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.

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How I Failed at Couch to 5K…the second time.

Wouldn’t you think that after a run with God, life would just get all easy and stuff?

Well, you can stop wondering.

I’ll just tell you flat-out:  it doesn’t.

At least it didn’t for me.   Which kind of stinks, because I was really looking forward to living to a ripe old age,  breezing through life and then falling into God’s arms at the end of it going, “Wow.  That was pretty cool!”

Well, after last week, I know the former and the latter are still possibilities,  but the middle part?  It’s definitely out.

And of course I have a story about it.

But before I begin there are a few critical background elements you need to know:

1.  When I began the Couch to 5K program (aka “C25K” ) for the second time (I quit in the third week my first time) my concern had nothing to do with how fast I was running, or how far.  Only how long.  I figured if my body could convince my mind that it could run for 30 straight minutes at the end of 8 weeks, then the rest would fall into place.  (Plus–and this is an even bigger factor– the app I was using didn’t measure distance or pace, only total time).

2.  At the start of the school year we’d convinced our oldest son to join the cross-country team at his school.  He’s 12 and had not conditioned all summer.  The team ran between 2.5  – 3 miles on their first day of practice.  Suddenly working up to this distance over 8 weeks didn’t seem like such a big deal.  My son was experiencing more of a “go hard or go home” kind of training,  and he was doing just fine.  This was a bit humbling, but he’s 12I’m almost 40.  So I’m OK with that.

3.   I know for a fact I can walk at least a 15 minute per mile clip or better.  It’s been timed.

4.  In addition to the C25K program, for the past 6 months I’ve also been working out  4-5 times each week doing a 30- minute workout DVD (mostly Jillian Michaels), and I also walk the dog at least a mile a day (usually more), every day.   So, you see, I wasn’t really starting from the couch.

5.  Finally, I’m going to be using the whole “elephant” (heart) and “rider”(mind) imagery again that I introduced in my last post, so if you want to get up to speed with where I came up with that, you can read my last post here.

OK, I think those are all the essentials.   Let’s see if I can fill in the details…

After my great running experience at the end of week 5, I only had three more weeks to go and I would be running a 5K.  Of course, that’s assuming I was running a full 5K (3.1 miles) at about 10 minutes a mile.  I didn’t go so far as to think I was quite that fast, but considering I could walk a 5K at at 15 minute per mile clip, I figured I was probably running at about a 12 minute clip.

That’s kind of where the story begins.  Because sometimes the things I assume to be true can get mixed up with a moderately important thing called reality.  And sometimes they meet in a head-on collision.   This little story falls into the latter.  So sit yourself down and get comfortable as I unfold the train wreck of my experience for you, best I know how…

It just so happened our oldest son was wrapping up his first week of cross-country the same weekend I was expecting to finish my C25K.  I’d been running as long as 28 minutes 3x/week at that point, and was sure there would be no problem adding another 2 minutes to get to the 30 minute mark.  I was ready to put a big ‘ol check mark by this sucker and my plans were then to try to stay running for 30 minutes a day two – three times a week moving forward.

So when my oldest son came home from school before Labor Day weekend and said he needed to run at least two miles per day on two days over  the long weekend , I offered to run with him.  After all, I reasoned, I’m ready for this!  I’ve been training for SEVEN WEEKS!   Plus, as a result of running with my son, I’d actually be finishing the whole C25K a few days early.  Bonus!

Then Husband came home from work and offered to run with Son and I, too!  Awww.  Poor Husband, I thought, this is going to be a tough little run-in with reality for him.  He hasn’t run at all since last year.  And because I’m so thoughtful, I decided I would try to go easy on him.  And Son.   No need to embarrass them, you know.  My elephant (heart) was happy with the idea that I now had two running partners for the weekend, and my rider (mind ) was feeling particularly positive about these last few runs, so, unlike the last time he was more than welcome to come along for this adventure.

We all laced up on Saturday morning and began the run.  Within the first two minutes Husband and Son were a half-block ahead of me.  Ha! said my rider (mind) to me and my elephant (heart).  Amateurs.  They’re going to be walking pretty soon because they aren’t pacing themselves (at my [assumed] 12-minute pace).   Oh well.  They gotta learn somehow.

