:00 on Sunday morning, and I have walked for 30 minutes, prayed the Rosary (during my walk), and finished my morning prayer.  All of my boys are still asleep.  I cannot tell you how good this feels!  I want to share this with you, because it's new and it's happening because of the influence of one person. 

Yesterday, I downloaded the Couch to 5K app on my phone, and headed out the door at 6:45am to begin Day 1.  I arrived back home in 30 minutes sweaty and satisfied.  I dropped my gym membership about a year ago, and haven't done much of anything since then.  I just couldn't commit nor did I even want to.  Until two days ago.

Two days ago, I got together with a friend who has three boys (like me) and a 7-month-old baby girl.  She was wearing her workout clothes when we arrived, so I pressed about her exercise routine.  She told me she gets up early before her kids wake and walks/jogs for 20 minutes, and she's not a runner.  One of her earliest nicknames was "Turtle".  This blew me away.  She has one more little one than I do, is not "good" at running, and she was still finding a way to exercise! 

Just knowing that she was doing it, was all I needed!  She changed my world.  There was other fruit from the time spent together as well, and I found myself marveling at the impact she made on me in the span of a morning.

It just so happens that my boys and I have had a lot of friend time this week, and I felt similarly inspired and challenged after each encounter.  Feeling very blessed in friendship, pondering the impact of those friendships, and making concrete changes in my life because of them was the perfect thought environment to enter into the Living Life With Passion and Purpose talk by Matthew Kelly I attended yesterday.

He had a lot of compelling things to say about the voice of God, personal clarity, Jesus, and being who you should be, and I plan to ponder them for some time.  I highly encourage you to check him out if you are looking to change your life in a powerful and positive way. 

One of the things that really stuck with me was the idea of a Spectrum of Engagement.  In any given area of our life (marriage, parenting, work, play) we engage anywhere from 100% to not-at-all.  "We engage or disengage in EVERYTHING we do".  He discussed what their research has shown about the two qualities highly engaged people always have:

1.  They're committed to continuous learning.
2.  They're hungry for best practices.  (Who's the best in the world at this and what can I learn from them?)

He also discussed the idea of universal talent vs. unique talent.  Universal talent is something we can all do.  Our universal talent is the ability to make a difference in other people's lives.  But, because we all have it, we tend to de-value it.  This is in contrast to unique talent (being exceptional at something), which is the type of talent our culture is obsessed with.  "Our culture takes what's important and makes it trivial, and takes what's trivial and makes it important."

These ideas took me back to thinking about my friends.  My friends are highly engaged people.  Only I never would have thought to label them before.  This is what attracts me to them.  This is why they challenge and inspire me.  This is why I need to make a better effort (which in my case, is any), to spend time with them. 

I am the beneficiary of my friends' universal talent - Their ability to make a difference in the lives of others, and specifically, my own.  In my conscious thought, if I could choose between being the best in the world at something, or having the power to impact another's life for good, I would choose the second.  Every time.

But, in my subconscious mind, it is easy to fantasize about the first and overlook the second.  The "bests" in the world are easy to envy.  Their lives are so "pretty" from the outside.  But, this past week with my friends, and listening to Matthew Kelly reminded me of the power contained in friendship.

Fr. Scott Reilly says, "Every person is a world.  Change one person, you change a world." 

I don't know who is the best in the world at being a wife, a mother, or a friend.  But, I know who are the best in my world, and that's all I need to know.

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for my friends, and the power of their example!!  Thank you for the opportunity to listen to Matthew Kelly speak yesterday and the seeds that were planted.  Thank you for friends who reach out, even and especially when it's not "their turn".  Please forgive my selfishness and lack of generosity.  Please help me to value what is important, devalue what is trivial, and know the difference.  Thank you for couch to 5K phone apps, and rosaries on podcast.  Thank you for Sundays and the freedom we have in this country to worship You without fear.  I love You and I thank You from the bottom of my heart for giving me companions on this journey who make me better.  Amen.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Golden Calf named "Certainty"

 I just got home from my Holy hour and am too excited to sleep about the epiphany I had when I was there. 

I worship a golden calf named "Certainty".   

I am willing (and greatly desire) to sacrifice my freedom to know that I am doing God's will.  I beg God all the time, "Just make Your Will known to me, and I will do it."  I'll accept anything from God except not knowing what He wants from me.

