Tag Archives: motherhood

What do you want of me, Lord?

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Mary and Jesus

I came to the realization recently, in my countdown to age 30, that I’ve spent a substantial amount of time these past ten years trying to figure out just what I wanted to be. Heck, I’ve spent the better part of these past two weeks deciding what exactly I wanted to write about. Indecisiveness is easily in my characterization bracket. And if I know myself well enough, I’ll probably change my mind once I start typing.
For many, the dream of being a teacher, a police officer, firefighter, doctor, lawyer, professional athlete, etc. etc., began at a really young age. The dreams happened for me, too. At age 7, I wanted to be a teacher. By 11 or so, an architect.

When I realized my senior year of high school that I could barely get through pre calculus, that idea went out the window. I almost joined the Marine Corps in early 2001.

I started nursing pre requisetes in 2002. By 2005, I was so scatterbrained that I went back to school to finish a degree. And during and after that, I’ve worked another several jobs in various fields doing various things. All with hopes that I would find clarification.

What was it that I am supposed to be?

I was confused and things were tough. I was mentally exhausted from over thinking every. little. detail. But at the same time, I knew there must be something out there that is right for me.

And so finally, I did it. I asked God. I started praying constantly,

“What do you want of me, Lord?”

Sure enough around that time, my husband entered the picture. We married in July of 2008, and assumed we would “settle” into life for a while and wish for children after we’ve had time to “enjoy” being married. (Ya know, I’m still trying to figure this one out…….)

But we all know what happens when we make plans. God laughs at them and makes his own. When I saw the faintest of faint pink line on a First Response only six weeks later, I actually cried. I remember wondering how God could possibly entrust the care of a child to me already.

But He did.

God gave us a child and made me a mother! Here I was for years trying to decide for myself but He knew me best.

He wanted me to be a mom.

I remember the worry that followed. What will I do about work, how will we afford daycare, where will I deliver? We had just spent months planning the wedding and things turned into babyland really fast. And then our son was born.

What’s crazy is I don’t quite know when it hit me. I spent so much of my pregnancy distracted by the website, Babycenter, that I kept myself in denial. Sure, we were having a baby, and of course we were happy and excited, but little did I know…

He changed everything. All of a sudden light bulbs went off. I didn’t want to go back to work. I didn’t want to leave him. I just wanted to be a mother.

And I am.

A lot has changed in three years. We now have a daughter also, and I work nights waitressing. But I feel like I’m where I need to be.

It made me realize that I had spent so much time worrying about a career that my vocation took a backseat. Because once I finally “Let Go and Let God,” He put me just where He needed me to be.

Our Blessed Mother said, “I am the Handmaid of the Lord; Let it be to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38

Christ Does Not Call Us To Be June Cleaver

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On a perfect day, I would get up well before my family to get dressed and prepare a delicious hot breakfast. I would spend my free time putting the finishing touches on my living room that bears a striking similarity to the one in the latest Martha Stewart magazine, update my personal blog, and finish a sewing project or two. Lunch and dinner would be made entirely from scratch, and exactly as I had planned them out earlier in the week, along with a homemade peach pie for dessert. My “regular” daily routine would not be impeded by these lofty projects; I would still manage a 30-minute workout, a trip to the park, and an art project with the children that is both entertaining and educational. On the spiritual front, I would attend daily Mass (during which my children would sit quietly and be entertained by religious books), and pray the rosary with little to no distractions, internal or external. I would fall into bed at night, tired but fulfilled, with a perfectly clean house and joy in my heart at what the next day will bring.

A far cry from that idealism is a day that involves scrounging through the bare pantry for meals, spending half the morning in pajamas, piles of dirty clothes to wash and clean laundry to fold, dishes piled high in the kitchen, and a few distracted prayers tossed up. There may also be periodic check-ins to favorite home decorating blogs and wistful longings for the day my home will look like theirs.

To be fair, most of our days will end up somewhere in the middle of those two examples. But I still find myself feeling guilty if my day doesn’t more closely resemble the first – a mixture of June Cleaver and St. Therese. Why?

Perfectionism. Like many women, I have high expectations of myself, often unrealistic. And like many, I have subconsciously bought into the worldly idea of what a perfect mother looks like: always perfectly dressed and groomed, beautiful and organized home, excellent cooking, fantastically creative and crafty, ever-ready to volunteer.

