You Will Survive This

We celebrated the fourteenth birthday of our son Augie last week. Who can believe that?

The morning of his birthday, I took out Augie’s baby book to find a picture I love. It’s a photo of a freshly-swaddled little babe staring me in the eyes as Paul stares at him. We are beaming, me and Paul, gazing in awe and wonder at the beauty of our fourth son.

Four boys. I remember being amazed. How could God be so kind? What riches were ours to behold!

We never found out the gender of our babies before they were born. I didn’t want to with baby number one (a boy) or two (another boy). By baby number three I knew that I would love to have a daughter and would feel terrible if I was disappointed at the news of another son. I would rather wait to meet the baby and fall in love instantly.

And it worked. Baby number three was a boy and I loved him immediately. Baby number four was also a son and I was smitten right away (along with baby number five several years later — also a boy whom we instantly adored).

So I looked at that picture last week, the one of me and Paul and baby Augie, and I was flooded with memories. We brought that tiny newborn home to three older brothers (ages five and under) and a new chapter of Life with Boys began.

In Augie’s baby book, I found another picture. This one was taken a few days before Augie’s birth and it is of me great with child. I was standing in my dining room, smiling for the camera. I was happy and excited because I’d just gotten up from several weeks of bedrest. It had been a difficult pregnancy, one that required me to accept help from a lot of friends and family members.

I had forgotten about that. Looking at the picture, I remembered neighbors bringing us dinner and loved ones watching my small boys. People cleaned my house and switched over my laundry and I was humbled and overwhelmed by all the gifts of love.

It was difficult, too. I was aware of how needy I was, and how I was adding another baby to so many other babies. The Church teaches us to be open to life and so we were. But it’s one thing to do that when you are independent and strong; having your fourth baby in five years and on bedrest and in need — that was something different.

Those feelings are all so distant now. The pictures remind me, and I realize — it was all a season, a period in time that came and went. The small sufferings and feelings of helplessness passed and what I am left with is a handsome 14-year-old son, along with a band of brothers who seem to get closer every year.

I marvel at this reality — the reality of time and place — because I’m reminding myself, as I think about this season so-long-ago, that “this too shall pass.” The sufferings of this moment I’m in, as I write these words, one day this too will have passed. It might seem epic in the here and now but it will come and go.

Small babies grow to be bigger. Those bigger children will grow as well. The suffering of a difficult pregnancy yields the fruit of a beautiful baby. The suffering of a cranky toddler brings an independent young man. The challenges of life with teens — this too shall pass.

It doesn’t take away the pain of the moment, but the bigger picture certainly helps. These feelings we have right now are not the end-all or be-all. They are bumps in the road and yes, part of the journey. They get us where we need to be.

And even more than the bigger picture is the eternal perspective. God’s grace and peace are with us throughout each step of our walk, taking us where He wants us to be.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.

The Danger of “Me”

I have a bad habit of fixating on my agitations. If I have a negative encounter with someone, or a conversation that leaves me flat, I walk away wanting to get to the bottom of those feelings. Why do I feel this way? What about that person’s words was hurtful or bothersome to me?

There’s something to be said for self-awareness, for figuring out what makes us tick. But there’s some harm in that too. While it’s important for me to understand my weaknesses, it’s a bad idea to always be living in the center of the latest thing that got on my nerves.

I’ve noticed in some of my favorite workout videos, the instructor encourages me to lean into the pain of the exercise and really “live in that moment.” It kinda helps. Maybe I become so settled into those feelings that it propels me to the end. A friend of mine who’s a personal trainer said the more you settle in, the more the muscle can stretch.

“If you can try to relax into the pain,” she explained, “it makes the exercise easier.”

I was thinking about this recently, struggling with my desire to over-analyze while forcing myself to stop over-analyzing. “I don’t want to think about my feelings anymore,” I chided myself. “Why can’t I just get over it!”

Somedays, it’s just not that easy.