However, now that the hook I've been hanging all of my certainty and plans on for the past two years has been removed, I'm becoming a little more open-minded.  The hook removal (not being accepted into the Spiritual Direction program) was also a good lesson in humility and detachment.  Leaning too hard on anything, if it is not God Himself, is dangerous.  Even if it is something good.  Even if it is something you think He wants. 

I've read several things over time that all came together tonight.  Like when you pass the tipping point in Solitaire.

The progression went something like this...

"Does the way seem a stony one?  Not one stone can impede your progress.  Face the future, but face it only with a brave and happy heart.  Do not seek to see it.  You are robbing Faith of her sublime sweetness if you do this."  ~God Calling   

"And Christ still sends me roses.  We try to be formed and held and kept by him, but instead he offers us freedom.  And now when I try to know his will, his kindness floods me, his great love overwhelms me, and I hear him whisper, Surprise me. ~Mariette in Ecstasy, Ron Hansen

"Can we surprise God?  Probably not in some ultimate metaphysical sense; God knows all in his dwelling place in eternity.  But in our daily relationship with Jesus, I wouldn't dismiss the idea out of hand.  We crave certainty; "instead he offers us freedom."  This opens the door to surprise.  Even if we don't surprise God, we can surprise ourselves."  a simple life-changing prayer - Discovering the Power of St. Ignatius Loyola's Examen, Jim Manney

It makes sense that we crave certainty because we recognize how important doing the will of God is in the life of a Christian.  It is paramount.

"The only thing that really matters in life is doing the will of God.  Once you are doing the will of God, then everything matters.  But apart from the accepted will of God, nothing has any lasting reality.  So, If God wills that you should be bowed over the sink instead of over the pew in your favorite church, then washing the dishes is for you, now, the most perfect thing you can possibly do."
Holiness for Housewives (and other working women), Don Hubert Van Zeller

So, my freedom isn't the curse that is often feels like...Should I do this or that?  Work or stay home?  Write or not? 

There is not a pencil thin line drawn through my life that is "God's will".  It is not something that I should fear missing or messing up.  It is not something I need to lean forward to catch a glimpse of, or strain my eyes to see.  I am robbing Faith when I do that.

"God made the angels to show Him splendor - as He made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity.  But man He made to serve Him wittingly, in the tangle of his mind."
~A Man of All Seasons, Thomas More

My freedom is God's gift to me, and He does not intend to exchange it for certainty.  About anything.  This makes sense, because now I know that certainty is its own god.  And my God will not put up with that.

Dear Awesome and Gentle God,

How could anyone but You make me feel good about the realization that I'm violating one of Your ten commandments?!  How can an all-powerful God nudge so gently?  I have been worshipping a false god, and I didn't even know it.  Thank you for nights like tonight when the stuff of years aligns itself.  Thank you for friendships which help me to know You, myself, and others better.  Please forgive my attachment to all that is not You.  Please give me the grace of Your Presence, rather than knowledge of Your plan.  I'm sorry I've been trying to take something You never intended to give, and robbed Faith of her sweetness.  I love the idea of trying to surprise You.  I think I'll try it.  I love You.  Please make me love You more and more.  Amen.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Six Thoughts in Four Days

My youngest brother got married yesterday.  His wedding was as beautiful as his bride, who was so beautiful, I cried when I saw her.  They are perfect for each other and I was beyond proud to be a part of it.

We got home from Kansas a few hours ago and my mind is busy with thoughts from the last four days.  Being in a different environment with a lot of different people gave me some food for thought.

Thought 1:  I don't like being around drunk people.  It sounds harsh, but I don't respect them.  I'm trying to put my finger on it, but I think it's a combination of a lack of self-control, the transformation from something genuine to something less so, and the idea of drinking to an end.  The actual enjoyment of drinking seems to get lost in the pursuit of getting drunk.  It reminds me of those people who compete in eating contests.  They don't eat to enjoy the food, they eat to eat a lot.  40 hotdogs in how many minutes?  Blech. 

And yet, I envy their ability to enjoy themselves without regard for anyone else.  I love the idea of blending in with the crowd, and enjoying myself in a room full of tipsy people.  But, all I really want to do is run away, which makes me feel a bit like an uptight spinster, a prude, and a freak.

Maybe I'm missing out.  I've never even had a good buzz, much less been drunk.  I can't get past feeling my eyes move around in my head after one wine cooler.  And how do people drink so much beer (or any liquid) without their stomachs crying out in protest?  I can't imagine drinking 3 or 6 or 10 sodas in a row.  There's something about it that is totally beyond me.  All I really know, is that it has a lot of power over people, especially ones I love.  And it is a power I loathe and distrust.