But perfectionism is a GOOD thing, right!? After all, didn’t Jesus say “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”? (Matthew 5:48) It seems as though we SHOULD be striving for perfection. But what does Christ mean by “perfect”? From the Haydock Bible Commentary:

“Seeing then that we are thus blessed as to be called, and to be the children of so excellent a Father, we should endeavor, like Him, to excel in goodness, meekness, and charity; but above all in humility, which will secure to us the merit of good works, through the infinite merits of our divine Redeemer, Master, and model, Christ Jesus the Lord.” Haydock Bible Commentary on Matt. 5:48

So striving to be perfect means that we strive to be good, meek, charitable, humble: a spiritual kind of perfection. That’s a far cry from the “perfect” that the world calls us to.

We can often fool ourselves into thinking worldly “perfectionism” is virtuous. But perfectionism is a false humility. In true humility, we recognize the limits of our talents and abilities. In the false humility of perfectionism, we believe we should be able to do everything “just so,” that we can do it all ourselves, and we beat ourselves up when we aren’t able to achieve our lofty goals. Perfectionism causes us to do things for our own glory, rather than for the glory of God. With perfectionism, the end is the only thing that matters, and the path we take to get to that end is meaningless. However, if instead we do our actions for God’s glory, then the effort that we put into our work does matter, rather than simply just the finished product. St. Margaret Mary Alacoque said, “It is only necessary to say energetically ‘I will,’ and all will go well.” The path to our goal is as important, if not more important, that the achievement of that goal.

So how can we deal with the perfectionism that creeps into our daily lives, causing us stress and unhappiness, and thwarting our desire to do good?

Prayer. We must avoid worldly perfectionism in prayer; perfectionism is the antithesis of humility, and our prayers must spring from humility in our heart. We must not worry about saying the perfect rosary, completely free from internal distraction. Instead, when our mind wanders, we should gently redirect our thoughts back to our prayer. We should not avoid Mass because we fear our children will distract us and we won’t “get anything out of it.” God will supply where our human efforts fail, as long as we make the effort.

We should also not be discouraged if we cannot spend as much time in prayer as we would like. We are all busy women, many of us wives and mothers, and have many duties to attend to. St. Frances of Rome said,

 “It is most laudable in a married woman to be devout, but she must not forget that she is a housewife; and sometimes she must leave God at the altar to find Him in her housekeeping.”

We can sanctify our souls through our works as well as our prayers. If we say the Morning Offering each day, we offer God all our “works, prayers, joys, and sufferings”; this encompasses everything we will do throughout the day, and thus, all of our works will be offered for God’s glory.

Reflect on the saints and model our lives after them. What were their goals? How did they achieve spiritual perfection, while abandoning the perfectionism of the world? Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.” She teaches us to not be frustrated by our inability to do great things, but to embrace the small things we can do. She also says, more specifically, “We cannot do great things, only small things with great love.”

Baby Steps. On a practical level, many times we procrastinate and put off important things because we can’t get it all done – if it won’t be perfect, why bother? We must abandon that mentality, and realize that the small things DO matter, a lot. Our path to eternity is not one long paved road, but many small pebbles that build upon each other, each of those pebbles being our small daily efforts. Just because we’re too tired or busy to do a complicated art project with our children doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything with them – read a short story, or spend just a few minutes on the floor, playing with them. No time to clean the bathroom? Take 2 minutes to clear off the counter, pick the dirty clothes off the floor, and change the toilet paper. If we do each of these small things out of love for God, He will give us grace with each small effort. God doesn’t ask the impossible of us, He asks us to do what we can, when we can.

(For practical household tips, I highly recommend Flylady. She is a huge help for perfectionists, procrastinators, and those who just have trouble keeping a clean and organized house.)

Be realistic. We should have a realistic view about our talents. We shouldn’t compare our homes to those in magazines, especially if we don’t have an eye for interior decorating. If we do our best to make our homes comfortable and inviting, we are serving our family well. If we are not a great cook, then we should concentrate on making something that is healthy and filling, not 5-star restaurant quality, and we should be satisfied with it. That’s not to say we should do the bare minimum: we should certainly strive for excellence. But as the acclaimed P90X trainer Tony Horton says, “Do your best and forget the rest.”

