Tag Archives: motherhood

The Vocation of Motherhood

One of the most insidious and harmful ideas that mothers labor under is the idea that we can raise flawless children. Rationally we know this isn’t true, but emotionally we throw ourselves into this impossible task. It is honorable and understandable to try to always do best by and for your children. But this can become an idol unto itself, an untenable goal, the impossibility of which serves to demoralize us as we pursue our vocation.

In some ways our mothers had it easier. No blogs, no parenting websites, no constant stream of opinion and advice, citing research and various studies. Everyone has an opinion and no qualms about sharing with maximum certitude the absolute correctness of their ideas. With constant, often contradictory messages, frustration and angst build. Did I birth correctly? Should I have breastfed longer? Co-slept? Worn my baby more? Tandem nurse? Did I fail my children; did I harm them by not doing this? By doing that?

Worry and stress are not tools of the Lord. Self-doubt and angst are not part of His call for us. Nothing changes the reality that we are flawed human beings raising flawed human beings. All of our efforts, all of our study, all of our desire to find the perfect method, the path that gives us children with no heartbreak, none of these can eliminate baggage and hurt from our children’s lives.

I used to be much more certain about how I was raising my children. I never thought I had all the answers, but I certainly knew which ways were better. I unabashedly announced my opinion on a certain parenting style, only to discover that a mother I respected actually practiced this particular parenting method. Despite my strongly-held opinions, her children were happy and delightful and loved her fiercely. Maybe, just maybe, this mother knew better how to raise the children God gave her than I did. Maybe what I felt so strongly about simply wasn’t right for my children. Didn’t fit with my personality.

We can try to do everything right. We can try to be the most educated, the most empowered parents out there. We can everything we can to avoid the mistakes our parents made, but it won’t change the fact that we are making our own. The failure in parenting doesn’t come from mistakes made, but the refusal to learn from them. If we learn, improve and grow from our struggles in parenting, then we are doing right by our children. There is no perfect parent, but there is the parent who is perfecting. And this side of Heaven, that’s as good as we can do.

And just as we cannot avoid mistakes along the way, neither can our children. As they grow and mature into the people God has called them to be, they will have struggles. They won’t always make the right choices, despite our best efforts to teach and guide them. We can give them all the “right” tools, all the answers we know, but they won’t always listen. This isn’t necessarily an indication of a failure in parenting. How do I know? Look at the Original Parent. Look at Our Father.

God actually gave His children the world. He gave them everything they could ever want. And He still had to send them to the world’s worst time out. They still ignored Him, still disobeyed, still brought pain and suffering upon themselves. God is both firm and just. He dispenses justice and consequences for sins. But He merciful and quick to forgive. He wants nothing more than His children to be happy, but truly happy not momentarily indulged. So He does deny, when it is appropriate, He does say no, but He always acts in complete love. What better role model can there be? God certainly doesn’t have a universal; one size fits all, approach to care for His children. Rather, He meets them where they are, challenges them individually and wills the best for them always.

Motherhood is one long learning curve. From the different personalities that burst into your life to the different stages that each child grows through, children keep you on your toes. Yesterday’s game plan doesn’t always meet today’s needs. And yet there is one immutable reality, love. Passionate, motivating love.  The one consistent factor in our lives is love, whether it is God’s love for us or our love for our children.

That’s what our vocation is. That’s what the calling of motherhood is. To be a mirror of God’s love. To show our children how much He loves us, for them to begin to experience and recognize that love in their daily lives. It’s not about forming them into the people we think they should be. It’s about forming them into the persons God created them to be. It’s not about raising people who won’t make mistakes, who won’t make choices that we don’t understand. It’s about making sure that through the fog of error they know they are never alone. Never without that love. And that love will always be calling them home.

Of Mountains and Molehills

One of my favorite throwaway phrases is “first world problems.” It never fails to make me laugh. Whether it’s my sister and a friend complaining about having to replace the batteries in her battery-operated wine opener, or my friends and I griping about too many fashion images and not enough fitness pins in our Pinterest feeds, it’s fun to be able to laugh at our “not” problems. It’s nice to be able to use a phrase that indicates we appreciate and recognize how blessed or pleasant our lives are, while still complaining.

But there can be a downside to flippantly dismissing our frustrations and struggles. Not that anyone really cares if your dvr turns off one minute too early, but it’s not to say that our daily struggles aren’t truly challenging, truly difficult. We might live in a first world country, but that’s not to say our hardships aren’t truly hard.

My husband and I are both employed. We have five beautiful children, who have no serious health struggles. When they are ill, we are able to access healthcare for them. We have a home that meets our needs. And, as I explained to my son, as his eyes widened watching the cost of filling up the gas tank, we have enough money to meet our needs. So any struggles we have, they’re pretty minor aren’t they?

