You Can Do It!

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I love this picture! Susie and Kajse are still my two very best friends, Dennis and Fr. Tim are still Paul’s best friends and Tina (Paul’s sister) is his childhood best friend and partner-in-crime.

I’m posting my newspaper column on the eve of Paul’s and my twentieth wedding anniversary! Who can believe that? The time sure has flown and I continue to be in awe of God’s goodness to me, to give me a husband who treats me with such kindness and love, who adores our children (without enabling them), who is a steady shelter and a fierce protector and provider. What a good God we have, who gives us everything we need. I love you, Paul!

The other day, Henry (in constant search of food) walked over to me with one of those hard-to-finagle yogurt tubes and asked me to help him. I barely looked up from what I was reading, ripped the top off the tube and handed it back.

“Wow,” was his grateful reply, “it’s so important that you are good at opening these, because you’re a mom.”

As my boy began sucking down his treat, I reflected on his observation.

“Actually,” I told him, “I’m good at opening these because I’m a mom.”

Funny that. I can open a tube of yogurt and trim small fingernails and whip a twelve-passenger-van into a tight parking spot (while opening a tube of yogurt). I am mama, hear me roar.

But the truth is, these talents, these impressive abilities, are an acquired skill set that comes with the territory. My boy Henry thinks I’m an awesome mom because I can open his food; I know if it wasn’t for him (and his four older brothers and baby sister) I’d have very little interest or ability in any of this. We learn as we go, and we are amazed at all we learn.

When Paul and I got married twenty years ago, the list was vast and sweeping of Things I Don’t Know. It’s not that my mama didn’t raise me right; it’s that I had absolutely no interest in domestic capabilities. I remember once, when Paul and I were dating, him wondering if a station wagon was in our future. I freaked out.

And here I am, all these years later, driving a van and loving every minute of it. I take great pride in my excellent parking abilities and if you ask me how many times strangers have complimented me on this talent I will happily tell you. It happens a lot.

What a thing to boast about! What a strange turn of events. Who would have thought I could manage such things? Not I.

But God, in his infinite wisdom, knows better. And he gives us what we need in the moment. When I reflect back on where I started, and where I am now, I can only envision my heart as a flower opening a little more each day. Each day a slightly better capacity to love, each season a greater willingness to expand.

I never dreamed, when we said I Do all those years ago, that God would be so generous. That not only would he soften my heart to say yes to these children, but that I would find such joy and satisfaction in this beautiful vocation. And that I would be capable of the care and feeding of five boys and a girl.

That, to me, is the grand adventure of life — learning and growing. Doing the thing we think we cannot do. Mastering skills along the way, becoming someone we never dreamed we could be. We all have areas where God has dreamed bigger for us, where he has shown us to trust in him and be not afraid.

For me, I am proud to park the van and trim the nails and a million other strange talents I now have thanks to my life as a mother. Twenty years ago, I had no idea I had it in me.

Every step of the way, God is there with his generous grace. For each of us, in the things he has called us to do, he really does give us everything we need. He asks things of us, and then he gives us the tools to get the job done.

The key, I’m finding, if carving out the time to hear his voice. In the stillness, He is there. He wants to grant to us every good thing, and he waits patiently with grace and peace and joy, goodness beyond our wildest dreams.

Anxiety: The Great Plunderer

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A perfect little moment a few years ago… right before the boys tried to start a wrestling match in the mud in Boston Common.

I took five of the kids out for a quick Costco run this afternoon, leaving our oldest at home to work on a big project and the rest of us in search of bulk consumables and lunch.

At one point, as we were sitting in the food court, I looked over to the boys’ table (as Isabel and I shared our own spot) to see three of the four boys leaned over on devices. Horrible, no good rob-me-of-my-peace devices.

To me, it didn’t matter one bit that they were all playing the same game, that they were somehow joking amongst each other and having fun. They were on DEVICES. And we were IN PUBLIC. It was breaking all my rules.

I read an article recently about a woman who doesn’t allow her boys to bring devices out and about. No doctors offices or siblings’ ball games. Don’t drag that thing everywhere, is her stance, I want to see your face, I want to hear your voice.

The article was inspiring. I found myself nodding in agreement and of course it resonated with thousands of readers all over. Those stinking devices. They are ruining everything!

Except, they weren’t. Not today, not in this moment. In this moment my boys were having fun and carrying on, on a device. And as I sat there and felt anxious about breaking this rule, this ideal I have for my hopes and dreams for my boys, I had to stop myself and say, “Self! Calm down!”

Because I looked and listened and noticed that yes, my boys were hunched over absorbed in this game. But they were also engaged with each other, having fun and, let’s face it, passing the time very nicely as we waited fifteen minutes for our giant cheese pizza. Even Henry, sitting there without a device (as he often laments, NO DEVICE!) was watching and laughing and part of the scene.

Relax, I had to tell myself, it’s gonna be okay.