Except they didn’t.

If anything, the gap was only increasing.  I was falling further and further behind!

This was NOT how this was supposed to go!!!

Over half-way through, Husband and Son had doubled their distance between us.  I yelled out to Son who was the only one wearing a watch. “TIME?”  I yelled.  “WHAT’S THE TIME??”  (I didn’t really like how panicked I sounded).   Son stopped moving, but kept running in place, turned around to face me, and cupped his hand to his ear  in a I-can’t-hear-you motion.    Great.  Somehow I’d fallen  so far back I was out of earshot.   And trust me, my voice travels!   This was not a good sign.  “Eight minutes left!”  he shouted.  Well, that stinks, I thought. Especially considering I thought he was going to say, “two.”

Near the end (I was guessing, because the guys had turned around towards home), I was so mad and irritated that they (non-training Husband in particular) were not only able to finish, but also finish faster than me, that I turned down a different block than them so I would no longer have to stare at their bodies growing smaller and smaller on the horizon as I dragged myself along.

Finally, sweaty and winded, I walked up the drive.

“Wow!  That felt good, didn’t it?”  Husband said as I dragged myself up the driveway.   I noticed he and Son both had water bottles in hand fresh from the fridge and were stretching.  Oh, goody.  I’d fallen so far behind they had time to refresh themselves while I was finishing my “run.”  (I had to use the term loosely– in quotes– now, because compared to them, I was no longer sure exactly if what I’d been doing could even count as running.)

“Should we drive the course to see how far we ran?”  Husband asked.  “Sure,” I brightened.  Aha!  This was going to be my reward!  I was sure of it.   This would be where we’d drive around and I’d find out that even though they were faster, we’d certainly run farther than I usually ran.  So we climbed into the car and began the trek.  Down the farm road and back?  1 mile.   Good.   Around this block and that one.   Add another .5 mile.  Uh-oh.  Was that all?   My insides stiffened.  My elephant was numb.  This wasn’t looking good.  I hadn’t run but a bit further than this, total.  “Where did you stop running?”  Husband asked.  “There” I whispered.  I couldn’t even look.  “Good job, Hon!” said (frustratingly positive, optimistic) Husband.  “1.75 miles for you and that makes…(as we pulled up to his and Son’s end point) 2.25 miles for us.”

In 28 minutes.

I couldn’t decide whether to scream or cry.   I just blinked.

“Not bad for a first day!” said Husband with a smile.  FIRST DAY???  I wanted to shout.  Instead I just asked, needing to know the WHOLE. UGLY. TRUTH. even though I feared the answer,”What’s that put my pace at?”  (On a good day my math is choppy at best.  Right now, I was far too distraught to even attempt it).  I braced for the answer.

“Uh…let’s see.  How far did we say you went again?”  (Seriously, did he have to rub it in?)

“1.75,” I said.

“That puts you at about a 16 minute mile.”

16 minutes per mile!?!?  I could walk faster than that!  My elephant (heart) was so wounded, he just hung his head and turned his back to me.   But my rider (mind)  came to the rescue!  “Beginner’s luck for them and a bad day for you,” he told me. “We’ll show ’em what we’re really made of tomorrow!”  Yeah.  That sounded right.  Beginner’s luck.  Tomorrow is another day.  Tomorrow will be MY DAY to shine!

***

The next day was muggier and more overcast than the previous one.  I’d not had a great night’s sleep, but it was certainly better than the night before.  Mentally, I was more ready than ever to show Husband just who the Workout Warrior was in this family.

We headed out to the park with the dog in tow.  This time I downloaded a new app that measured it all…time, distance, pace, etc.  Heh, heh!  There will be no denying this, I thought to myself as we pulled in to the park.

We hopped out, stretched a bit and, trying to stay humble, I turned to Husband and Son  and made a sweeping gesture towards the trail, “You go ahead and start since you’re faster.  The dog and I will stay back here.” I said.   And we’ll be passing you soon enough, I thought.