There’s a healthiness that comes with being able recognize the positive in any situation. When my children are frustrating me, I like being able to step back and remind myself that they are alive to annoy me, which is something, sadly, not every friend of mine can say. When I feel lonely and neglected when my husband plays video games for hours, well at least his time on the computer is spent with fellow nerds and not X-rated playmates. At least he’s coming home every night right after work, rather than hanging out in bars. There’s truth there. And there are certainly silver linings to almost every situation.

However, that doesn’t remove frustration or hurt. And just because it could be worse, it doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. Motherhood is exhausting. It’s hard having one child, being their everything, always. It’s exhausting having several children; in the words of Jim Gaffigan, “Having a fourth baby is like you’re drowning… and someone hands you a baby.” Staying at home with your children is a wonderful gift, one that doesn’t allow you any downtime and can be very draining. Working while mothering small children can be heartbreaking, the guilt overwhelming, a constant struggle to balance and give to your children all that they deserve.

No one has an easy, carefree life. Events and circumstances strike different people in various ways. No one should feel like she has to excuse and minimize her struggles, just because they aren’t as severe as others. Some people might find it overwhelming to care for their children alone while their spouse is on a business trip. That’s ok. Yes there are spouses who single-parent through year-long deployments, and they are remarkable. But that doesn’t mean someone should feel bad from struggling over the course of a few days.

No good comes from comparing crosses. I was part of a larger conversation not that long ago. One participant asked that those women who were struggling with NFP or with their large family not complain because infertility was a harder struggle. I disagreed. I’ve sat with friends weeping at their inability to conceive a child. I’ve sat with friends dealing with unplanned pregnancies. I’ve sat with a mother panicking at the thought of her fifth C-section in five years. These aren’t comparable.

I believe we should try to walk just a few steps in our fellow mothers’ stilettos, not so we can compare lives but so we can better support and encourage. But we do no one any favors when we diminish our own, or any others, struggles. Maybe we can’t relate. Maybe it doesn’t seem that overwhelming to us. But that’s not the issue. It’s that someone is struggling, for whatever the reason.

God gives us what we need to grow. And each of us will grow differently, each of us have different aspects of ourselves that we need to improve. Each of us has our own baggage, our own hurts and scars. We should be honest when we struggle; open about what is overwhelming or just discouraging. It might not be as hard, outside looking in, as someone else’s struggle. But that’s not the point. The point is help is needed, support is required. Love is necessary.

Don’t apologize when life is overwhelming. You don’t have to justify your struggles. Be open and let others lift you up. Appreciate the blessings in your life, but don’t be afraid to honestly admit what’s challenging as well. It doesn’t matter if your problems seem simple or minor to others. What matters is that they are problems to you. Problems you shouldn’t have to face alone.

Mary-ing Our Marthas

I was at a high school soccer game recently. I didn’t know the girls playing, but my second daughter was collecting the balls hit out of bounds with the rest of her soccer team. At least she was supposed to. They were focused, at first. But as the game wore on, the girls seemed more interested in working on a dance routine. My daughter participated, but eventually wandered off, choosing to spin underneath some low hanging trees instead. That’s so her style. Blissfully lost in her own world. Enjoying her life, expressing this joy through song and dance. I love watching her, whether it’s her dancing or her swinging ferociously. Her ability to escape the worries that I know school places on her, to forget her squabbles with her siblings, is inspiring. She knows how to enjoy life, how to appreciate the sun and the beauty of nature. She sees the world for the glorious gift that it is.

We are admonished to become as little children in order to enter the kingdom of Heaven. We are to trust completely in God, Our Father, knowing that He will provide for us, meeting our every need, sometimes in ways that better suit us than we can ever realize. We put our faith in Him and are not disappointed. The love and protection we come to recognize leads to trust and appreciation. It is truly a parent-child relationship. There is a peace that children have. Especially children who rest easy in the comfort of their parents’ love and protection.  There is a freedom and ease to their life; they bounce about, with few worries. What keeps us, as adults, from imitating, or seeking, this freedom? This ease? I have a never ending list of chores in my head; I rush from one task to the next. Being responsible, making sure that meals are made, the house is clean, the laundry is done. All of these are important, necessary tasks, much like school is for my children, so where is my peace? Where is my joy?

It’s a fine tightrope mothers walk. Finding that balance between Martha and Mary. There’s always so much that needs to be done, and yet these moments, these gifts from God are fleeting. And I admit, I was always sympathetic to Martha’s plight, dinner doesn’t make itself, and laundry doesn’t end up done, no matter how long you wait. It’s part of being an adult, balancing responsibilities and caring for those who depend on you. Still, we are called to be like children in relation to God. And what do children do? They delight in the world. They are free and uninhibited with their joy. I came to sit and write, at the scheduled time. I have a few minutes to drink my coffee now that the vacuuming is done before it’s time to work out. Then it will be lunch, with naptime and some school time following. My eighteen month old daughter followed me into the office, which isn’t unusual; she wanted to sit in my lap, which too isn’t unusual. And I held her, which I am very used to. But she wasn’t content to just sit, she wanted to snuggle and snuggle in such a way that her head rested on my shoulder. She’s a little thing, but still, both arms were required to hold her so. And I did. And I willed myself to not think of deadlines, of how I could move her just so and still type. I just sat and let her hair tickle my nose, her hands play with my shirt, her body melt into my arms, letting me know she was ready to sleep. But I didn’t rush her to bed. I delighted.

