Break: A Spirituality of the Eucharist in Four Parts

(This is the third post in a four-part series.  To see my intro from Part 1 about my inspiration for this series, click here.)

Break

As I was praying for insight regarding the meaning of “breaking” in my own life, two ideas came to me.  First came the memory of those moments when things just happen to us, and in those moments even time itself becomes broken, in a sense, from their experience.  There is only a “before” this event, and an “after” this event.  Those moments may include things like the loss of a loved one, the end of a friendship or relationship, or the relocating of our families.  But there are also times where we notice we need to “break open” in a sense to new thinking and new ways of seeing others and ourselves.  It is this latter type of “breaking” that I want to illustrate for you today,  because these moments are very often moments of “subtraction” and the “second half of life” experiences that I mentioned in yesterday’s post.

(Note:  In the interest of full disclosure, the story I’m sharing today was originally posted on my blog in November 2012 under the title “I Will Always Be a Rule Breaker,” but even now it best illustrates, I think, why we can find reason to give thanks for those moments where we find ourselves broken…and humbled…and perhaps in the truest sense of the word, “blessed.”)

Over the years, through a process of prayer and discernment I’ve become more aware of how I judge others.  Don’t let the word discernment intimidate you.  Discernment is really a fancy name for taking notice of our choices in life, and asking for (then interpreting and following) God’s advice.  In many cases, it’s where our gift of human reason gets sprinkled with some Divine Intervention.  Through this process we learn a lot (sometimes painfully) about others and ourselves.

One painful experience I had with this process took place a few years back.  I was waiting to pick my kids up at school and saw a young mom standing with a child on her hip, waiting for her other children to be dismissed from school.  On her shoulder, I noticed a tattoo of a giant feathered wing of some sort (I presumed part of an eagle) and some writing as well.  I couldn’t read the writing at all, but upon seeing this enormous (and, in my opinion– obnoxious– tattoo) I did a mental eye roll and turned away at the sight of it.

Ugh.  Tattoos!  I thought , Why do people think they need these??  And what kind of mother goes around with a giant one on her shoulder, like that?

It was that second sentence that, moments later, stung me the most.

As the woman moved closer to me, I could make out the words on the tattoo.  It turned out the wings were not those of an eagle, but of an angel.  And the letters spelled the name of her dead son.  I knew his name because it was unique, and I’d noted it as I’d read about him in the newspaper only a few weeks before.  The article had been about his battle with brain cancer, and their family’s struggles as they balanced jobs, three other children, and his illness.  It ended with his losing the battle before he’d celebrated his second birthday.

In that moment, my own thought came back at me with a stinging slap and I realized exactly “what kind of mother she was.” 

She was “the kind of mother” who had experienced depths of sorrow and grieving beyond anything I could even imagine.  She was “the kind of mother” who had seen her infant son’s face twist and wrench into pangs of terror and shrieks of agony beyond anything humanly imaginable.  She was the “kind of mother” who had to answer the difficult questions of “why” from her three other children, as they struggled with the loss of their brother,  when she herself couldn’t even really know.

And I wondered why I’d thought it logical and acceptable to cheapen and limit the depth of her motherhood all because of a tattoo.

In that moment of facing my horrible judgment of another, I realized I had a choice.  I could either dismiss and defend my thought by saying to myself something as ridiculous as, “Well, even so, I would never get my child’s name tattooed on my shoulder!”   (I mean, while that’s probably true because as a matter of preference I still don’t like tattoos–I also don’t like skinny jeans or crocheted toilet covers– that was hardly the point).   The point is that her tattoo, in memory and honor of her angelic son, was also a simple matter of her personal taste. 

The fact that I’d tried to judge her personal taste to be a reflection of her ability to parent, was my problem not hers.

I could only think of one thing to do.

I searched deep within my heart and asked, What would You have me do now?   And the answer came so swift and sure, I had no doubt:  pray.

So I did.

Every time I saw her.  (And, not by accident I’m sure, I saw her nearly every day).

Of course, I’d see her mostly at school pickup, but sometimes randomly around town, too.  And each and every time, no matter what kind of frenzied pace I was keeping in order to conquer my day’s activities, I would slow down, at least for a moment, and pray.  I prayed for her, for her children at home, for her spouse, for their health, and for their son in heaven.