So they started.  And the dog and I followed.  Hmmm.  They’re moving at a pretty good clip again today, I thought.  Well, when they hit that first hill they’re going to slow down a bit.  But it was harder than I thought.  I looked up the hill in time to see the tops of their heads as they cleared the hill barely breaking stride.  So, I kicked it into gear as best I could to get to the top of the hill…only  to see them already around the next curve.  The dog obviously saw them, too, as he began pulling me ( remember him? my reluctant running partner? ) around the curve to catch them.  “Traitor!”  I hissed at the dog.  He clearly wanted to run faster.  With the guys.  He pulled and pulled.  I kept shtsss’ing and tugging like the Dog Whisperer to know avail.  We got to the top of the second hill and I could see them turning the corner into their final stretch of their first lap.

There was no catching them, now.

And at that moment, my giant elephant heart broke in two.

This was not how this was supposed to go.

Suddenly I was overcome with emotion.  There I was in the middle of the park with  Son and Husband  barely in sight, a dog who wanted to be anywhere but with my slow, sorry self and the clouds that– though I was praying would strike lightning so we could all go home and forget this day ever happened– refused to do anything more than squeeze the air out of my lungs.

Tears welled in my eyes.  I pulled on my sunglasses (because of the glaring clouds, of course) and stopped running.  Why bother, I thought.  I took a shortcut across the trail so I would meet up with Husband and Son to hand over the dog.  (They still beat me there).  I dropped the dog’s leash and–adding a final insult to my already injured (elephant) heart– the dog took off in a full-out run to be with the big boys.  Husband and Son turned to greet the dog, (barely winded) and smiled and waved at me as I stared long and hard at the backs  of their heads as they disappeared down the trail.

Inside my elephant (heart) was so sad and broken, and my rider (mind) was so stunned, I just stood there fighting back the big, choking sobs that threatened to break loose.

Once we get home, and I shower, I thought,  I’ll  feel better.

Turns out a shower wasn’t enough to wash away the pain of my very wounded ego.  I was in no mood to look for any positives to this whole humiliating experience.  Instead, I just crawled up on top of a big ‘ol Pity Pot and let the s#*t  pile high.  That’s an ugly sentiment, I know.  But it’s true.  Brooding, moping, pouting…it was all there.  I searched my rider hoping he might have something positive to say here.  Or at least some explanation for how things had gone so wrong.  But he was no help.  No help at all.  And my elephant?  Well, he just had the saddest little look about him.  Like baby Dumbo with those big teary eyes.  And he turned his back on me and walked away.

So where was God now?  And what had happened to that soul of mine?   I searched all around, but there was no sign of either one now.  No “house of goodness,”  no feelings of the Spirit of God and his eternal love.  Just… darkness.  Dark as a tomb.

I went through the motions of the day OK (well, at least I think I did…you should probably ask Husband to define “OK”, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t much fun to live with).  Everything felt a bit heavier.   At first I was pleased to see my rider  come back, but he started in with some pretty worrisome thoughts:  This whole time I’d thought I was running a 12 minute mile when I was actually “running” slower than I can walk?  What did the neighbors think when they saw me “running”?  Did I even look like I was moving?  And the dog!  This whole time I’d thought he was having a hard time keeping up, but after today’s events it was evident, he clearly thought I wasn’t  running at all.  In fact, he probably lagged behind because he figured if I was going that slow he could at least get some good sniffing in. 

Then I groaned.  The girls in my Facebook group.  Ugh.  I’d made a big ‘ol announcement that I’d be wrapping up my final week of C25K this weekend, and they’d probably be waiting to hear that I’d finished.  I couldn’t bear to post it.  Not because I feared them mocking me.  In fact, I’d probably prefer it.  Instead I knew they’d either try to cheer me up with those encouraging verses like “well, you’re lapping everyone still on the couch!”  or some such thing  (And as I already pointed out I hadn’t really started on the couch).   Or worse, they’d feel sorry for me.   (I like my pity parties to be a Party of One, thank you very much).  What if they’d say something like, “Awww, that’s OK!”  or   “Keep trying!”  Double ugh.  It was NOT OK, and now I wasn’t sure I’d ever try again.     So, unless someone else had had to work themselves up to a 17 minute mile, I really didn’t want to hear from them.  So I stayed away from the page.  I just couldn’t bear it.