I delighted in the beautiful baby who is growing too fast. I delighted in the silence of the office, the bent heads engrossed in their schoolwork. I just let myself melt into the moment, pushed those worries out of my mind, even if just for a second. It is a beautiful life we lead, even if that beauty is mired in diapers, sticky hand prints, cranky children, who are always hungry. And just as we can miss the glorious sunset painting the colorful leaves as we rush from work to the numerous sports practices that await our children, we can miss the beauty of the chaotic world about us. Not that we don’t see it, but we don’t appreciate it in the moment. I’m sure that Martha was well aware how magnificent it was that Jesus was sitting there in her home. She was doing her best to keep the visit magnificent, cooking and caring for the needs of everyone, without help. And, at first glance, it seems like Jesus is ungrateful for her efforts. But He was just teaching, using her desire to love and serve to remind her of the why. The why we are so busy. It is to care for those we love, to provide for them. It is too easy to get wrapped up in the work itself, the cooking and cleaning, without remembering that it is to better care for those we love.

Martha was frustrated by the amount of work that she had to do, Mary was enjoying and delighting in the presence of those she loved. It can seem like a chore, a never ending to do list, the care and nurturing of our families. We can lose their faces to the stacks of dishes and unmade beds. So it is those moments when we let it go, we stop and delight, in which our Marthas and Marys meld. Our desires to serve and give are rejuvenated by our love and delight in those we want to give so much to. Let go of those cares, for just a moment. Let the beauty, the joy, the peace engulf you. Let your heart spin and twirl in the love that overwhelms you. Be childlike in your delight of the wonders in life. And then it’s back to work. But maybe it will seem just a little less like work.

 

Rebekah Andrews is a 2001 graduate of Thomas Aquinas college. Married to Dave since 2001, Rebekah is mother to five children. She home schools her children and works for an online school. There is no spare time for hobbies because all five children play various sports, mostly soccer. Rebekah also writes at Moments in Mediocre Motherhood.

Parents Are An Image of God

The image of God that parents can portray is meant to make a mark in the hearts and memories of the children it serves. In this way, parents will do much more in the lives of their kids by leaving with them a living impression of God in a way that is impossible for anything else in Creation to make. If we do our job correctly, we parents can lead our children to a deep faith in God that is more valuable than any other inheritance we could leave them.

In his brilliant teaching on the family, found in Familiars Consortio, St. John Paul II wrote, “By virtue of their ministry of educating, parents are, through the witness of their lives, the first heralds of the Gospel for their children.” In this way parents have a role in presenting to their kids their first ever experience of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The modern saint wrote “through the witness of their lives” to highlight that children learn the life-giving Gospel through the everyday encounter that they have with those who gave them life. Just as Jesus presented the Gospel through words and deeds, so too do parents present the Gospel to their kids through words and deeds.

By loving and caring for our children, we make manifest to them the solemn truth that love exists; and if they see that love exists, it is possible and easier for them to see that there is a Being who is Love. Experiencing love allows our children to know The One Who Is Love, making the mystery of the communion of love in which we participate more accessible to their human understanding. Furthermore, I think that if our children do not have this experience of love as a foundation for their faith, it will be much harder to come to know personally this Great One Who Is Love.

We remember God can do anything, even overcome our brokenness, as Dr. Peter Kreeft has stated, “He writes straight with crooked lines.” However, God has sought our assistance in the creation and raising up of human persons in this life. We can see purpose for the slow growth in independence that children gain naturally as they age. Furthermore, within this purpose we see immense importance in the role of the parents to shape and prepare their children for a good life.

Even though we are imperfect and lacking, we are called to overcome and eclipse the terrible images of parenthood that are plaguing modern society. We need to overcome our desire to be “cool parents” who let our kids do whatever they want as long as it does not get in the way of their busy schedule. We should force ourselves to not give in to what is easy for ourselves in raising our kids, but seek to do the good things that are hard, but most beneficial for the physical, mental, and spiritual develop for our children.

As a father, I have noted the beautiful impression of God that I am able to leave on my children. Some of the ways that we do this are obvious, like providing for our children’s needs just like God our Father provides for all of our needs. However, there are many more ways I see in my role as daddy in leading my beloved children to God.

1. My kids wake up and I have already left for work. On most days, my wife promises them that I will come again before dinner. I come home to fulfill the beautiful prophesy just as Jesus will one day come to us again.

2. One day during Mass, my baby daughter started to cry. I swooped her up and held her close to calm and soothe her. So too does our Heavenly Father want to swoop us up and comfort us when we are upset.

3. I need to work to keep my promises that I make to my children so as to be the image of Our Father who always keeps His promises.