I also prayed for me.  I prayed for forgiveness of my petty judgments (including those yet undetected), for the blessing of motherhood, for the gift of healthy children, and for the need to be reminded (often!) of the fact that despite our personal tastes, despite our harshest criticisms of others, the truth of the matter is
that most of the time we’re all just doing the best we know how with the cards we’ve been dealt.

As a result, I no longer worry about “breaking” the rule that says, “Do not judge.” (Mt 7:1)  In my fallen human state, I doubt I’m any more likely to follow that law to the letter than I am of driving the speed limit.  Instead, I do the only thing I know to do:  I observe my judgments as I become aware of them, and I ask in the depths of my heart, What would You have me do now?

And what I get in return is never the finger-wagging reprimand with a harsh command to stop judging, that I feel I deserve.  No.  Instead, I most often get the simple gift of seeing how my harshest, pettiest judgments can be turned into loving actions for others (and even myself).

And that is a “breaking” of a whole other sort.

It is judgment transformed.

Something’s Gotta Give

May day!  May day!

Yes, it is the first of May.  And my introductory shout is both a celebration of that long-lost holiday of putting out flowers on doorsteps for others, and also that call of desperation we hear from captains of the air and sea when they are in trouble, and their ship or their plane is out of control.

Today I feel both a reason to celebrate, and a need to get my “ship” back in control.

The most obvious celebration in our household today is for my middle son, who turns 11.  Eleven!  As usual, my mind screams where did the time go?  It seems like only a few years at most that my husband and I were celebrating both the blessing and the bewilderment of having a second  healthy boy (11 pounds and 6 ounces of healthiness to be exact!) Still, celebrating him and the young man he’s rapidly growing up to be is so much to celebrate!

Then, there’s my call for help.  It’s to get me out of my own mess.  I keep reminding myself these are really and truly only problems faced by people privileged enough to live in First World countries like the good ol’ US of A.  So, please know that as I complain, I am also grateful.

The last month or two for me has been a ton of ridiculousness of volunteer activities and the like.  Not to mention anything that can go wrong seemed to go wrong for my husband at work, which meant later than usual nights for him as well.  It all ended last weekend in a big hurrah when I decided (only about a week beforehand) that being part of our neighborhood garage sale was also something I should do.

That makes perfect sense when you’re already exhausted from too much chauffeuring of kids to lessons and activities, volunteer commitments at their schools, and not disappointing the tens of people who look forward to my thrice-a-week blog.

Yes, when better to do a garage sale?  Oh, and a lemonade and bake sale put on by the neighborhood kids, along with my kids.  At my house.

Of course, I should do that, too!

So, Friday was a flurry of activity here trying to set up and price items for Saturday’s sale.  (No time for blogging that day).  Saturday morning the doorbell rang at ten to eight with the neighborhood kids raring to go. (Not entirely unrelated to my whole theme of the post today, their sale was *mostly* for charity–they each kept $5–and they ended up raising over $50 for Autism Speaks, so their story, too had a great ending!)

Anyhoo, then there was me, bleary-eyed and staring through the steam on my mug of hot green tea as I opened the garage door and the car loads of bargain shoppers swooped in.  And,  while most of the whole sale is a blur, I do remember this:  I remember having to use the calculator for a woman who was buying $6.70 worth of clothes and miscellany because she gave me a $10 bill.

I know.

(I know.)

As I slowly punched the numbers in she blurted out, “$3.30My change is $3.30!”

Yes, I know monkeys can do math better than I do.  But, my question is, can they do it on about four hours of sleep and with so many distractions going on around them?  My garage was full of people milling about and every other second one of the kids was asking me a question!   Anyway, luckily for me,  at the moment she told me what her change should be, my calculator simultaneously concurred.

And that’s when I realized I had no dimes or nickels for change.  (I’d planned on only pricing things in quarters, but obviously changed my plan without consulting my brain).

Lovely.

Anyway, it all worked out.  I told the lady to take the two 10 cent items for free.  She quietly thanked me and then, very kindly went to her car and returned with a dollar and 20 cents worth of dimes to not only pay for the two 10 cent items, but to also provide me with future dimes for change.

What is my point, you wonder?

I have no idea.  (I’m still really tired and it’s now Wednesday).

Which kind of is my point.  I had reached a point where nothing much was making sense at all anymore.  Why was I doing all this volunteering?  Why was I adding more things to do to an already overworked brain and body?  Why was I continuing to say yes to things, even though the most obvious answer should have been to say no?