Later that evening,  I wondered again:   Where is God in all of this?  Is this some kind of punishment for my pride?   A joke?  And what came to my mind then was an image of Mother Teresa and a saying of hers that I love:

“We are called to be faithful.  Not successful.”

Which is true enough.  But puh-lease. Not right now.  I’m too busy having this pity party.   I rolled my eyes, grumbled to myself, “Shut it, Sister!,” slammed the door on that thought, and  climbed back up onto my Pity Pot.

Day 2 was a little better.  I mean it was what it was, right?  I  had to face the facts.  After eight weeks of training, it turns out I “run” a 16 minute mile.  I thought some more about Mother Teresa’s words from the day before and thought that maybe she had a point.  I had been faithful to the plan.  Maybe I could at least find hope in that.  I HAD run 3 times each week for the length of time I was supposed to (except when I was on vacation) and so what if I wasn’t exercising a “run” properly? I was at least exercising some discipline.  (It was little consolation, but afterwards I’ll admit my heart felt a little better.  A bit more open to the possibility that perhaps I wouldn’t need to brood about this forever).

Later that day, when I wondered Where is God in all of this?  again,  more words came to me.  They were Richard Rohr’s words this time reminding me,

“If we don’t transform our sins, we are bound to transmit them.”

Thanks, Richard, I thought, sarcastically.   Was it a sin to run badly?  Of course not.  But I knew he wasn’t talking about the running.  He was talking about the condition of my heart.  (Resentful.  Closed off.  Hard.)  And the condition of my mood.  (Bitter.  Angry.  Self-loathing).  Hmm…he might have a point, but I was perfectly content being angry and bitter and full of self-loathing right now.  Giving any more thought to that  would have to wait.  *Door slam*  I was done thinking about it.

Then came Day 3.  I woke up thinking maybe today I would spill it to the girls on Facebook.  I might be able to face their sympathy or encouraging words now.  But, I wondered again, Where is God in all of this?  And then in my mind flashed the image again of Husband and Son and Dog cresting the hill and disappearing.  UGH!  I thought, growing angry all over again.  Why were they so much better than me when I’d been the one working SO hard?   Clearly, I still was not ready.

But then.

Then,  that morning  I cracked open my devotional reading titled “Holy Reversals” by Patti Gallagher Mansfield and couldn’t believe what I was reading.   The words jumped off the page as though they’d been written just for me

  “… the Lord showed [me] that this very disappointment, difficulty and disillusionment with others could be

a tombstone or a stepping stone

for [me], depending on [my] response to the offense.”

Well, now. Those were some words worth thinking about.

Suddenly, it was all pretty clear. This whole experience could either be a story about the day I stopped running (“running”) or  it could be…something else.  But what?  Again, the image of  Husband, Son and Dog flashed in my mind.  This time, though, my breath caught.  In all my anger do you know what I’d missed?  I’d missed being witness to a beautiful moment between a father and his son, and their dog.  My husband.  Our son.  Our dog.  I’d missed the beauty and the miracle of the fact that my son was willing enough and courageous enough to take the time to get stronger and better when he’d suffered a pretty difficult first week of training.  I missed the willingness of a father to run with his son even though he’d not run in a year.  I’d missed the ability to just get out there and do the best I could and enjoy the day for what it was:  a day of courage and willing spirits all the way around.

I’d missed it because I had not been willing.  I’d been plotting.

Plotting how to win.

How to be better.

How to show everyone how it was done.

And I’d failed.

But now?

Now was my chance to make this a stepping stone, instead of a tombstone.  Now was the chance to seize the opportunity to be humble.  To realize I had done the best I could, but that others have done much better.  An opportunity to realize that if I felt good doing something that was good for me, it was OK even if it hadn’t turned out the way I’d thought it would.

And then I realized something else.  If I’d been faster that day?  If I’d been where I wanted to be beside (or preferably in front) of Husband and Son and dog?  Well, then I would have missed the image of the three of them running together, wouldn’t I?  And right then and there I took a mental snapshot of the three of them.  And I tucked it right back into my –now healing– elephant (heart).

