Be Yourself, Love Your Life

cartoonIt became very clear to me recently (last week’s column) that for whatever reason, I hold good behavior in Mass as a pinnacle of parenting achievement. If your kids are sitting still through church each week, you have arrived.

Which explains, I’m embarrassed to admit, the feelings I have toward those beautiful families whose small children sit still in Mass. They are perfect and I must fight envy in my heart.

But after last week’s column, I got a call from the gracious and lovely mother of that cute little family of perfectly behaved children. She’s a friend of mine and when I warned her that I’d written about them (i.e. please don’t think I hate you) she was quick to point out that while she was grateful for her children’s good behavior, I knew their family still had its flaws, right?

I mean, I guess so? Because for me, in my moment of frustration, the thing I was holding in such high esteem was all I could think about. And those people who had achieved this thing must not have any other care in this world.

It’s ridiculous, of course. The minute you are on the receiving end of someone’s admiration, you are at once grateful but also a little intrigued. The times I’ve been singled out for success in one area of family life, I’m always (I’m sad to report) quick to point out the 57 other areas where I know I’m struggling. I appreciate the compliment but I never want anyone to feel bad about themselves because of our success.

“Be kind,” goes the famous saying, “for everyone is fighting a great battle.”

But we can’t always see that battle, because we’re focusing on something else entirely. For me, in my own desire to have perfectly behaved little children at Mass, that’s all I see. I don’t stop to consider these people might struggle in some other area, something that for me and my family comes quite naturally indeed.

The truth is, I don’t need to be thinking about it. It’s not my job to look around and figure out who struggles with what. When I’m in a good place, when I spending time in prayer and relying in Jesus for my inner peace and joy, what I’m able to do is rejoice for the people around me. I look at these well-behaved children and instead of thinking “oh yea, well I bet they don’t…(insert behavior here),” the ideal is that I rejoice with them in their victory and let it go from there.

The truth is every family — every individual — has their own unique set of victories and challenges. And the key to a happy life is keeping our eyes on our own paper. For me, as a person who tends to analyze (just a little), I do best when I focus on the areas Paul and I can do better. That’s it, without letting other people’s victories in that area threaten me.

Everyone is fighting a great battle.

I let it go, and then rejoice in all the goodness God has given me. I work to find joy in my own life, with Paul and our children, without allowing my gaze to wander into comparison.

And here’s the really great news: what God loves best about you is that you are YOU. Not that you are the best at sitting still in Mass or that you have the holiest children. Or that your child is a really fast swimmer or that your husband goes to daily Mass. Those are all wonderful things and God rejoices with us in our victories. But what he really loves is just us, who we are at the core. Who YOU are at your core.

God rejoices in you, in who he made you to be, because there is no one else in this universe who is you. It’s not about what we do; it’s who we are. God made us. What a beautiful gift to be His.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.

Author Interview: My Peace I Give You

dawn eden

Dawn’s book, available on Amazon

A few months ago I had the opportunity to pick up Dawn Eden’s beautiful book, My Peace I Give You.  I won’t lie, I was a little hesitant at first because the book’s subtitle is “Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints,” and well, that sounded a little scary and intense. This isn’t something I’ve dealt with personally and my thought was “I don’t want to be exposed to a lot of unnecessary sadness…”

But then I saw a quote from the book concerning forgiving those who have hurt us, how we need to make a mental image to put people into the Sacred Heart of Jesus and let Him deal with them. But not in a “deal with them” sort of way. More like a “Jesus, I give this to you.”

And my reaction was, “this is a concept any human can understand, something we can all be encouraged to do.” So I decided to read the book. And it was worth my time. It wasn’t filled with first-person horrific accounts of personal abuse; instead the book looks to the lives of the saints to help all of us deal with hurts and wounds. It’s brilliant in its focus and scope, guided by the Holy Spirit.

I asked Dawn if she’d be willing to answer a few questions for me, and she was kind enough to oblige. Thank you Dawn!

1. First off, I really enjoyed your book. I cried several times — not out of sadness, but of the beautiful hope you convey. You must feel light as a feather discovering these riches God has to offer you!

I am so happy that you were touched by hope when reading My Peace I Give You. There is a word of counsel that I give in the book which I myself sought to put into action when writing it: we find greater healing when we choose to act from our wellness and not from our woundedness. I had the choice, when writing My Peace I Give You, to focus on the ways in which I am still a “work in progress” or to focus on the lights I have received–the joy and hope given by Jesus through sacred scripture, prayer, and the sacraments. I chose to focus on hope because I know that, however I may feel at a given moment, the truth of my life lies in the love of God that has sustained me and enabled me to reach this present time.
Being hopeful doesn’t mean being “Little Mary Sunshine” all the time. It means refusing to define yourself by the darkness. It means being able to say with the Psalmist, “This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High” (Ps 77:10 KJV).