4. When my children come to me and I give them my full attention, I allow for them to grasp the loving attention that God gives us all.

5. In the same way, when I am able to help my children out with their problems, I can image for them the Good Father who will help us as well.

What are some other ways parents can reflect God to their children?

Learning About Self-Donation at the Gym

I was reflecting on my first month of the new year and my resolution/theme of “stronger.” I’ve been going to the gym a lot this month and can see so much physical change in my body, along with emotional and mental change and discipline. But as I was reflecting on all this, my thoughts turned to a young woman I met in a class at the gym. She is 17 weeks pregnant with her third child and is in much better shape than I am; in fact, she barely looks pregnant—she makes me look pregnant! Of course, this sparked conversation among the other young mothers in the class about how she does it, as well as how far some of us still have to go in losing the baby weight and regaining our bodies. This young mother told us that she and her husband always plan a trip 12 weeks out after having a baby to a tropical location so that she has motivation to work out (a.k.a. look good in a swimsuit), that she gets back to the gym as soon as possible after giving birth, and that she doesn’t breastfeed her children because it prevents her from losing weight. She is definitely a very type-A person! But much of what she was saying just didn’t sit well with me. I thought, What am I missing? What do I not understand? The more I thought about why this woman’s statements bothered me, the more one word came up: self-donation.

Now, I am in no way judging this woman as I don’t even know her name, let alone her true motivations or the depths of her heart, but the way she presented herself sparked these revelations within me, and God was certainly using her to do this work in me. That being said, the way this woman presented herself to me seemed to lack an understanding of the beauty of giving up your body for another, the beauty that is using your body for the good of another, and seemed to view pregnancy as an inconvenience and nothing more (although she spoke very beautifully of the babies she has been given, so this is good!). Yes, pregnancy is certainly a physical inconvenience, and using your body for the good of one so tiny instead of getting it back in peak physical condition as soon as possible is also an inconvenience. But this is the way of Christ—a total giving of self for the good of others.

I give myself to my children in so many small ways (and deny myself to them in many of the same instances)—sharing my bed and not getting enough sleep, staying home from the gym because they are sick. In carrying them within me during pregnancy and in trying, ever desperately trying, to breastfeed them. In playing with them or listening to their stories or worries when what I really need is a little quiet time. In making their food and feeding them before I even think of feeding myself. In not worrying what my body looks like as long as it can function to give (while remaining healthy, always shooting for some semblance of balance).

And in what I give up in my body, I gain so much more. I gain children who run to me and embrace me and enthusiastically call me their queen and their love! Children who want to share everything with me because they know that I care for every ounce of their existence. I gain children who want me to run with them and take them on walks and who wrestle with me and get into tickle fights with me. My body may not be back to top physical form and I may never look “good” in a swimsuit, but I have found a new discipline in it, the discipline of knowing how to give up myself, how to turn myself over, how to truly love with every fiber of my body. My desire to get in better shape should not come at the expense of serving my family; rather, it should be directed toward helping me serve them better, and ultimately that means it might not happen in exactly the way I’d like.

I think of that young mother, and I pray for her. Not because I think she is in a desperate way; I pray instead that she already knows this deeper beauty and that she goes even deeper. My prayer for myself is the same. And really, I’m not at all a type-A personality, so maybe I truly just don’t have any idea of how her interior life even begins to go! It matters not; all that matters is that this lady was an avenue of grace for me. When I look upon the Crucifix, I realize that it was not just on the Cross that Christ gave Himself for us in totality, but that He did it throughout His life in every small and big way possible. That is true self-donation: giving all of oneself in every moment of living and in the totality of death. This is my prayer and my plea, to be more like Him, to give more like Him, to love more like Him, to die more like Him.

Learning from the Moms

imitating maryI’m a new priest and I have a lot to learn. Of course, working in a parish affords me many opportunities to work with different and diverse groups of people. A group of mothers approached me a few months ago and asked if I would be willing to lead a book discussion for them. I said yes. Immediately, given the dynamic of their group, I knew what book would be good: Imitating Mary: Ten Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom, written by a fellow Wisconsinite named Marge Fenelon. It has been a great joy to walk with these moms as we journey with Mary from the Annunciation in Nazareth to Calvary and the Upper Room. In the process, these moms taught me a lot. Here are four lessons I learned:

  1. Openness to Life

Many of the moms in the group brought their children to our discussions. What a joy to see the many gifts from God present in that room! In their motherhood I realized what a blessing it is for them to have children. They taught me that people today still seek to live out the Church’s teachings regarding family and openness to life.

  1. Moms Need Support

It was clear to me that these moms valued the support that they gave one another. Many of them are a part of each other’s lives and they seek to incorporate spirituality into their daily lives. They gather in each other’s homes throughout the month to pray the rosary and organize play dates. They break open the Word of God together. The moms all came from different walks of life but they share a commonality in that they are mothers. Each mom present learns something from the others. They reflect and brainstorm together about the spiritual life and life in general. They look to each other for support.