When I’m working through struggles in life, I want to learn. I don’t really want to ignore these feelings because I want to move forward. But the risk you run, in being aware, is being overly-so. I don’t want to miss an opportunity for personal growth, but I don’t want to always being living in the center of my frustrations.

Sadness, I heard recently, is focusing on ourselves. True joy is focusing on God.

When we put our focus on God, we have a better chance of living in grace and peace and joy. We learn from the past, we have gratitude for all God has given us. But then, and mostly, we go back to God.

According to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, those of us who travel on our spiritual journey face two directions — “when we look at ourselves, we are saddened by our failings; when we look at God, we rejoice in his love.”

There’s a tricky balance in self-awareness and personal growth. We have to be aware of our flaws and learn from our mistakes, but we don’t want to get so bogged down in self-analysis that we lose sight of God’s love for us. We have to focus on that love, that love keeps our focus off ourselves.

“Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,” we say during the Act of Contrition at Mass. And we beat our breast.

And then we move on.

My friend the personal trainer explained something else to me about living in the pain.

“Focusing on the pain might not make it easier at the moment, but it will make it easier the next time you do it and afterward. Also, relaxing increases oxygen and blood flow.”

In other words, it helps us calm our bad self down.

When I read those words, I realized that part of learning from our mistakes is just the important reminder that being a human is hard work, and there’s a reason for that. This, being human and trudging through the human condition, is not what our soul was made to do. Of course God made us and wants us to enjoy this life. But we are made for an eternity with God, and that is why we must always, ultimately, put our focus back on Him.

“During Lent,” said a meditation I recently read, “the liturgy reminds us that the purifying suffering of the cross is the only way to the everlasting joy of the Resurrection.”

May we put our focus on ourselves long enough to learn and grow and (when needed) repent, and then turn our gaze back to the Father, the only place we can find the peace our soul desperately craves.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.

Happiness in Marriage

It’s late on a Monday night and Henry is just getting home. He’s had an epic afternoon, going from piano lessons to swim team to his twice-monthly Boy Scouts. It doesn’t happen that often, him having such a booked social calendar, so I don’t freak out too much when it does (and as they say, he’ll sleep good tonight!).

So Henry’s coming in with daddy, who grabbed him on the way home from work. These two are coming in a few hours after the rest of us have eaten dinner, long after the table has been cleared and the dishes loaded. Henry finishes his first plate and asks for seconds. “Mom,” he calls, “can I have some more?”

Before I have a chance to get up from my spot across the room, Paul has grabbed Henry’s dish and refilled his plate. Just like that, this man who got home from work at 8:15 pm doesn’t complain about how tired he is, but quickly cares for the needy child.

That, my friend, is true love. He refills the plate and heats up the food and then, after delivering that load, brings Henry a napkin to wipe his exhausted little face.

I think about these moments often, the un-noticeable’s of marriage. There is such a push for husband and wife to be “equal” and share the load. The sign of a good marriage, the world tells us, is to be 50/50. True love, we hear, is a couple who is splitting things down the line.

But in marriage, in happy marriage, there is no split. It’s each member of the union giving 100 percent and praying, trusting, that this 200 percent will add up to happiness.

I think it does.

Throughout our day, our jobs as parents are not “defined.” Oh sure, I run the carpool (most days) because I’m going to the same place as my crew. We all load up and head off to school together. And Paul goes to work, where he will put in many, many more hours than we do at school. And then we will all reunite at home that evening, where no one will say “that’s not my job” (except a child, perhaps, who has not yet learned better). We will each do the tasks that must get done and pray they all get done soon. We like to relax, and it helps when we’re both moving toward that goal.

The kitchen gets cleaned, the babies get bathed. Homework is complete and lunches made. Laundry loads get switched over and one last carpool run. And in the midst of it all, it’s just each one of us doing what we must. The sun rises, the sun sets, and we are in this life together.

I’m not saying it’s perfect, that we never complain. But the thing I’ve found that most helps my attitude is the happy heart my husband always seems to have. He serves, and he does it with joy. When that is his attitude, I can’t help but do the same.