Thought 2:  I love my husband.  A lot.  And my family loves him.  A lot.  But, he doesn't sit well for any length of time and he likes to be in his own house.  We were only at my parent's for four full days.  He was ready to go home at the end of day 2.  I usually want to know how he's feeling, good or bad.  But, I would rather not know this.  When I realize it, I pick up and carry the burden of him wishing he were elsewhere.  It disturbs my peace and dampens my joy.  If I dwell on it, I begin to feel like he's stealing something from me.  Something that I already have precious little of.  Time with my family - who lives ten hours away - who I see about three times a year. 

To be fair, there are two sides to every story, and I know I am not an attentive wife and mother when we go there.  I'm distracted by conversation with whoever happens by, and busy sketching the plan of how to fit everyone in.  Meanwhile, he's being hen-pecked (rooster-pecked?) by boys who want to ride the four-wheeler and shoot fireworks and start a fire and be pushed on the swing.  Based on that alone, I can see why it isn't exactly the vacation for him that it is for me.  But, it would be nice if it were.

Thought 3:  I never thought I could get tired of hearing good things about myself or anyone else.  But, I can.  On all accounts.  I don't tire of thinking good things about others, but I do tire of talking about them.

Thought 4:  My boys are growing up.  They need me for little and want me for the same.  So, after no nap and an unsuccessful search for "Bear", his best friend and constant companion, my 4-year-old fell asleep on me at the wedding reception.  This is the boy who doesn't give hugs and kisses anymore and loves to tell me how pretty I don't look.  He slept so hard, he peed his pants, and mine.  I was in heaven, just the same.

They really do grow up.  As parents of young children, we're careful to record our baby's and toddler's "firsts".  First tooth, first word, first step, first haircut, etc...  But there are as many "lasts" as there are firsts.  (Like, maybe, hopefully not, but maybe, holding a pee-soaked 4-year-old on your lap for the last time).  Lasts just aren't so obvious.  And that's a good thing because we might never stop crying over the things that will be no more.

Thought 5:  On the other end of life, I reminisced with one of my Dad's old friends about water fights and days gone by.  He's been doing the chemo/radiation routine to fight cancer for awhile now.  There's no hope of eradicating it, they're just trying to slow it down.  When we said goodbye, he said, "I hope to see you again while I'm still alive."  I choked back the tears and said, "Me, too", knowing that I wouldn't.

Saying your last goodbye to a dying man in the middle of a party isn't something that makes any emotional sense.  This man and his wife were the couple who "caught" the bouquet at my wedding.  We gave it to the couple who had been married the longest, and that was ten years ago.  While the young newlyweds danced the night away on hearts full of promise and dreams, time is running out for a man and wife who have lived them, and tucked them away.  They still have promises and dreams, but they are for eternity and those they'll leave behind. 

Thought 6:  I regret not slow-dancing with my husband.  I assumed we would early on, but I ended up holding my son, talking, or cleaning up.  When I realized that it was almost time to leave, I listened intently for a good slow-dance song, but one never came.  By the end of the night, I only danced to one song, and that was with my brother, the groom - for a dollar.

I should have done better than that.  I guess we don't have to wait for somebody to get married to dance.  We have music and a hardwood floor at home.  But, we also have a TV, and a computer, and little kids.  Maybe we just need a date night...

Dear Author of all that is good,

Thank you for our safe travel today.  Thank you for the guardian angels who watched over us.  Thank you for my little brother and his new wife.  Please watch over them as they leave for their honeymoon tomorrow, and all the days of their lives.  Thank you for families that just keep growing.  Thank you for parents who pray and invest in their kids, and in their kids' kids.  Please bless Ed and his wife as he continues treatment.  Thank you for their example and their love. 

Thank you for the freedom we have in this country.  Please help us to use it in a way that pleases You.  Thank you for fireworks, and every other reason we have to cast our eyes heavenward. 

Lord, please grant me wisdom and compassion where alcohol is concerned.  I don't know what I don't know, and I need You to show me. 

Lord, please help me to be grateful for "what is", so that I may not live with regret when it is no longer.  In Your Wisdom, you spared us the constant awareness of those things that slip away from us.  Thank You.  Please help me redeem the mistakes I've made this past week in the week ahead.  And please bless my family, friends, and all whom I include in my poor prayers.  Amen.