2. You use examples from the lives of the saints to show that good can come out of evil. Is there one saint whose story resonated the most with your experience?

Blessed Laura Vicuña’s story resonated deeply with me because she was not only sexually mistreated by her mother’s lover, but also endured emotional suffering because her mother tried to get her to comply with the abuser. In this way, her experience is similar to my own and to most people I have met whose abuse took place in the home. In my experience, the deepest wound is not the wound of the abuse itself. It is, rather, the “mother wound” of those whose mother could have stopped the abuse and didn’t. Blessed Laura is a wonderful saint for people suffering this wound, because she, without ever excusing or minimizing the evil, gave a witness of heroic forgiveness. As she lay dying after resisting her abuser’s attempt to kidnap her, she forgave both her abuser and her mother.

3. I love this quote from the book: “We begin to see that even our most painful times contain beauty, inasmuch as they led us — however tangled our path — to our present life in the love of God.” So are you saying we shouldn’t be afraid to suffer?

Fear of suffering is part of being human. St. Thomas Aquinas points out that Jesus himself was fearful of suffering; he quotes Augustine, who said that the One who had the true body and the true spirit of a man did not have counterfeit human feelings. What harms us is when we live according to our fear. Jesus did not live according to his fear. He lived according to his Father’s will, and he had confidence in that will. We need to have that same confidence. It is very hard–it means taking up our cross daily–but it is the only way to live authentically, learning to pour ourselves out in love of God and neighbor.

4. There is so much hope in your story. We all suffer from painful memories — times we have been hurt in one fashion or another. But your book reminds us to unite that suffering to Christ for his glory. Is there a quick explanation of HOW?

Uniting suffering to Christ will be a different experience for each person. I think the common denominator is that we each have to have our own interior dialogue with Jesus. Once you start the conversation, you can make small interior offerings or petitions throughout the day: “Help me, Jesus.” “This pain I feel is my offering to you, Jesus. Please use it to save sinners.” “You suffered too, Jesus. Show me how to bear this as you did.”

5. Confession vs. therapy: explain the difference!

Confession wipes away the sin that stains our mind and heart so that we can receive the healing grace God wishes to give us. Therapy helps us develop coping strategies so that we can learn to be gentle with ourselves and others, thriving in our personal relationships and our vocation. By the way, do check your therapist’s credentials. I once learned the hard way that just because someone has a reputation as a “faithful Catholic therapist” doesn’t necessarily mean he has a degree from a recognized school or has authentic board certification.

6. Do you hear from many readers who have suffered similar abuse? How has the book helped them?

Since My Peace I Give You was published, I have heard from numerous readers, men and women, who have told me the book helped them. I think what helps them the most is realizing that they are not alone and that there are saints with wounds like their own. Another neat bit of feedback comes via the Amazon website, which shows which passages of My Peace I Give You are most highlighted by those reading it on Kindle. According to Amazon, the most popular passage in the book is, “All suffering contains within it the opportunity to become more like the One who suffered on the Cross.”

 

dawn headshotAbout Dawn:

Dawn Eden is the author of My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints (Ave Maria Press, 2012) and The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On (Thomas Nelson, 2006).

Born into a Jewish family in New York City, Dawn lost her faith as a teenager and became agnostic. During her twenties, in the 1990s, she was a rock journalist in New York City, interviewing performers such as Elton John and Brian Wilson. She went on to work on the editorial staff of the New York Post and the Daily News.

When Dawn was thirty-one, she experienced a dramatic conversion to Christianity that ultimately led her to enter the Catholic Church. Her first book, The Thrill of the Chaste, became a surprise hit, published in four languages.

In My Peace I Give You, Dawn offers a Catholic spirituality of healing for adult victims of childhood sexual abuse. She has shared its message throughout the United States, as well as in Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Slovakia. My Peace I Give You has been published in Spanish and Slovak translations, and is soon to be published in Polish.

Father James Brent, O.P., Director of the Dominican Friars’ Angelic Warfare Confraternity, wrote in a letter to confraternity members: “For anyone who has suffered from sexual abuse, Dawn’s book is a must read. The testimonies of victims who have read it are powerful testimonies indeed. But in my opinion, anyone who suffers from the wounds of sexual sin in any way whatsoever will also find in this book a powerful aid for healing and renewal.”