We must remember that at the end of our life, we won’t be judged on how organized our house was, how delicious our meals were, or even how many perfect rosaries we prayed – we will be judged on whether we performed the daily duties of our vocation with love.

Do you struggle with perfectionism? Procrastination? How do you “let go and let God” in your day-to-day life?

In Weakness I am Strong

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Ten years ago, I gave up my career as a publisher to be a stay-at-home mother. My first few years as a mother of three young children were, in a word, miserable. I was stunned by the unrelenting neediness of our children.

I had a non-Christian friend in a similar domestic situation, so we took turns talking each other down from the ledge. While we both were committed to the importance of staying at home with our children, my friend made it clear that all she could see in the sacrifices was pointless misery. Life would be great, she imagined, if those tedious and menial sacrifices were replaced with predictable pleasantness most of the time.

There’s only one problem with that line of thinking: with marriage and parenting, it’s all about the sacrifices.

As a Catholic, I know this. Theologically. But knowing the path and walking the path are different things. The truth is, I become angry, disappointed, or discouraged because my husband or children do not allow me to do what I want. I want a cup of coffee, but they want breakfast. I want to read a book, but I have to discipline someone. I want to go shopping, but my husband has to work overtime.

Would my life be more pleasant and easier if my children were always well-behaved or independent? If my husband always met my needs?. Of course. But would I be a better human being? Definitely not.

Unlike my friend, I know that the key to life is not pleasantness, but dying to selfishness. It’s hard to think of our desires as selfish, because we don’t see anything wrong with wanting a cup of coffee. And on its face, there isn’t. But we can easily pervert even a good desire. In my case, having coffee is a fine idea—until I allow my desire for it to take precedent over the needs of my family. Then the care I could have offered my family as their—and God’s—loving servant becomes instead a resentful obligation rendered by an embittered slave.

On the days when family life seems especially hard, it can seem like God sold us an oyster with no pearl. We hear the world whisper its opinion about our vocation and we begin to wonder if it’s really worth all the trouble to raise these kids or stick it out in this marriage. The burden can seem so heavy that it’s tempting just to set it down. It took me years to understand that I am not actually responsible for carrying this burden. All I really have to do is get my pride and selfishness out of the way and the Holy Spirit will gladly take over.

Unfortunately, there is no formula that will effect a final surrender to God, that will help you give up the “I can do this just fine on my own” once and for all. But the first step is changing the way we think about our vocation. We want to believe we’re strong enough, that we only need God to swoop in and give us a boost once in a while. And we can even get angry with Him when we do all the “right” things like go to Mass, pray the rosary, and read Scripture and STILL struggle. But the problem isn’t God, it’s us. It’s our desire for control and desire to indulge our own selfishness. When we really surrender to Him—not just minutes at a time, bookended by our own will—we are able to be the loving, patient, amazing wives and mothers He intends us to be.

Surrendering to God does not mean using prayer as a talisman, thinking that a rosary will give me saintly, adorable children. Or even that I can exchange Bible-reading time for super-human strength to endure. God gives us nothing less than his own life, his own strength, if we will take it. Those days when I am a truly loving, patient mother, it is not of my own strength, but God’s. In my surrender, I become weak…and freed from the chains of my rebellion, the Holy Spirit loves my children as I cannot on my own.

Giving up control and the love I have for myself is the most painful experience of my life and it is a battle I never saw coming when I entered my vocation. I finally understand why Jesus said that “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” When I surrender my will, and with it my sometimes all-consuming love of self, there is room for me to sacrificially and joyfully love others—and God.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9, St. Paul says,

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

For the sake of our families and ourselves, may Christ grant us women the grace to be weak. Only in surrendering to Him can we ever truly be free and “love one another as I have loved you.”

Prayer on Autopilot?

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One afternoon in February of this year, I left work to go to an ultrasound appointment.  Little did I know that day that it would be my last day at the office for over five months!

To make a very long story short: I was 21 weeks pregnant with twins and this routine appointment led me to be admitted to the hospital, I had surgery the following day, and was ordered to bed-rest until the babies were born.  Luckily, we made it to 36 weeks (Halleluia!!) and welcomed two healthy boys into our family.

One month ago, I went back to work.  What a strange, strange feeling!!  I had not been there in so long.  In some ways it was like I had never left and nothing had changed; in others it felt like I had been gone forever.

