Tag Archives: work

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?

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!