I dropped a wedding gift off today, a present to a cute little newlywed couple in our neighborhood just home from their honeymoon. Walking up to their front door brought me back to my days as a young bride, the energy and happiness of setting up a home and finding places for all the new serving ware and bath towels.

Paul and I still use the same set of dishes my mom bought us all those years ago and I think about the thousands of times those dishes have gone in and out of the dishwasher. Who knows who loaded them more? Was it Paul, or was it me?

Who cares.

What matters is it got done, that it gets done. We do it together. We do what we can, we do what we must. We grow in love and generosity with our yes to each other, and we pray that our small gifts of love bring us closer to Jesus along the way.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.

Downton YEAH!

So Thomas has feelings.

We have been privy to this fact for a few weeks now, and unbeknownst to Carson and Lord Grantham, Thomas is really hurting. I was feeling bad about how poorly he’s been treated until I remembered: once upon a time, Thomas was a conniving twit. And just like that, he’s become a human with human emotions and we’re supposed to just start rooting for him and feeling bad?

thomas butler

Totally. We are. And I do. I feel for the man and I hope he gets not what he deserves (from the beginning of the show anyway) but what he has come to want — a sense of belonging, a place to feel needed and loved.

Oh Mary, you got yours, didn’t you?

Can I just admit that I’m so into the show right now, with all the love connections and the roads toward resolution, that I’m not too interested anymore in comeuppance. Mary has a “way” about her, but it’s her.

lady mary

Of course all that sentiment went out the window when she “outed” Edith and Marigold — could I even believe my eyes? But Tom was so angry at her that I felt better about things. The truth is: Edith wasn’t really trying to pull the wool over Bertie’s eyes, she simply had not worked up the courage to be honest. I guess Mary moved things along.

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But really, I’m happy for Mary. I love that everyone fought so hard to help her help herself. God bless her, that’s got to be scary, having to deal with those same emotions from her husband’s crash, but the wisdom and honesty showered upon her was beautiful and sweet. (She’s still a pain in the butt, but a lovable pain…it’s complicated.) Henry Talbot is a dreamboat, and I shall henceforth call him The Dreamy Mechanic.

wedding

Oh Mrs. Patmore! Sweet victory.

patmore

A house of ill-repute turned livelihood (in a good way, not bad).

What I have grown to love about this show, and these episodes of late, is the wisdom and victory of the “older” women. They get to win! It’s not about their time being gone and the fun and life going to the younger women. These women — Mrs. Hughes, Mrs. Patmore, Cora, Isobel, the DOWAGER — they get to say the good lines and live the good life. They are continuing to evolve and discover themselves, just like women do In Real Life — and we aren’t left all wishing we could be 19 again because that’s where the real fun is.

whining

Mrs. Hughes’ injury was the best. I love that she can love Carson but still work on his olden-timey ways. It’s sweet, their love. She loves him despite this flaw and goodness knows we all have flaws. Having said that, I’m assuming they will go back to eating dinner at the Abbey.

And finally, Molesley. Hip, hip, hooray! His experience reminds me of a book a good friend encouraged me to read this past summer, before I started teaching. The Courage to Teach is all about being yourself when you stand at the front of the classroom, and not who you are worried everyone expects you to be. That’s what Mr. Molesley did and when he started just being who he was — admitting he was in service, but that he wanted these children to have a chance at education — that’s when he started being an effective educator.

Molesley_OUt

Will Tom find romance with Edith’s assistant? (Have you noticed how short all his love interests are?)

Will Spratt find new meaning as a ladies’ advice columnist? (Bananas!)

Will we get to hear the wee babies speak in their English baby language one last time? (Yes, mum, we shall.)

Patmore and Farmer, Daisy and Andrew (our favorite reader!), Carson and Mrs. Hughes, Mary and Henry, Edith and the 7th Marquess of Hexham (woot!) and Thomas and Downtown Abbey — that’s my prediction. Tell me yours!