One of the hardest things for me was something quite silly.  I couldn’t remember all the keyboard short-cuts I had taught myself over the years.  Due to problems I had developed years earlier in my wrists, I always look for ways to stay on the keyboard and not move back and forth between the keyboard and the mouse.  I had figured out so many short-cuts on my own through trial and error as well as by accident that I hardly ever used my mouse when in certain programs.  My first couple weeks back at work I worked a bit slower than what had been my usual pace and I found myself stopping more often to contemplate the keyboard, knowing there was a better way to do … whatever it was I was trying to do.

Then just this past week I made a break-through.  I realized that I had to stop thinking.  I needed to be on autopilot.  I shut off my brain and my fingers just knew what to do.  I found myself suddenly typing weird combinations of key strokes and wondering how I knew what I was doing.  The moment I tried to think about it, there would be hesitation.  I had to just stop and allow myself to go on autopilot.

Being on autopilot was exactly what I needed to do to get my “groove” back.  That’s one of the great things about being on autopilot.  I’m sure we’ve all had those moments.  But autopilot is not always a good thing.  Unfortunately it often happens in our prayer life.  I know it does mine and I’m sure it has infected everyone’s prayer life at some point or another … or it is right now.

Time to switch it off!!  Believe me, I know that is easier said than done!

At the same time that I was having this epiphany at work, my husband and I started putting the babies in their rockers/bouncers at the kitchen table with us so they could see us while we ate.  It’s funny how the way we pray the Prayer Before Meals changed when the babies were with us.  We said it slower, more deliberately; we said the sign of the cross fully and didn’t just do it on our own at the end.  It struck me that we are usually just on autopilot because we do it all the time, at every meal.

I mentioned this to my husband and he simply replied that of course we do it better, because the babies will need to learn.  True, but why aren’t we doing it better all the time; shouldn’t we be more deliberate in our prayer regularly, regardless of if the babies are present or not?

Interesting how this autopilot thing can be a blessing in some cases, but a hinderance in others.  I feel challenged now to turn off the autopilot while I pray, to allow the words to have more meaning to me and to really, fully understand them.  Have you ever stopped to think about the words you are saying when you recite the Creed at Mass?  I stumble over the Creed a lot more when I’m thinking about the words than I do when I just allow myself to say it out of habit.  It can be so easy to get into a habit and a routine, whether you are praying a standard prayer or praying in your own words.  Even praying in our own words can have a familiar routine that can also lose its meaning.

Are you also up for the challenge?  Have you sat back and re-examined your prayer life lately?  Do you, too, need to turn autopilot off in your prayer life?

Prayer Changes Things

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Last week was a long week.  On Monday my oldest son had ear surgery, my second son left our homeschool for Catholic schools, my mother in law came to help out with both of those transitions, my husband started the second year of his PhD program, and we celebrated two birthdays.  It was a busy week!

Busy weeks are easy weeks to get lost in.  It is easy to steal a few more moments of sleep or get up early for more hours in the day for laundry, dishes, and household tasks.  It is easy to put prayer aside for more productive work.  (I also find it is sometimes easy to put children aside in the same way when we get busy, but that is a topic for another post.)

One thing I’ve noticed about prayer is that God will find us even when we aren’t looking for Him.  Even when we are lost in our thoughts and our hurried lives, the Holy Spirit will sneak into our everyday lives if we are accustomed to looking.

For me this last week two such reminders snuck their way into a frantic Friday trip to the store for school supplies lost or forgotten.  Surrounded by four little ones who weren’t interested in anything more than finishing as quickly as possible, I took an extra moment to browse through the clearance section in case there was anything begging for a new home.  Suddenly my 8 year old pointed up at a small statue tipped over on its side and said, “Hey, Mom!  That looks like a saint!”

Sure enough, Saint Francis of Assisi had been knocked on his side between cast off vases and bath towels.  Moments later we found a small green wall hanging with the words, “Prayer Changes Things” scripted across a simple wooden plaque.

In that moment I had to pause.  At the end of a busy week, mom needed to take a break and get on her knees.  (Figuratively in this case, I was in the middle of a department store…)  All week I had been chasing a never ended to-do list and here it turns out the Holy Spirit was chasing me.  God had my week under control if I could take a moment to offer it to Him and look for opportunities to serve my family instead of check one more thing off of my list.

