When Something Is “Off”

Early on this school year I noticed something really interesting. One of my boys needed to start seeing the doctor on a regular basis for a medical condition (nothing really bad, but very time consuming). It was in the midst of this that I realized I had been operating at the outer edge of what I could handle. I would add several adjectives before the word “handle.” Because we’re talking about the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions of life. And practical as well.

On paper, I could “practically” handle this additional commitment. You can easily schedule a doctor’s appointment after school. I have enough big guys to help watch the smaller ones. I have a car. Etc, etc etc. This is what I reasoned as I considered why this all felt so exhausting.

But mentally, as I was considering all this, I visualized a line, with some kind of horizontal graph type bar on it. What I could peacefully (without having a panic attack) handle was “here” (hold up both hands like you are describing a fish you caught). But by adding ANYTHING ADDITIONAL to my load, it pushed me to here (hold up your hands to describe that same fish but bigger).

That’s not good.

Yes, I could get to the doctor and run to get lab work and then go back to the doctor to get the prescription and then to the pharmacy and then back again to pick up the meds. I could do all of those things, but what it meant was something had to give. Unfortunately what was giving was my ability to cope with things like getting us all out the door on time in the morning. And being nice. And not crying.

Now all of this is for my own recollection and everyone is different. I kind of struggle with the idea that someone is reading this and rolling his eyes and thinking that this poor woman quit her job because her kid started needing some meds. And I realize that not everyone is free to just stop working when life feels hard. But this is something different than that. I should probably point out as well that my full-time job had much more of a volunteer quality to it. The people who teach at our private school are so generous. It’s a school that is basically a group of families who have decided to educate their children together. There isn’t tons of money for the staff and administration, so everyone who works there does it because they feel a real call to build and support the school and students. So by saying I quit, I’m not saying I was able to just walk away from tons of money. You might consider this whole conversation to be more about walking away from a wonderful, beautiful volunteer type opportunity. It almost felt like a vocation, which is something we will discuss further.

What’s interesting to me is that when we are at some kind of tipping point in our life, it’s usually one little extra drop in the bucket that makes the different. The final straw, after all, is just one straw. It’s not necessarily a whole wagon full.


The Journey of Hearing God

I’m making macaroni and cheese, the homemade kind that is super simple (cheese, macaroni, half and half and butter!). When I put the noodles in I will have nine minutes and I’m going to write for those nine minutes.

In a future post I’m going to have us hash out Little House on the Prairie and the pros and cons of possibly reading a book that gives insight into the reality of Laura’s life. I’m leaning towards a solid NO on getting that info. Ignorance is bliss.

For today I want to take a few minutes to hash out mentally (and for the reading pleasure of you, dear one) my decision to stop teaching full-time and “focus on my family.”

Truthfully, this might turn into a whole week of writing, because so much time and energy and prayer went into this decision and I learned so much in the process of recognizing something was off balance in my life and that I needed to make a change. Of course, when I began really crying out to the Lord for wisdom I wasn’t expecting the answer to involve my teaching commitments. But have you ever been in that position of really crying out? What I liked about this kind of communication with God is that I didn’t already have an answer. I was truly flummoxed. It wasn’t one of those times when I prayed for a specific answer (that I already had picked out for God to just press GO on). This was like, I don’t even know, Jesus. I don’t even know.

“Something is off,” began my conversation with the Lord, “and I need help.”

I wasn’t sure what the answer was going to be. I figured it would involve getting more organized in some aspect of my home life, or God just giving me better feelings about certain situations. All I knew is I was wandering in the desert. I wasn’t sure when it started or how I got there but I was stumbling around. Really, I felt a bit like the Israelites just not able to get from point A to point B.

The really troubling thing is that everything I was doing was really, really good. Not to be prideful, but it’s the truth. That’s what made this more confusing, more unclear. What do I jettison when nothing I’m doing involves things like “spa day” or “twelve hours shopping trip to Target.”

Those things aren’t necessarily bad either, but when you are feeling run down and overwhelmed all the time, you look first to the things that are disordered. Maybe too much time at TJ Maxx is the problem (honestly could that ever be the problem, no, but just as an example…).

So beginning in December I really cried out to the Lord. Like, Isabel and I had traveled to Texas to visit my sister and one early morning I was sitting on the floor of my sister’s guest room praying. It was an upstairs room and wall to wall carpet, so comforting and quiet and for the first time in AGES I just found myself settled. And I knew something was off.

In tears I just poured my heart out to God. “Something’s not right,” I said. That’s the best I could do.

Later, after a few conversations and lots of soul searching, I realized that I felt like life was flying by. I had a son graduate last year. I have another son graduating this year. My oldest moved to another city, another boy moved into a household in our neighborhood. So many things were changing and because I had said yes to so many things “outside the home” I felt like I was missing it all.


Giving Love Freely

Our neighbor Monique died last week. We are so sad to see her go.

The thing about Monique that endeared her most to me was her unwavering love, and I was most touched by her love for my son Henry. Monique had a love for Henry and his spark. She recognized this as a good thing during a season when I could not. I cannot express what it meant for me to have this dear neighbor ask about Henry every time I saw her — and hear her tell me, every single time, what a special boy my Henry was.