  1. Mary in the Life of a Modern Woman

Pope Paul VI in Marialis Cultus 34 wrote: “Some people are becoming disenchanted with devotion to the Blessed Virgin and finding it difficult to take as an example Mary of Nazareth because the horizons of her life, so they say, seem rather restricted in comparison with the vast spheres of activity open to mankind today.” This phrase troubled me when I read it a number of years ago, so much so that I gave a talk to a woman’s group entitled “The Motherhood of Mary and Your Motherhood Too.” I was happy to find Marge’s book about Mary because I believed she answered the challenge presented to Catholic women today by modern society.

In our moms’ book study I learned so much about how the modern woman identifies with Mary. They shared many great insights, pearls of wisdom. We talked about the difficult journey Mary had in traveling from Nazareth to Ein Karem and then her return from Nazareth, only to head to Bethlehem for the census. One insight the women shared was the difficulty to imagine Mary traveling in the third trimester of pregnancy. Marge helps us to realize that the modern woman can relate and look to Mary for inspiration.

  1. Desire for Sanctity

Over and over again it was clear to me that these moms want to be holy. And not only do they want to be holy but they want their children to be holy. They want to teach their children the difference between right and wrong before someone else does. They want to protect the innocence of their little ones. They are trying to raise their children in the best way that seems fit for them and in accord with Christian morality. They want to raise saints for the Church—just like Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin.

Conclusion

Marge Fenelon’s book provided a great opportunity for conversation. She had the ability to take a biblical event like the flight into Egypt or the wedding feast at Cana and use it as a springboard to discuss real life today. But even more so, her book led these moms and me through a conversation that has left me with a wealth of knowledge. If you are a mom, consider picking up Marge’s book and reading it. Also, think about joining a moms group. You will be happy you did!

She Isn’t (Just) My Daughter

Two things happened recently, that put me in a state of panic. First, we went to visit my parents, and I saw several of the mothers of the children I used to babysit for. One was out watering her plants, the other was arriving home from work. I was walking with one of my daughters in the stroller, past this mother who I had known when she had small children. Now, all these children are grown and off to college, careers, and marriages.

Secondly, my husband forwarded on an e-mail to me which was a prayer request. A friend of ours has a sister who is going to join a very cloistered monastery across the country. He was asking for prayers for his sister and parents in this difficult time of transition.

In the midst of this, I lay in bed the other night, nursing my one year old to sleep. She is rapidly exiting the baby stage of life and entering toddlerhood. She is wanting to be independent, wanting to do things in her own time and in her own way. I was trying to squeeze in some evening prayer time while I nursed her, and as I prayed it hit me – one day, she would be all grown up, and it was entirely possible that she would be called to religious life (even very cloistered religious life).

I began to panic. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing my precious little girl! My husband came in to check on us, and I frantically whispered to him, explaining what I was worrying about. He smiled gently, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Michele, you just have to give it to God.”

The wisdom in that simple sentence cannot be understated. Give it to God. More accurately, I need to give them to God. I need to lovingly give him my two beautiful daughters and any other children he blesses us with.

As a parent, especiallsaintsby as a parent of very small children, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that these little ones belong to me. As I shuffle them throughout the day, it very much feels like I am the mother duck and they are my little ducklings. For now, they are neatly in a row, but one day, they will certainly fly.

I think that every parent knows that to some degree, but as a Catholic parent, it is important for me to keep in mind that they were never mine to begin with. These beautiful children of mine have always belonged to God, and this has especially been true since the day of their baptism. I remember the days leading up to the baptism of my first child. I was excited for her to join the Church, relieved to know that she would be safely in a state of grace – but I also was aware that she wouldn’t be “just mine” anymore.

She would, in a sense, belong to everyone in the body of Christ, and most especially to God himself. After her baptism, she could call God “Father” and consider Mary her Mother. As much as I eagerly awaited her baptism day, I also felt a bittersweet feeling in knowing it was the first step in a long journey of preparing her for her vocation.

My husband does a wonderful job of praying for our daughters’ vocations (whatever those vocations may be) with a sense of deep trust. I pray for them, too, but I pray very reluctantly. I’m not sure what God has in store for them, and frankly, I’m afraid to let go. Isn’t that the challenge of parenthood, though? Letting our little ones go as they need to? Giving them the tools they need to thrive in the world, and one day get to heaven?

I continue to struggle with this, but I know that my husband is right. I need to give my worries to God. I need to, again and again, entrust my daughters to the heavenly Father’s care. As much as I love them, he loves them even more. Not only that, but he also loves me. His plan may be unknown right now, but in the meantime I can rest assured in the knowledge that – whatever his plan may be – it will be very, very good.

To See and Love as Him

I can’t stop talking about my daughter. Well, I could, but I have absolutely no desire to. I want to take a zillion more pictures of her and show them off to anyone who will talk to me for more than a second. When she’s sleeping I want to watch her sleep, to soak up her quiet sweetness. When I am feeding her and she’s peaceful and calm, I look through the pictures I have already taken of her. I just can’t get enough.