Since the publication of My Peace I Give You, Dawn has been the subject of a profile in the New York Times Magazine and has been interviewed on several EWTN programs. She holds an sacred theology licentiate from the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception and is currently continuing her studies toward a doctorate.

Grace for This

swimmer henry

Henry watches footage of his race in the All Star Swim meet. As an aside, turns out Henry is a really fast swimmer — the fastest six-and-under boy in the city!

A few weeks ago at Mass, our boy Henry was being particularly spirited. Those who sit near us each Sunday at 8 a.m. have watched our fifth son go from sweet baby to spitfire toddler to a young boy learning to behave who still has his moments.

This particular week, he was having some moments.

About half-way through Mass, I finally saw the writing on the wall. For whatever reason, Henry was overly worked up and it was time to use an exit strategy and save ourselves a lot of heartache. I took Henry to the back of the church where his strong will and my (Lord willing) stronger will battled our way through the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We’re going to get through this, I told myself, because we must.

At one point I looked over to see a sweet family with five children — all younger than my son Henry — sitting perfectly still in rapt attention. No one was squirming, nary a fidget in sight.

A wave of discouragement washed over me. I felt run-down. What am I doing wrong, I cried to God, please help me fix this.

Fix this. Fix my son. Just change his behavior. I’ll take a robot, if you have one to trade.

In that split-second prayer, in my desperation and despair, God was merciful and filled me with his peace.

I felt a content that comes not from a child magically snapping to, but from the peace of God. Henry is not a problem that needs to be fixed, my spirit reminded me, but God will gladly give you grace to get through the next twenty minutes.

Oh sure Henry’s behavior needed some help. But it wasn’t the end of the world. I was able to remind myself that my son is a normal six-year-old boy, and as I’ve had four other six-year-old boys before I know they aren’t always wild about being in church. I’ve been here before and now have four big boy altar servers to prove we’ll make it through.

I begged God to help Henry behave, and instead God granted me perspective.

Sometimes the gravity of my job as a mother overwhelms me. My task is to raise good and righteous children, people who will know and love and serve God, people who understand they were created to be with God in this world and in the next. All of that plus learning to be a productive member of society who can act proper in public.

If I’m not careful, I can freak myself right out.

When I start feeling discouraged or overwhelmed, the first thing I need to remind myself is, “these thoughts are not from God.” God doesn’t want me to feel bad about myself, he doesn’t want me to feel undone. And he certainly doesn’t want me to feel incapable of what he’s asked me to do.

God has set before me the task of being a wife and mother — this is the job he’s given me, more important than anything else I’ve got going on right now. This is my vocation, the special call God has placed upon me, and because of that, he’s given me every grace I need.

God doesn’t call the equipped, as they say, he equips the called.

What I need to raise my children — the children God has given ME — is available to me. I don’t have the grace to raise anyone else’s children, nor do I need it. Nor do I need to look at someone else’s children and figure out how to get mine like that. I can certainly be inspired and seek encouragement and inspiration from others, but I don’t need to focus so hard on how well everyone else is doing that I lose sight of what it is God wants from me and Paul and our children.

That morning in Mass, when God sent me peace (instead of zapping Henry into submission as I’d hoped) I realized that God would give me the grace to handle Henry — to handle each of my children — because those were the children God has tasked me to raise. Paul and I will be given the tools to be the best mom and dad to our sweet darling babies because these are the babies we are raising. Each of us will face our own unique challenges as we raise our children, and God is always there ready to help.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.

How To: Stay Sane in Summertime

summertime sceneThis afternoon on our way to the pool, we made a quick pitstop. I needed to help one of the boys make an exchange inside a store and when the two of us came back to the van (where I left the other children in the care of a responsible older teenage boy), the four-year-old had climbed into the way back and was most un-inclined to return to her spot.

“Get back here now, please,” was my patient but firm directive, and I could see she had no intention of towing the line.

It was around this time, as I crawled to the back to deal with the disobedience, that one of the boys (who was manning the iPod) found the theme-song to Rocky and piped it through the van.

“This seems to go along with what’s happening right now,” he declared and truer words were never spoken. Sure Rocky has this music as he climbs the granite stairs and trains for his next match. But I needed it too, as I hauled my little non-compliant back to her seat at the front of the van.

“Thank you for noticing,” I said to my son, “that sometimes I am indeed like a trainer getting ready for an epic battle.”

The hardest part about summer, for me, is the lack of quiet. Funny that I wouldn’t say it’s The Noise, or The Chaos. It’s not all the crazy that summertime brings so much as what it seems to prevent.