You see, Henry is a pistol. And there are times when I struggle with this fact. But Monique was always so quick to remind me how awesome it is to be a fierce lover of life — and how God can and will use that quality. And for me now, in the season of parenting Henry through — what a blessing to have someone be so quick to just love your child.

There were so many other things to love about Monique. I will certainly miss seeing her tiny little self power-walking through our neighborhood while saying the rosary. She was also quick to pass along an article she had read that might inspire me with my writing. She is the person who introduced me to Catherine Dougherty and the concept of the “duty of the moment.”

But it was her ability to love that inspires me the most. Of all the things Jesus might call us to do in our lifetime, what matters most is our ability to love. “If I have not love I am a clanging symbol.” Monique loved the person in front of her. When you were standing talking with her, you were the most important person in the room. She was a gem.

We should never be afraid to love. What it meant for me in those years of chasing a wild and crazy little Henry — to have this person remind me time and time again what a gift my son was — well, it got me through. Because usually I ran into Monique at some neighborhood gathering where Henry had once again escaped from my watchful eye and I was feeling frustrated and defeated. And she would come up to me and tell me, once again, how amazing my kid was.

I think it might be easy for older people to feel disenfranchised, to question where they fit in. And I can tell you that the greatest asset you have right now is the ability to love. If you can walk up to a parent in the trenches of raising kids, and you can offer a word of encouragement — that is pure gift. If you see someone like me, trying to gracefully parent teenagers — risk starting a conversation and offer a word of encouragement.

The young mom in the grocery store needs to hear she won’t always be chasing an errant toddler boy. The mother with teenagers needs to hear that what’s she’s doing is bearing good fruit. That family in front of you at Mass? They are beautiful and the mother or father needs to be reminded that all this hard work is worth the effort.

Monique was willing to say all those things. She loved Henry, but she had that same love for each one of my children. She wasn’t afraid to love and she wasn’t afraid to love extravagantly.

Monique’s friend Debbie shared at the wake that she had this vision, after Monique had died. She was praying about what to share and heard Monique say, “Give it all away.” And she knew that what Monique meant was love. To give love freely. To offer encouragement with abandon. To be quick to build up and listen and love love love.

Give it all away. That’s what Monique did. That’s the gift we all have to offer, and this love can change the world. It sure changed mine.

Teenagers are Awesome

From my weekly column

I don’t write a lot about having teenagers. If you have some yourself, you understand. Teenagers are wonderful, don’t get me wrong. But it’s complicated. Having teenagers is every bit as grand as having little ones, but those growing pains aren’t as easy to share publicly.

But keeping quiet on life with teenagers can give people the wrong impression. A lot of people are scared of teenagers I think, or misunderstand them. And there’s a lot about having teenagers these days that can be scary. The kids themselves are great, but the culture is daunting.

Someone recently forwarded an article from the New York Times, all about the apps for smartphones that teenagers use. The worst part? Kids can hide this stuff from adults, so that even the most proactive, involved parents might be unaware of what their child is exposed to (or involved in).

It is scary raising teenagers — children in general — or it can be. If you gave me three minutes I could list in rapid fire all the things in the world to be afraid of, things facing our kids that we didn’t have to face. It’s terrifying, actually, when you stop to think about it.

But before I get too carried away, I want to share with you a few things I’ve learned in this journey of parenthood. I don’t have it all figured out (for sure!), but these things I know to be true.

When dealing with your teens, operate out of love, not fear. Don’t be afraid, scripture reminds us again and again. We have to apply that to every area of our life — especially parenting. Make love your aim, and even when times are tough you will have peace.

God loves your children more than you ever could. It seems crazy but it’s true. Don’t forget that as you proceed on this journey. You are God’s favorite — and so is your teen!

Your kid will mess up. It’s gonna be okay. God allows us to make mistakes, and He gives us grace to learn lessons in the midst of that.

Remember who you were as a teen — even if you were really, really good and always made great choices. I realized recently that I was starting to have a higher standard for my older boys than I had for myself! It’s not that I want them to be perfect, but I don’t want my children to suffer being separated from God. I have to remember they too are on a journey — and God’s working with them just like he’s working with me.

You and your spouse are on the same team. Early on in parenting, Paul and I saw how important it was for us to be in unity. If we had a chink in our armor, the Balducci boys would overtake us. Turns out that was an opportunity to be ready for these years with teenagers, when there isn’t time for us to be at odds with each other. In those tricky parenting moments (which always feel so spur of the moment) it’s nice knowing Paul and I are together in this adventure.

Your kid is not the only one struggling. If he or she is going through a hard season, just know it’s part of the growing process. Some struggles are certainly more serious than others, but if that’s where you are at, that’s okay too. There is nothing too big — or too small – for God.

Finally, the devil loves for us to feel isolated and alone. Pray for protection against the wickedness and snares of his lies. You are not the worst parent with the worst kid. Get behind me, Satan!

Lord, give us a heart of love and eyes to see the goodness of our children. Remind us how special they are to you, and that you have a plan for each one of them. We don’t have all the answers, but we trust and believe that you will give us everything we need.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” — Jeremiah 29:11