Motherhood is changing me, as I knew it would. I am gaining a whole new perspective on life, love, and sacrifice. There isn’t a thing in the world I wouldn’t do for her. When she cries and I can’t figure out why, it breaks my heart. When she makes the tiniest little noise in the night, I’m ready to spring into action just to make sure she is alright and as happy as can be. She is my world, my joy, my everything. I love her Daddy more than I did before she was here. She makes every experience richer and sweeter knowing that I get to share it all with her. She brings more tears of joy to my eyes than I thought possible. Every little thing she does, from gripping my finger to a new facial expression, is a cause for me to smile even bigger than before. She’s worth every sacrifice it took to get here.

As I think about how much I love her, even after only a few days of life, I can’t help but realize that my love for her is so small. If I grew her and get to hold her, how much more does the God who created her, who knit her in my womb see and love her? And to think that He loves each and every one of us with that same love is a thought too incredible to comprehend. Sophia makes my heart grow and hold more love than I ever thought possible. In God’s eyes, we are each so precious, so loved, so cherished. He relishes over our tiny little accomplishments more than we know. The love that I have for Sophia, the way I long to talk about her and be near her, is nothing compared to the love that God has for each of us. He longs to be near us. When we go away from us, He misses us.

Sophia cries and flails and pushes me away, but I stay close to her and promise that we’ll fix whatever is wrong – and I mean that with every fiber of my being. We cry and flail and push God away, but He stays close to us and promises us that we’ll get through it together. There’s nothing He wouldn’t do for us, including sacrificing His own Son (a thought that it too painful for this new mother to even consider). The depth of His love for us knows no bounds. I see it differently now as I write with little Sophia sleeping soundly next to me and it makes me appreciate His love for us all the more. As much as I delight in every little thing Sophia does (and I do mean every little thing – even when she spits up all over me!), He delights in each one of us infinitely more. It is a beautiful gift, this gift of motherhood, to see and love someone who is so dependent on me, and yet to realize that my love for her is but a drop in the bucket of the love that God has for her, and for all of us.

St. Zoe and the Altar of Worldly Comfort

When choosing my Confirmation saint, I had only one requirement – that the saint be someone no one else was likely to choose. I wanted to be different and have an intercessor all to myself. This led me to St. Zoe of Pamphilia – a New Testament mother of Maccabees.

st. zoe

St. Zoe lived in a pagan region around the year 127 AD in modern-day Turkey with her husband and two sons (also saints). The story varies depending on source but the meat of it is that they refused to sacrifice to a pagan god and were then tortured and martyred for their defense of the Faith. A particular version of the story that resonated with me said that St. Zoe wanted to sacrifice to the pagan god just to get their ruler and owner (they were slaves) off their backs and then they could worship the one, true God in secret. Her husband and sons talked her out it by reminding her that the reward and comfort of Heaven is better than any comfort on earth. When the pagan soldiers finally came to force the family to renounce their faith or die, they refused. First, St. Zoe’s husband was tortured and murdered and then her sons. Watching her sons being tortured was excruciating for St. Zoe and she almost renounced the faith. But it was her two sons who encouraged her to stay strong and that they would see her that day in heaven. She was then, also, tortured and murdered.

At sixteen, when I chose St. Zoe as my Confirmation saint, I had little in common with her – I was not a wife nor a mother and no one was trying to make me renounce my faith. I didn’t even strongly feel like God was leading me towards the vocation of marriage or motherhood, but I liked her name.

I first heard the name Zoe when the trio of brothers of the band Hanson’s youngest sibling was born and it stuck with me. The summer before I was confirmed, I learned what the word “zoe” means. A speaker at a Steubenville Youth Conference said that “bios” refers to the physical life of a person while “zoe” refers to God’s life within a person, or the spiritual life of a person. The bios dies and falls away, but the zoe remains forever. In that moment, I knew that what I wanted to be forever filled with was God’s life. I decided then and there to choose Zoe as my Confirmation name and then found St. Zoe to go along with that desire.

At the time of my Confirmation, I had more in common with the legend of my chosen namesake’s saintly progeny than with this holy woman herself. Yet I could not possibly foresee how much St. Zoe and I would truly share and how perfect an intercessor she would be for me.

When my faith falters, as it, regrettably, does more often than I’d like to admit, my children are usually the one who remind me to be faithful. My kids are only 2.5 and 1 years old and they lead me to Jesus in simple and profound ways – from kissing Jesus on my four-way medal, to asking me to sing “the Jesus song” (“Away in a Manger”) for bedtime, to crying when we have to leave church after Mass. When I am ready to sacrifice myself on the altar of worldly comfort, my children are always there to remind me of Zoe, the part of me that will never die and of the heavenly reward that awaits me.