What I’m talking about here is not a pro/con debate on devices. It’s my own thoughts and observations on my tendency to let The Best be the enemy Really Quite Good. Or maybe The Dream Ideal to beat out A Perfect Little Moment. It’s about how in these moments of bliss, I sit back to figure out how it could be better. Everyone watching a movie in the front room…why aren’t we playing a game? Everyone playing soccer in the backyard…why is there yelling involved? Everyone doing great at family prayers…why can’t it be a rosary? A daily rosary. The one with all fifteen mysteries. Next time, we’ll try harder. Next time, we’ll do better.

Best is the enemy of really, very good. Tomorrow is the enemy of this very minute right now.

How exhausting, I have been realizing, to always be looking at how to be better. There is a way it’s good to aim high and try our best, to have high standards for behavior and manners, to have peace within ourselves and with those around us.

But there is a way that this searching and comparing and considering can become a giant suck of time and energy and joy. It robs us of today because we are always thinking of tomorrow.

It’s so exhausting. It’s ridiculous, but it doesn’t feel ridiculous because it feels like wisdom. It feels like being a good parent and doing the right thing but there’s a way that this kind of thinking crosses the line and heads right on into Anxiety.

That’s where I get tripped up and it’s where I’m tired of treading. It robs me of my peace because it’s very hard to be present and at peace and trust in the Lord when I feel like I’m always trying to figure out how to do it better.

Trust in the Lord, says Proverbs 3, and lean not on your own understanding and the Lord will direct your ways.

Let Go and Let God. Trust in the Lord. God loves my family more than I do, and when Paul and I pray for our family, God will guide our steps and answer the prayers of our heart. Family life is not some cryptic puzzle we must constantly hash out (even though it is!); when we trust in the Lord, we really can let go of our fears and anxieties and trust God to handle it.

There was an instance this summer with my boys and summer jobs and my boys, for a few reasons, didn’t end up with jobs. One job lasted half the summer, another job ended much sooner than we thought, a third option didn’t pan out. Ultimately I was left with all the big boys home while many of their contemporaries worked around our neighborhood on various crews. I cannot tell you how much peace this anxiety took from me for a few weeks — I’m failing my children, I fretted, they aren’t going to turn out good. No work ethic! Lazy!!!

One day, as I prayed (again) for a solution, an inexpiclable peace came over me and I knew I needed to let it go. I had done my part, we had tried to line up jobs, and nothing quite worked out. And that was it — God knew and this was how it happened. The only peace I could get was trusting in him. I had to live like I say I believe — that God takes care of the flowers of the field and does he not love and care for the Balducci boys as much?

After that, I decided to relish in the time. Each day as I loaded up my six children and headed out on adventures, I was able to take my gaze off the nots (no job, oh the horror!) and focus on the reality, that this is how the summer unfolded and how enjoyable to all be together. (And then, in my over-thinking state, not look at it like some kind of “enjoy this time you never know…” moment).

Anxiety takes the good and warps it into the bad. It takes what is blessed and wonderful about this minute right now and it cheats us. It desperately wants us to fret and fear because God is found in peace and in peace there is no room for anxiety.

It’s an active journey, seeking peace. But the first step is acknowledging anxiety and refuting it. I will not lose the joy of this moment any more because of the shadow of what could be. Things could always be better I suppose, but they are wonderful right now.

So there we sat, today, waiting for our pizza. And I settled in, I relaxed, I chatted with Isabel about the colors we planned to paint our toes that afternoon. And I looked over at my boys and thought, “we are wasting time…what a tremendous gift to be here together.”

A Faithful Friend

paul tim gradsWhen my husband Paul was fourteen, his family moved from Richmond, Virginia down yonder to Georgia. Not long after, a couple from Rochester, New York also moved to the neighborhood, bringing along their four children, including oldest son Tim.

As soon as Tim arrived he and Paul, almost the same exact age, struck up a friendship that would carry them through high school, college, eight years as roommates, then law school (for Paul), and seminary (for Tim). Countless memories, beautiful moments.

So when these two young men had their 50th birthday on the horizon, Fr. Tim’s mom and I decided to host a party, for the two of them. Their birthdays are just a few weeks apart so we settled on a date somewhere in between and invited a banquet-hall full of their close friends and family members.

It was a wonderful time, a fun celebration that really, is just a drop in the bucket of a lifetime of goodness (but awesome nonetheless). Aren’t we all blessed to be on this planet celebrating life? Isn’t it fun when we stop to acknowledge that!

We had a band and delicious food, refreshing libations and a few hours of laughter and conversation. Such memories.

As part of our party decor, Tim’s mom asked me to send her some pictures for the tables. She gathered shots of Tim over the years and I did the same for Paul. Kathy framed all the photos and each table had an 8×10 of Tim and one of Paul.

Walking through the room, looking at the photos, was beautiful and inspiring. Paul as a teenage boy playing throwing a baseball; Tim playing hockey. The boys and their dads, all together, on the day of their high school graduation. Paul holding our oldest son Ethan on the day of Fr. Tim’s ordination in Savannah; Fr. Tim receiving Holy Orders on that ordination day. A picture (a few years later) of Paul and our six children standing with Fr. Tim outside a pizza place we met him for dinner. Beautiful moments, drops in the bucket of life.