All around me were four little ones, all of whom desperately needed a snack.  One of whom hadn’t had the chance to go home after school and take a rest.  Reevaluation of a plan was in order.  An earlier than normal dinner and deciding to skip a few of our stops didn’t completely solve the problem, but those two little changes definitely made a difference.  Our busy week had ended in different, unmet needs for each of my children but I wasn’t noticing because I was too busy trying to “finish”.
Prayer does change things and the thing I believe it changes most is me.  Taking the time for prayer helps me say no to my to-do list and yes to the extra snuggles and comfort that my children need in an unusually busy time.  Taking the time for prayer grants me confidence that I’m on the right path and a renewed dedication to work through my tasks when it is hard.  Prayer also pushes the pause button in activities that may not be the best use of my time.
St. Francis found his way to the top of my piano and a small green plaque found it’s way to the wall above my kitchen stove.   Reminders of the day the Holy Spirit tracked me down in the department store to remind me what number one on my to-do list needs to be even…maybe especially… during the most busy of weeks.

Mars, Venus, and… jackhammers.

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I’ll be honest – I’ve never blogged before.   I’m not much of  a writer, in fact the entire act of writing doesn’t come naturally to me.  I’m an engineer and I LOVE math and logic, so I know I come from a foreign breed of women.  But I’m still a Catholic first, so to many I know I appear to be a walking contradiction as a working mother.  So if I can figure out how to balance out my life and it’s many contradictions without grave injury, I’m hoping I can at least survive at this whole writing gig.  Forgive me, for this will probably appear to be rather sinful for an English major to read.

Now that we’ve worked our way through the Penitential Rite I think we’re safe to move forward into meat of the word.  So, how about a “word of the day” theme?  I can work with that.

Today’s word of the day… jackhammer.

Oh yeah.  There has been a steady cacophony of this lovely sound going on at my office building for a few weeks now.  Sometimes it hits that certain migraine-inducing level of insanity, but most moments I tend to drown out the noise.  My co-workers, however, (all male, by the way –  we’re engineers, the statistics are true) aren’t handling this well at all.  They have called HR to gripe and complain, others have left the office to go work from home.  It has definitely impacted our ability to have conference calls or meetings in this area of the building.

But for some reason, it’s just not getting to me like it does them.
First off, the noise – for whatever reason – makes the baby in my belly dance.  Also, I tend to have a really childish sense of humor about the whole thing – raising boys does that to you.  Every time the noise starts my first reaction is to say “excuse me”, as if I’ve embarrassed myself publicly.  I sit here and giggle to myself like a 6 year old boy.  I really don’t think my coworkers are impressed anymore.

I keep wondering,  why is this not bothering me!?  And then one day it dawned on me… I’m pretty sure it’s because I’m a mom.
Now, several of my coworkers are married with kids, so it’s not necessarily the general “family noise” that seems to make me immune.  Moms and Dads are just different.  
See, despite the fact that I work during the day I still have that standard maternal nature.  I go home, clean out lunch bags, help the kids with homework, snuggle on the couch, ask about their day, fill out permission slips and write checks, all while making a fully balanced meal.  Moms just DO that.  The constant music of “Momma, Mom, MOMMY!” rings in this confusing evening harmony that tends to sometimes sound a lot like Holst’s “The Planets”, which is beautiful but not very easy to dance to.

But yet… we do!  We dance to that kind of music!
Sure, it’s pretty stressful at times, and there are certainly outbursts of random notes that just don’t make sense.  But it’s beautiful – it’s LIFE!

Then, I got to thinking about women in the Gospels – really, not much has changed over the centuries!
Mark’s Gospel tells us that “Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint Jesus in the tomb” (Mark 16:1) – despite everything they were going through, they got up and did what needed to be done.  After learning about Christ’s Resurrection, Mary Magdalene went and told Jesus’ companions “who were mourning and weeping” (Mark 16:10).  Sigh – men.

I just find it so amazing how God works with both the male and female aspects in His creation. Both are so necessary, they balance each other out in such perfect harmony. What would God’s perfect creation of Earth look like without the great masculine and feminine of Mars and Venus balancing out the Earth in the Natural Order? God’s creation is truly miraculous.

So, here at work the jackhammers droll on…
But my little baby and I are dancin’, and laughing about fart jokes… all while the men-folk curse the heavens and run away crying.
It’s okay, that’s why God made women – someone’s gotta do the work!