 

Stay-At-Home-Moms are Warriors

I am ever more convinced of this: mothers who stay at home with children, especially when it comes to large families, are brave. They put all their chickens in one basket and hope to be good at one thing only: raising well-formed little people. Getting other people to turn out how we’d like them to be is an impossible task. Dedicating yourself entirely to a task of upbringing that, in the end, is totally out of our control, and not having another job to get a little self-worth from or at least have as a back-up plan is… crazy!

It all starts from when they are born. I distinctly remember a visitor we had in the first week who told us our baby would be calm because her mother (me!) is calm. I thought, does that mean if a baby is not calm this person and many others assume it’s the mother’s fault? Yes! I think the answer is yes. The pressure is on. The sizing up of a baby and how much of it is due to the mother’s aptness is immense pressure. Is the baby healthy? How chubby is he? Is he breastfeeding? Only breastfeeding? Is he happy? Does he cry? Is he attached to his mother or does he willingly smile at every stranger and perform on cue?

It is a difficult job to be a mother, not only because of this immense pressure to produce a beautiful, intelligent, social, overweight (!) and perfect-in-every-way baby, but also because of the very full-time-job of it all. If you are lucky, you can get the whole sleep thing figured out (we went to a miraculous workshop that helped us, but only after five months of non-sleeping madness). However, even if you do get the sleep thing straightened out, you still have a baby to entertain, keep out of danger, breastfeed about every two hours (if you’re doing that), not to mention grown kids if you have any. Nap times can seem painfully short. You are not as mobile as you used to be and can only get about a third of what you used to do done. Even going to the grocery store is an unsurmountable obstacle. You don’t have a clean-cut schedule with a time to clock in and a time to leave work’s problems at work. They even wake you up at night.

None of this, however, compares to the part of it being out of your control. You can not fake it until you make it. They will sniff out your every feeling and flaw. In other jobs, you can somewhat follow to-do lists, plan and reach goals. Although the truth is all of life is out of control, a 9-5 job might feel controllable. You can tell people with pride, “I’m a teacher”, “I’m an accountant”, etc. and feel as if you’ve accomplished something with your paycheck and your status at work. However, if you stay at home with your kids, people might say, “she dedicates herself to her kids and look at how bratty they are!” They will always be able to find some flaw. You will definitely not have things under control. Since you are raising people and not machines, they will make you learn and grow as a person and in holiness, and they will have their own rhythms and difficulties.

A job gives you a place in society. As one of my favorite articles about jobs says, it’s important to feel as if you contribute to society and a job does that. Are stay-at-home mothers valued as contributing to society? I would venture to say no, at least not by the majority. Here in Portugal the concept barely exists, and probably in all of Europe. Yet being a mother, although it may not be advancing science or technology, advances much more important things, as John Paul II said in his Letter to Women, n. 9:

Progress usually tends to be measured according to the criteria of science and technology. Nor from this point of view has the contribution of women been negligible. Even so, this is not the only measure of progress, nor in fact is it the principal one. Much more important is the social and ethical dimension, which deals with human relations and spiritual values. In this area, which often develops in an inconspicuous way beginning with the daily relationships between people, especially within the family, society certainly owes much to the “genius of women”.

So stay-at-home mothers, kudos to you! All you who value motherhood, (and fatherhood!), the most important job that has very little material pay-off, kudos to you also.

 

Also, have you seen the “All About That Bass” music video? Moms everywhere: please watch this hilarious parody and let me know if you like it:

http://www.popsugar.com/moms/Mom-All-About-Bass-Parody-Video-35732569

 

Parables In Parenting

Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.

These lines always seemed particularly beautiful to me, even as a child. They are so intimate, so feminine. When I became a mother myself they became even more powerful because they reveal the heart of a mother, pondering the mystery of her child, her heart welling with love. Of course, when the Blessed Mother considered her child she was also contemplating her God. Yet, I think every mother learns new things about the Father’s relationship to his children through her relationship to her own. They are unique and unrepeatable gifts from Him, made in His image. Jesus was adored first as an infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And, He promised that the kingdom of heaven belonged to such as these. So, here are a few things I have learned about God’s love as I ponder my children.

The Parable of the Self-Sufficient Child

Once there were two brothers. The first went to his mother with everything. He ran to her when he was hurt, he asked her for help when he could not do something, he told her his hopes, and he asked her every question that came to his mind. He was happiest when they were together. The mother loved this child and was glad to be needed. The son showed his love by making his mother rest while he cleaned when she seemed very tired. They understood each other always.

The second son was self-sufficient. One of his earliest sentences was “Leave Gus Gus alone” and he would often politely ask his mother to “please go away”. This independence was mostly a good thing. He would lie for hours in a quiet place with a cat, whispering to it. He could be very brave in the face of pain and illness. He could lead other children. But sometimes his willfullness led him into trouble. When he built a tower and it fell he would weep bitter tears of frustration but if his mother tried to help him he would only become more upset. When he was very ill her would fight away any comfort, insisting that there was nothing wrong. His mother loved this strong son. She obliged him when he asked her to “please go away”, but from a distance she wished he would reach out to her more.

