Empty and Full

The spiritual journey of life is a funny thing. Sometimes we feel so close to God, sometimes he seems frighteningly far away. The hardest times for me are when I feel like I’m just drifting, but not even in water. Like I’m in the middle of a desert too far from either side to figure out where I am.

So often Lent feels this way for me. I can’t decide if it’s the circumstances of my life this time of year, or if God allows me this little suffering. It really does feel like a journey for me, and not necessarily one that I’m dominating.

And that’s good.

I started to feel discouraged about some of my Lenten commitments recently and I realized it was mostly because none of it was anything I wanted to share publicly. I can’t regale you with my 40-day juice fast or impress you with my hour-long daily prayer. Because it didn’t happen. I had some small successes in a few little areas but nothing worth bragging about.

And that’s good.

But here’s the good news: oane particular Lenten sacrifice was presented to me at the very start of the Lent. I made a commitment to do something that I quickly realized was more than I anticipated. But it was a very good thing to do, something I knew God wanted me to do. And so, I did it.

At first, I am embarrassed to admit, I did it a tad begrudgingly. Like, ok! Here I am! I’ll do this thing for you, Lord! Instead of any chance of being a saint, I was wholeheartedly being a martyr. Look at me! Look at my sacrifice!

It was ridiculous. I was doing the task, but oh my attitude! How it stunk.

And God, in his loving way, gently showed me my fault. I always know it’s God in these situations because the good thought is so far off of where I currently am. I knew, in my spirit, that what God wanted from me was this little sacrifice — but with a heart of joy.

That, I am learning, is where the victory comes. Oh sure God can use our stinginess; he can take any small morsel we offer him (even if it comes with a bad attitude) and use it for good. But what a happy father he is when we serve him with joy.

So I tried, just a little, to do good. I did the same task, but I smiled a little. I thought less about me and the grand sacrifice of my time and I just did what God wanted me to do.

In the end, this small thing (really, it’s amazing what a small thing this was) was the thing God really wanted from me this Lent. This is where I grew the most, I know. Not the fasting, which was good. Or the spiritual reading, which was helpful. But those were the things I chose, the things I thought would be good for me this Lent.

Taking up this little cross Jesus set before me, the thing presented to me that I thought I could not do — that was my chance for growth and change this Lenten season. And in the dryness and struggle, God showed up. Little by little I saw a change in my heart, a trust in God’s love and providence for me.

We can do the thing we think we cannot do.

Sometimes God feels very near. I love that feeling, I can do anything when I feel that way.

But sometimes, we are in the desert. And God is still very near, we just don’t sense it. That’s when we really grow, when we do what he asks because we trust him, because we are confident in his great love for each one of us.

Five Things I Learned Giving Up Red Wine for Lent

First off, let’s go back over that headline. Yes, I gave up red wine for Lent. Let that sink in…

So of course, my first suggestion is that you give me a few things to intercede for you because obviously my cause for sainthood is currently being investigated as we speak. I gave up red wine and lived to tell the tale!

When I first decided to fast from red wine (and notice how I keep saying “red wine” and not “alcohol” or “wine” etc? I went into Lent being very specific with myself and with the lowest of expectations), well I knew it would be tough. So tough in fact that I did not tell a soul. I don’t think I did anyway. I definitely didn’t advertise. And I didn’t necessarily think God was “calling” me to do this — as it turns out, he had a different plan for me this Lent where the real growth occurred. But for myself, this was some little “suffering” I could offer Jesus and so…here’s what I learned from my self-imposed exile.

1. As I said, my plan was to give up red wine. I love red wine. Can I get an amen? I think it is the most perfect of all the food groups. Now this is not to say that I drink a ton of it all of the time (I just need to clarify this for anyone feeling antsy right now) but that when it comes to having a pour, that’s my pour of choice. So the first thing I learned was that I’m not crazy, red wine is good for the soul. Studies have shown this and I can prove it.

2. Having a drink in the evening is not a bad thing. I wondered about this, going into my Lenten sacrifice. Was it bad that this drink was a part of what I did most evenings? Part of me wondered about this and while I wouldn’t say I was “concerned” I was definitely curious. Is drinking wrong, always and forever?

3. I am a very habitual person. Once I get going doing something, I tend to quickly fall into doing that. Oatmeal for breakfast, check. And next think you know I don’t waiver from that for months and months. And so, what I enjoyed about giving up red wine was that it helped me break the habit in a way that showed me I CAN break the habit, if I want. It’s not that I was addicted to having a glass, but it was a very important and cherished part of many an evening ritual.

4. I also learned that having a glass of wine is not a bad thing. I loved this lesson the most. I realized that God invented wine and we should BE NOT AFRAID. Which is to say, wine is there to serve us, but not the other way around. Now if I discover that I’m suddenly singularly fixated on when and how I will be having my next glass of wine, then I know it must be basketball season. Kidding! Then I know I need to take a step back and sort of reset my focus. But that this can be a personality thing, vs a wino thing. As in, we get into our habits and it’s part of what we do. I enjoyed stepping back and allowing myself to reset, even for the sake of the reset itself.

5. There is something to be said for the art of relaxation. And maybe it’s the ritual, maybe it’s the wine itself (I’m inclined to think it’s both) — but at the end of a very busy day, I realized that for me, a mom on the go, a person with a lot of responsibilities, I need to unwind. NOW, I’m not saying that has to be with a drink (we are not slaves to alcohol), but that relaxation is an important part of being a human. Read a book. Do the crossword. But I think there are those among us who struggle with this, with learning to slow down and chill. I’m the type that tends to go-go-go and I need something in the evening that encourages me to sit and exhale and enjoy my life. I have found that when I stop and sit at the end of the day, the boys come out of the woodwork and have conversations. So many times I’ve been relaxing in the front room and one of them will come in and sit and start telling me about his day. When I’m moving about constantly, it’s hard for them to catch up with me!