By day 4, I knew I was on the right track again.  I decided to go for a run even if I was going to be slow, and even if I could walk faster than I could “run.”  Maybe, I thought to myself, maybe I should’ve never called what I was doing “running” in the first place.  Maybe I should have used the word “jogging.”  At least it would have sounded like I could go faster, but  I just chose not to.   Or, my rider (mind) joked, maybe since you can walk faster than you jog you should call it “wogging.”

And I laughed out loud.

And that’s when I started moving my feet in the motion formerly known as running.  And I recognized again  the  *I* that had emerged with the elephant and rider once before.  The *I* that I call my soul.  And as my legs moved (yes forward, you smart alecs!) my elephant and rider both welcomed her (my soul is a female!) back.

Well, my rider  wondered, where have *you*  been?  Last time we looked for *you*, it was black as a tomb in there.

Tomb?  said my soul.

Yes, rider and elephant both nodded.

Soul just laughed.  That was not a tomb, she said.  It was a wombAnd from it came New Life.  A life of joy and love and laughter that had been missing for a short time.  Waiting until you were ready for it.  But now it’s back.

Yes.  Yes it was.

***

Thirty minutes later I walked back up the driveway,  feeling more refreshed and renewed than I had in a long time.

I glanced down at my iPod to check my pace:   a 15-minute mile.   I sighed.  Then I did a quick inventory.   My elephant (heart) was content and rested.  My rider (mind) was quiet and calm.  My soul was happy and at peace.

Hmph, I smiled to myself,  I guess numbers don’t matter all that much when you’re running at the speed of God.

And I opened the door and went inside.

Oh, Motherhood, How Do You Guilt Me? Let Me Count The Ways…

If motherhood had a middle name it would surely be guilt.

Rarely a moment goes by since “Mom” became my name that I’m not left with some nagging guilt about something.

How about for poops and giggles we take a look at this week alone and see what guilts have come my way, shall we?

  • Did I make my kids go to school, even though they really didn’t want to? (Guilty)
  • Did I tell the children the school day would “fly by” and they would be home “before they knew it” even though the real person it would “fly by” for and “end before they knew it” was me?  (Guilty)
  • Did I have very few healthy and nutritious snack and lunch items on hand for the kids to pack in their lunch? (Guilty)
  • Did I completely forget that the kids might need to pack their lunch? (Guilty)
  • Did I then act all disgusted and tell the kids I didn’t know they would want to pack their lunch (instead of buy it) and then make  encourage them to pack their own? (Guilty)
  • Did I run out the DAY BEFORE SCHOOL STARTED and buy them their school supplies?  (Guilty)
  • Have I yet to buy them any new clothes or shoes for school? (Guilty)
  • Did I buy them some stuff they didn’t need even though we are trying to watch our spending after a summer of indulgent spending on who- knows- what? (Guilty)
  • Did I make one child  go out for a sport that he really was not at all physically conditioned or mentally prepared for? (Guilty)
  • Did I tell another one that from this point forward he was going to have to practice his music lesson EVERY DAY before he could play any video games? (Guilty)
  • Did I actually tell one who would Not. Stop. Talking. to “Please shut it” so I could have some peace and quiet? (Guilty)
  • Did I make one cry by telling her that I would be at her school this week so she might see me, but I would not be helping her class? (Guilty)

*Sigh*  It seems like somehow opening this GUILTY door at motherhood has made me more aware of guilt in to other parts of my life, too.  For instance:

  • Did I enjoy my new-found ability to run a few miles so much that I nearly made the dog have a heat-stroke because whether he likes it or not I’ve tagged him as my running partner? (Guilty)
  • Did I gossip with my friends at all this week? (Guilty)
  • Did we miss church because husband’s work schedule has just made us TOO TIRED to go? (Guilty)
  • Did I get irritated with Husband about his work schedule only to find that perhaps the issues he was dealing with at work were more important (once I stopped to listen) than my own? (Guilty)
  • Have I said, written, or thought anything that wasn’t very nice or that may have landed wrong on other people? (Guilty)
  • Have I woken up every day with a TO DO list in mind only to find that at the end of the day sometimes NOT ONE of the things on the list got done? (Guilty)
  • And that I wouldn’t even be able to explain to anyone else–let alone myself–what in the Sam Hill I did with all my time instead? (Guilty, GUILTY, GUILTY!)