Every night, when she tucked in the two children, the mother blessed them the same way and left them to sleep. And many nights, in the wee hours, the younger son, who had spent all his day wanting to be alone, would creep into her room and climb into bed. She would ask him if he had had a bad dream and he would say “I don’t want to talk about it”. And she would wrap her arms around him, joyful for a chance to hug him, and they would sleep. He told her he came to her room at night because “you are never asleep”, and she didn’t enlighten him. Surely, if a mother is always ready to welcome us into her arms no matter how we have pushed her away, our Father, who truly never sleeps, is always waiting to embrace us when we finally turn to him even if we have insisted we can do without Him.

 The Parable of the Favourite Child

Once there was a woman who bore a son. She loved him dearly from the moment she knew him. She treasured up every new milestone in his life as if her was the first child to ever learn to walk, the first child to eat with a spoon. She was certain the way he said “duck duck duck” was uniquely brilliant.

When the boy was less than a year old the mother discovered she would soon have another child. She wondered how she could ever love anyone as much as her firstborn child. Yet the second child arrived and soon a third and a fourth. Everyday the mother would look at her child and think “this is my favourite person in all the world. No one has ever been so special.” But the strange thing was, the child was a different one every time. For she soon realized that she loved each child differently, distinctly and absolutely.

No child smiled exactly like her youngest daughter. No child walked lightly on tiptoe like a tiny ballerina as her older daughter did. No child was as inventive and witty as her second son. No child as gentle and studious as her first. Surely if our mothers, who loved us as we grew inside them, love us each uniquely and entirely, our Father, who knew us before He formed us in the womb, loves us each individually and utterly. Surely if a mother’s love is not diminished or drained but grows to encompass as many children as she has, the love of the Father, who is love, is infinite.

The Parable of the Dwindling Punishment

Once there was a child who rarely misbehaved, but when he did he could not bring himself to apologize. Often it seemed as if he himself was saddened that he could not overcome his own stubbornness. He would cry, not only that he was punished but that he could not utter the words I’m sorry.

Once he was sent to his room and remained there for three hours because he would not say he was sorry. As the hours went by his parents, who would come to visit him every five minutes, devised more and more ways to offer him an opportunity to reconcile with them. Would he say sorry? “No.” Would he say please? “No.” Would he just consent to say Mama? “No.” Finally his father jokingly suggested that he simply say no on demand. The little boy pursed his lips and shook his head silently. Finally the little boy fell asleep.

His parents were stymied by his stubborness and decided that if he woke up cheerful and polite they would consider his punishment over. From then on they would continue to be firm with the child, insisting that when he was naughty he must make amends, but they took every opportunity to invent consequences the boy could not help but observe.

Surely if our parents punish us regretfully only because they must for our good, and seek above all things to be reconciled with us, giving us every opportunity to make peace, then our Father, who sent his Son to reconcile us through his passion and death, is always eagerly awaiting any excuse to forgive our sins if we but grant him the smallest opening for His grace.

Ralph’s Mom

Recently my son and I were at the grocery store. He was wearing a Thomas the Tank Engine shirt and was playing with the cart as we waited in line at the deli counter. He turned the cart in a circle and then smiled up at me and the woman ahead of me.

 

 

“Is that Thomas on your shirt? Do you like Thomas?” the woman asked with a big smile on her face.

She looked kind and James smiled back at her.

Since James doesn’t speak much I spoke instead. “Do you have a little boy?”

“Yes,” she said with a smile.

And then quick as snap the expression on her face changed. The brightness went away and she said, “I did.” Her whole face frowned and she said, “He died last year. He was twenty-five.” Her eyes brimmed with tears.

I wasn’t embarrassed but felt a deep urge to love her and her son in that moment. Good Lord, I hope that I did.

“I’m so sorry. What was his name?”

“Ralph. He loved Thomas and Pokemon and all that stuff.” She wiped her eyes and apologized for crying.

“No, no. Don’t apologize. You should share him with people. Let me give you a hug.” And we hugged for a long moment, right in front of the cold cuts.

She touched her chest as tears rolled down her cheeks and said, “I treasure him,” as if to say she treasured all the memories of her little boy in her heart. She kept those things, her little boy playing with trains and loving Pokemon and despite the tears she was happy to have those memories.

Even in that moment I felt so appreciative that she would share something so precious with me. Before I could say anything her crab salad was ready. She quickly brushed away her tears, grabbed her food, thanked the delicatessen, and pushed her cart away. I think she suddenly felt embarrassed and I wanted to tell her not to be. I wanted to tell her I’d pray for her son and her. I wanted to thank her for telling me about Ralph.

I didn’t get the chance, but please honor Ralph and his mom with me. Please remember his soul in your prayers and please ask God to bless his mom, who loves and misses him so much.

 

Eternal rest grant unto Ralph, O Lord. 

May perpetual light shine upon him.

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.