In the end, my takeaway was 1) wine is a wonderful tool that b) we use at our discretion. And so much of our attitudes about alcohol are affected by our history with it, I think in large part by the attitudes in our homes growing up (my parents almost never drank) based on our parents experience with it (their parents did). And so, there is such a socio-familial-historic view about attitudes and approaches.

A healthy approach to any of our creature comforts is always key.

Feel Like Crying?

“It almost sounds like a cruel hoax.”

Take a look at this:


Thank you Mom! You are amazing. (and thanks for sharing this, Jojo!)

Raising Them Right

zoo famI wanted to sit down and reflect in a poetic fashion about the beautiful days we are having around here. It was going to be hard not to be bragging on my boys, they are getting big and so fun and we have these amazing conversations and they say things that make you laugh, like really laugh not just “oh that’s cute! So cute what you just said!” You know? I was walking with one of them today at the zoo and he made an observation that was so clever and dead-on and I thought “okay! Having bigger kids is actually very wonderful!” Not that I didn’t think it would be, but I’m always so comfortable with where I am (which unfortunately can sometimes be too close to being fearful of the future).

And then Henry, I have this post in my brain all worked out where I’m going to offer encouragement to all you mommies in the trenches (like me, but the difference being he’s my fifth son so I’m more or less sometimes able to talk myself through my own crazy cuz I been there done that). Because a few months ago I thought we had really made it through whatever major issues we had with our spitfire and he was becoming so pleasant and good. Not that he wasn’t good before but he was just really able to go places and be human. Do you have any strong-willed children? Do you have a son with four older brothers? If you said yes to either of those, you feel my pain. Or, in a nicer way of speaking, God must really trust me if he’s willing to offer me one of his Future Warriors.

But then, before I had a chance to publicly rave about New Henry, he reverted back to Normal Henry, the one I know and love and have come to accept as the piece de resistance in my mothering career. My friend Bev told me a story a few years ago about her son Daniel (who now happens to be Fr. Dan, the Vice Chancellor of Our Diocese). But when he was a little boy he was just Daniel the Hard Headed and one day Bev, who was very frustrated indeed, cried out to God for wisdom and possible a martini. And God clearly told Bev that he had given Dan a hard head and he would do great things with it. But she had to help him use that hard head in the right way. And suddenly she saw this as a good part of his personality and make-up, not this parenting cross she was forced to bear.

That story (and Bev, if you read this I hope I did it justice) helped me change my outlook so much. Because as much as I’d like children who just numbly followed and did and toed the line no questions asked, you actually don’t really want that at all. It’s hard to deal with a strong-willed child, but that strong will is going to be a very good thing in the long run, if used in the right way. It’s up to me and Paul (and all the other wonderful men and women in our life) to help train our children to use all their character traits in the right way.

So back to Henry. I thought we were through all that intensity because things started going so well. And then we hit this crazy time where it was out of control. Like a few months ago, we were at that First Friday Mass in our gym and Henry and Isa were just… beyond. Just beyond. it. all. — the pale, the edge, the brink of insanity, etc. I tried threats, I tried arm squeezes, I tried raising my eyebrow (my mom was always a pro at this, I did not inherit that gift) and finally I thought “maybe if I ignore those two they will get scared or bored and just do the right thing.” So I threw in the towel and closed my eyes and just prayed during the consecration instead of “micromanaging.” And things got very quiet and I thought for two seconds that my approach worked. I bested those imps! I beat them at their own game!

But lo I looked up, after the bells stopped ringing, to discover Henry and Isabel were gone. They were no longer seated next to me and were, in fact, at the far end of the gym climbing the bleachers.

In other words, I am failing as a mother, as a caregiver and as a human everloving being.

I get melodramtic in the dark times.

So of course all hope was lost and if you asked me, on that day or the days following, how I was doing? I would launch into this tale. Do you really want to know how I’m doing? HERE GOES.

And then a few weeks passed and I calmed down and for whatever reason, so did Henry. And now, for reasons I can’t explain, we are back in the Garden of Behavioral Eden. He is obeying and coming when I call and answering the first time. Today we went to the zoo and he got lost NO times. There was no time at all during today that he ran off or expected me to catch up to him. Not once did he take off in a sprint to see the thing he decided to see. He stayed by me or his brothers and yes that florescent green t-shirt I dressed him in was very helpful (Henry will be wearing bright colors for easy spotting until we celebrate his 18th), but he was so darn good. It was amazing.

So I have arrived. For today.

And then, as I was preparing this long non-boasty boast post, a story came to mind from a few weeks ago when we were at Costco for our weekly post-Mass family outing. As Costco lovers know, right as you enter the store you are greeted by a greeter and then the jewelry case. The bright shiny gold, platinum and diamonds with pearls on the side. We love to stop and admire.

On this trip Henry was taking his time, still staring at the baubles while the rest of us had moved on toward produce.

“Come on Henry,” I beckoned.

“Let’s play burglar,” said Henry when I walked over to him. I had no idea what he meant and I asked him to explain.

“Burglar is where I’m a burglar and I steal something for you. So,” he said pointing to the case of jewelry, “what do you want me to steal?”

And this, my friends, is why moms of boys have a special place in Jesus’ heart. When Isabel feels affection for me, she says things like “I love you, mama.” and “you look pretty mama!” Henry offers to pretend rob a jewelry store and he’s willing to get me whatever I’d like.

Clearly, it’s not quite time for me to share my parenting expertise. Not just yet.

zoo cage