I’m still not entirely certain, but I do know this:  no matter how hard we try to do everything and then some, we all have a breaking point. And at that point something’s gotta give. And, unfortunately, in my life, that usually means my husband and my kids have to put up with a tired, cranky wife and mother.

Sound familiar?

I wish I had a better answer.  All I know for sure is that along with my kids and husband, I suffered for taking on so much.  I didn’t want to be grumpy.  I didn’t want to be so tired.  And I didn’t want to be doing anything on the weekend besides enjoying my family (which I was not at all able to do because of all my “yeses” to other things).

So, when Monday came, I worked all day on some of the other volunteer things I’d committed to doing, and as I was able to cross more and more off my list,  I started to feel a sense of peace.  (Even though I had to sacrifice the blog again to get them done).  I started prioritizing and making a punch list.  Tackling one thing at a time.  And bit by bit my load has lightened.  And I have found stillness and peace and quiet again.

And yesterday, there in the stillness at the bottom of all of it, was God.  Waiting.  Holding it all up with me (or for me).  Reminding me that every decision I make impacts others.

Every decision.

It’s how I’ve come to understand what Catholics call “original sin.”  Our decisions have a ripple effect: on ourselves, on God, and on others, even  through the generations.

It’s a tough row to hoe, knowing this.

Still.

There is hope!  And my hope comes from knowing this:  that the ripple effect is also true of our good deeds, when we follow the promptings of the Spirit.  I remember having a conversation with my priest at my last parish in Wisconsin, and he told me that following the Spirit is like throwing stones into a pond.  We let the Spirit carry out our work like ripples on the water…and sometimes?  Sometimes, they touch something and bounce back to us!

And that’s why I have hope.  Because, while I know that my crabbiness and crankiness has a ripple effect, I believe that my good deeds do, too.  Otherwise, why would the lady who was only minutes earlier yelling at me about her change (and hinting–not so subtly– at my idiocy) return with not only payment for items I’d offered her for free, but also with change to spare?

It’s the miracle of mercy.

And it is why I have hope that when my earthly life is over, those who have known me will  remember me not for the stained and blotted effects of my thoughtless,  hurried and sometimes cruel choices, but rather that they will feel their hearts flooded by the loving and heartfelt goodness that comes from the light of the Spirit within me.

Because it shines in us all!

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  John 1:5

On Being Supermom

And then what? is a question I like to keep in mind, especially when it comes to striving for perfection.

I’ve found that asking myself that question usually helps me get to the root of what I’m trying to accomplish.

For instance, sometimes I imagine that day after day I will wake up, the house will be in order, the kids will be well-behaved, obedient, and sparkling clean from head to toe.  Our whole family will be loving and patient with our words to each other and we will exhibit nothing but absolute kindness and love.

 Ha!  You may think.  Impossible!  (And please.  Like I don’t know this?)  But, still, I like to imagine it.  Day after day me being a picture-perfect Supermom.  An Uberwife. My life as the picture of perfection.  Everything I do, I do perfectly, and with a happy heart, and without complaint.  (And then I would “pin” my life all over Pinterest for others to see!)  There they would see what I already know…that I am the quintessential wife of Proverbs 31, whose

” children rise up and bless her;  Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:  “Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all.”  (Proverbs 31: 28,29)

Uh-huh.  Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?  Isn’t that what I really think a Supermom is?  One whose children and husband (and though the verse doesn’t say it, other moms) “praise” her?  Wouldn’t it be nice to be THAT mom?  Even if only for a day?

But when I let my imagination go there, that’s when I find it most critical to ask myself:

And then what?

 Because that’s when I realize what my answer is, (though I’m a bit ashamed to admit it):

And then I wouldn’t need God.

 You know, it’s a real downer when you  realize that the very Being you claim to adore is also the one you’re trying to erase from your life.

But it all falls back into its proper place again when I realize that attaining the “perfect” life for myself would accomplish just that–the elimination of God.

Then, I simply ask myself again:

And then what? 

And then I see the monumental tasks before me.  And the pressure of it all.  And the weakness of my abilities to carry out any of it.

And I fall to my knees.

And I thank God for His being Him,

and for His making me me.

Down and Out

I just wanted to let you know, I’ll be taking a break from blogging this week.  My daughter is down and out with Rotavirus.  So I’m busy with my fair share of dumping buckets and doing laundry and such.

She’s better today, but still needs to rest.

And she likes me to be right there with her when she does.