I’ve realized recently, as I’ve been in deep reflection over what makes me tick and what pushes me to the brink of insanity (kidding not kidding), that I can absolutely handle the amped up version of my life that summertime brings. But only if I’m getting what I need in the midst of it.

Strong-willed four-year-olds or teenage boys who need fifteen hours of sleep? Bring it. But only if there is some chunk of time I’ve carved out for me and the lack-of-noise that my eardrums require. I can handle the loud and fast and whip-lash pace of six children with me all the time. But give me quiet time to myself, even if just once a week, or I feel like I’m drowning.

Literally.

Not to rehash too much but here’s a little tale called “So You Celebrated July 4 Too Much.” It goes like this: our neighborhood had a bang-up grand time of celebrations. Patriotic prayer meeting followed by ice-cream social. Next day, games and waterslides for hours, with a picnic that evening followed by a talent show. The next day? Out to the lake with everyone, which included beautiful scenery and fun times in our kayak. That was Saturday and Sunday I had a baby shower I was not going to miss, and then an engagement party right next door. So many good things to do — and I did them all!

And Monday morning, I was a wreck. Like, if you could drown in air, I would have been there. Not that I wanted to be drowning, but I was. I was exhausted and overwhelmed and dealing with children who did as much as I did that weekend. We were worn out — from so many good things! — but suddenly daily existence was the most epic task ever.

I waited out Monday and prayed Tuesday would be better. And it was not. It was every bit as much as Monday. All of those things. And by Wednesday I asked God to intervene, to show me how to get on top of these feelings and this exhaustion, to give me the opportunity to get my life into some semblance of order so I could find the peace I so desperately needed.

And voila! Suddenly, everyone had been invited to go somewhere and the last little gal left at home I sent over the Gramma’s for story hour and I had the house to myself for one hour (plus several hours with just me and Isa here) and I cleaned and breathed deeply and did some thinking (not always the best when I’m tired, but still felt great) and by last night, I felt like myself again. The house was washed and tidied, and I could focus on Life instead of trying not to sink.

Today was so much better than the other days this week. All because I found a small space that I knew I needed.

Not everyone rolls the same way, we all have different ways of operating that feed our soul. For me, I can handle all this beautiful craziness God has given me — but only when I am meeting my basic need of downtime for myself. I know, for better or for worse, that I have to live in my home with a certain degree of order and anything less than that, while doable, is just not the ideal. And yes, summertime often means we live at a level of frenzy that’s different than the rest of the year, but we don’t have to feel like we’re sinking.

This morning, I kept having this thought: Comparison is the thief of joy.

It’s a quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt and my goodness it’s true.  I kept thinking, as I cleaned and tidied yesterday, that maybe there is something wrong with me that I can’t function the same as everyone else. Why do I need (insert list here) in order to feel at peace? And also, why can’t I just go and do constantly and not have it take such a toll? I kept thinking about how some people seem to do (insert list here) and why can’t I (insert list here) and before you know it I’m so focused on how I see other people that I’m down on myself for a million flaws that aren’t necessarily even flaws.

I think, it’s nice that I recognize that others are doing great, but I need to stop that line of thinking right at the point where it starts to make me feel bad about myself. When I start seeing the “victories” that others have and then line them up to my “failures” — that’s not from God.

So my survival list for the rest of the summer:

1. Find time for me. This isn’t selfish. It’s healthy. It might mean one hour to clean. But in the very near future it’s actually going to mean hiring a babysitter for the littles while I go out and do something alone. AAAAlllloooonnnneee. Because when I’m alone, I get to that part of my brain that assures me quiet is there, within my grasp. Even if I don’t experience it constantly, just knowing it’s there brings great peace. And much JOY.

2. Don’t compare. Celebrate other people successes of course but if you’re so tired and worn thin that this constantly leads to a bad kind of itemized list, stop that. Bring your gaze back to Jesus. Ask him to direct your thoughts.

3. Spend time in prayer. Just do it. And then be at peace with your efforts. But make the effort — even if it means you are constantly interrupted by children who seem to set their internal alarm clock to rise with you. Find time to quiet yourself, center yourself.

4. Be at peace with who you are and how you roll. What makes you tick is what makes you YOU. Don’t try to be who you see others being. Let them be them — and figure out how to be your best you. Does this sound like flaky mumbo-jumbo? Oh well! It works. I can only operate at my best when I’m putting my oxygen mask on first.

I want to be able to handle the crazy and beautiful madness that is life in Testosterhome. In order to do that I need to ensure I’m not trying to operate on fumes. That will get me nowhere very fast. Very fast indeed.

suess