The most recent of the pictures was one I took two years ago when we were in Rome. Fr. Tim, working in Rome at the time, celebrating Mass for me and Paul in St. Peter’s Basilica, standing in front of one of the side altars in the enormous church. Fr. Tim on the altar, Paul kneeling at the base.Fr. Tim and Crew

That picture strikes me, along with the thought of those long-ago teenage boys meeting for the first time in their new neighborhood in Georgia. Did they know, Tim and Paul and other men in their group still the best of friends all these years later, the depth of friendship they’d be given? That the bonds they formed as young men would carry them through so many adventures in life?

Did those boys know all the places they would go — the places they have yet to go? Could they have imagined, each one of them, where their Yes to God would take them?

Paul, an immigration attorney with a wife and six children; Fr. Tim, a holy priest. Called to vocations, in totally different ways.

What it means to have such a friend, I think when I look at these two, is beyond price.

“A faithful friend,” says my favorite scripture in Sirach, “is a sturdy shelter. He who finds one finds a treasure. A faithful friend is beyond price; no sum can balance his worth.”

Of course I think of my own sons when I look at the friendship between Paul and Fr. Tim. I think about what it means to have a godly friend, someone who has known you forever and wants the best for you.

For my boys (and for Isabel) I pray they are blessed with lifelong Godly friendships like Paul and I have, people in your life who know you to your core and want the best for you. People who call you on, who can say the hard thing, if need be, but can also say all the good things too, to console in the hard times and celebrate in all the good.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.

This Used to Be My Playground

mass lunch

Grabbing lunch after daily Mass. This is one of the many aspects of bigger kids I’m really enjoying.

Well it’s 11:18 pm. and I’m sitting here at the computer and the house is quiet but don’t think that’s because people are actually in bed. Three of the kids are in bed but the oldest three are still OUT and this is what summertime with teenagers is all about (to be clear they are up the street at a friend’s house and will be home in now eleven minutes). So they aren’t roaming the streets but they aren’t tucked in sawing logs either.

So that’s where I’ve been of late: just living the dream. Having fun and doing that summertime thang. With little time for the luxury of sitting down.

I’ve noticed, as my children are getting older, that the way I best survive is going with the flow. Have you heard that song “Oceans” by Hillsong? That’s me. That’s what I’m going for anyway; I’m where my feet can’t touch and the way I roll is I go with it. I don’t try to flail anymore to touch, to be planted on terra firma. I acknowledge that I’m a little deeper than before and I pray for grace and enjoy the ride. Does that make any sense? It’s like, I can fight and fret about carving time for this and that, or I can do what needs to be done and go from there.

Hence, the cobwebs around this joint.

But life is fun and we are really enjoying it all. But it’s crazy and sometimes I’ll admit my mind is not with my body. Living in the moment is good, but you should also consult your calendar every so often.

One day last week were had just unloaded at the pool after hauling ourselves through Costco (and getting I guess very little because why did we go straight to the pool) and I got a call just as I approached the gate, having unloaded my six children and our giant bag of gear and hauling my weary bones toward chlorine, wondering if I was coming to the party?

Oh heck. Yes, the party. Across town. For one of Isabel’s most favorite little friends in all the land. And we were already twenty minutes late for a 90 minute party that was fifteen minutes on the other side of town. So I had to say no, I couldn’t make it I had totally dropped the ball and I felt terrible. That’s a part of summertime living that is tough; that you aren’t always on your game (sorry Kel! The pictures looked amazing). Not that I’m always on my game, but summertime means especially less so.

In other news I survived taking all six of the kids to the dentist last week. All of us actually, because Paul and I also got a teeth cleaning (with a fun follow-up for me today that I survived thanks be to God). And I was feeling very pleased with myself because I had loaded up the crew — for the DENTIST — and we were heading down the highway in the timeframe I was shooting for. When all the sudden I hear Henry from the back seat ask if I had grabbed his shoes — the ones I said I’d grab as we were heading out the door. I told him to go get loaded up I would grab his shoes. And I didn’t.

We arrived at the dentist a few minutes later and on time, but with Henry clad only in a pair of his sister’s socks. Thank goodness she had decided to wear socks, to go with her hot pink Tom’s, and the good news is I had already been making plans to remove those socks before she was seen in public. So disaster averted for Isabel, semi-averted for Henry. On top of that did I mention Isabel chopped her own hair a few weeks ago and now sports the bangs of the Frenchest bebe? Which is why she now has a bob, to go with the bangs. Because prior to her haircut she was too close to a mullet. Still waiting for her close up Mr. Demille.

We survived the dentist, lack-of-shoes and all. No one awarded us a prize for the least classy clan o the day, and I’m proud to report only one cavity of the whole bunch of them, and we can blame his stint with braces as the culprit.

And now time is up and I don’t have a sweet little wrap up other than to say thanks for reading, it feels good to be back.