And I may not be too smart in a 1000 different ways, but I’m smart enough to know that sitting with her is my most important job right now.

So, thank you all for waiting until I can get back you next week.  In the mean time, you can always check out my friend Anne’s blog here.

And until then, stay healthy!

I Will Always Be A Rule Breaker

Over the years,  through a process of prayer and discernment I’ve become more aware of how I judge others.  Don’t let the word discernment intimidate you.  Discernment is really a fancy name for taking notice of our choices in life, and asking for (then interpreting and following) God’s advice.  In many cases, it’s where our gift of human reason gets sprinkled with some Divine Intervention.  Through this process we learn a lot (sometimes painfully) about others and ourselves.

One painful experience I had with this process took place a few years back.  I was waiting to pick my kids up at school and saw a young mom standing with a child on her hip, waiting for her other children to be dismissed from school.  On her shoulder, I noticed a tattoo of  a giant feathered wing of some sort (I presumed part of an eagle) and some writing as well.  I couldn’t read the writing at all, but upon seeing this enormous  (and, in my opinion– obnoxious– tattoo) I did a mental eye roll and turned away at the sight of it.

Ugh.  Tattoos!  I thought , Why do people think they need these??  And what kind of mother goes around with a giant one on her shoulder, like that?

It was that second sentence that, moments later, stung me the most.

As the woman moved closer to me, I could make out the words on the tattoo.  It turned out the wings were not those of an eagle, but of an angel.  And the letters spelled the name of her dead son.  I knew his name because it was unique, and I’d noted it as I’d read about him in the newspaper only a few weeks before.  The article had been about his battle with brain cancer, and their family’s struggles as they balanced jobs,  three other children, and his illness.  It ended with his losing the battle before  he’d celebrated his second birthday.

In that moment, my own thought came back at me with a stinging slap and I realized exactly  “what kind of mother she was.”  She was “the kind of mother” who had experienced depths of sorrow and grieving beyond anything I could even imagine.  She was “the kind of mother” who had seen her infant son’s face twist and wrench into pangs of terror and shrieks of agony beyond anything humanly imaginable.  She was the “kind of mother” who had to answer the difficult questions  of why from her three other children, as they struggled with the loss of their brother, doing her best to answer when she herself couldn’t even really know.

And I wondered why I’d thought it logical and acceptable to cheapen and limit the depth of her motherhood all because of a tattoo.

In that moment of facing my horrible judgment of another, I realized I had a choice.  I could either dismiss and defend my thought by saying to myself something as ridiculous as, Well, even so, I would never get my child’s name tattooed on my shoulder!”   (I mean, while that’s probably true because as a matter of preference I still don’t like tattoos–I also don’t like  skinny jeans or crocheted toilet covers– that was hardly the point).   The point is that her tattoo, in memory and honor of her angelic son, was also a simple matter of her personal taste.  The fact that I’d tried to judge her personal taste to be a reflection of her  ability to parent, was my problem not hers.

I could only think of one thing to do.

I searched deep within my heart and asked, What would You have me do now?   And the answer came so swift and sure, I had no doubt:  pray.

So I did.

Every time I saw her.  (And, not by accident I’m sure, I saw her nearly every day).

Of course, I’d see her mostly at school pickup, but sometimes randomly around town, too.  And each and every time, no matter what kind of frenzied pace I was keeping in order to conquer my day’s activities, I would slow down, at least for a moment, and pray.  I prayed for her, for her children at home, for her spouse, for their health, and for their son in heaven.

I also prayed for me.  I prayed for forgiveness of my petty judgments (including those yet undetected), for the blessing of motherhood, for the gift of healthy children, and for the need to be reminded (often!) of the fact that despite our personal tastes, despite our harshest criticisms of others, the truth of the matter is that most of the time we’re all just doing the best we know how with the cards we’ve been dealt.

As a result, I no longer worry about “breaking” the rule that says, “Do not judge.” (Mt 7:1)  In my fallen human state, I doubt I’m any more likely to follow that law to the letter than I am of driving the speed limit.  Instead, I do the only thing I know to do:  I observe my judgments as I become aware of them, and I ask in the depths of my heart, What would You have me do now?

And what I get in return is never the finger-wagging reprimand with a harsh command to stop judging, that I feel I deserve.  No.  Instead, I most often get the simple gift of seeing how my harshest, pettiest judgments can be turned into loving actions for others (and even myself).

And that is a “breaking” of a whole other sort.

It’s judgment transformed.