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here, right?  And it doesn’t seem to be limited to any one group of moms, either.   Biological.  Adoptive.  Working.  Stay-at-home.  Brand new.  Empty Nester.  We all share it, don’t we?

So what is it we’re meant to do with all this guilt?    And why does it haunt us?   And is it all bad?

Today I seem to be more sacked with guilt than usual and in realizing this, I was reminded of something I learned about the role of guilt in our lives a couple of years ago.  At that time, I was part of a team that launched a parish-wide catechism at our church.  It was in gathering research for my part of a catechetical  presentation, that I had a revelation about guilt and it’s role in our lives.  I was researching the order of the Catholic Mass and I needed to be able to explain some things about it to a group of people who would likely be quite varied in age, so it needed to be both simple and somewhat catchy.  My A-ha moment came when I realized that the order of every Mass requires all participants to recite the Confiteor (“I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned…”) and immediately follow it with the Gloria where we sing our praises to God.

Sadly, prior to my having to do the research, I’d never really held those two parts together.   I’d always kind of hurried along through my “public confessions”, and then reveled (singing louder than those around me, because that makes me more holy, right?) in belting out my Gloria.  But in holding these two things together:  our sins and our praises, I got to thinking about guilt and how it works in my life.  And I made the startling discovery that guilt is not really all bad (like for instance when we are “guilted” into giving our time, our money, etc. to a worthy cause) nor was it all good (like when we are “guilted” by someone’s hurtful comments or mean-spirited remarks).

So if guilt is not good or bad, then what is it?

And it came to me that perhaps guilt is simply an invitation.  

I believe that in our moments of guilt, God is inviting us to take a moment, look into our hearts where God has written, observe our actions, and ask, “Am I on the right path here?”  And in that moment, very often we will *know* if we are, or if we aren’t.

That’s why sometimes guilt is just there, looming, even though we are certain we are doing the right thing (like sending our kids to school even though they don’t want to go).  In moments like that, I believe our guilt is intended to give us strength.  To remind us that not only are we doing the right thing but, most importantly, that God is right there in our decision with us.

But sometimes?

Sometimes the invitation of guilt comes in the form of your soul mate allowing you to”tear into him” as he drags his tired body home after a long day of work, only for you to  realize later that perhaps the things he was dealing with that day were just a *touch* more important than the fact that you didn’t get to watch The Big Bang Theory because you had to put the kids to bed by yourself…again.   This type of guilt is an invitation, too.   An invitation to remember to tread lightly with those we love.  To remember that sometimes it’s a good idea to put others first.   Especially if they mean so much to us.

In realizing this (and in the need to present it to a group of all ages) I came up with a little trick for remembering that God uses guilt as an invitation to draw us closer to Him.  It’s kind of cutesy, but it works for me:

G = Giving

U = Up

I = “I”

L = Looking

T = Towards

Y = You (God)

Keeping this in mind, my guilt can actually fuel my day.  I am either being reminded of God’s presence, or I’m being gently asked to change my ways.  As a result, I now often consider guilt to be food for my journey.  And I very often, (just like in the order of the Mass), find myself afterwards thanking God for sending me an “invitation” to draw me closer.

Even if it sometimes stings a little.

And now, tying this all to back motherhood, it just occurred to me that it makes perfect sense that my call to  motherhood is when I became the most aware of guilt in my life.

Because, after all, it was the long/lonely/scary/grueling/loving/rewarding/awesome call to motherhood that made me most realize just how much I need Him.

A Fiction Word

Last week my kindergarten daughter was working soooooo hard on something that we were nearly late for school.

And it wasn’t homework.

At least not assigned by her teacher.

It was something she really wanted to show her teacher, though.  I think she was hoping for a “wow” factor.  And because she’s six, it was very evident from start to finish that, at the very least, she was especially impressed with herself.

Fortunately, she has the kind of kindergarten teacher that I knew would not disappoint her.  (And 33 years later, my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Phelan, is not disappointing me, either!   But that’s another story.  For now, just know I got your note, Mrs. Phelan, and I was touched beyond words!  Thank you!)

But now, back to that self-imposed project of my daughter’s.

What was it, you ask?

It was a word.

A fiction word (as she called it) that means “when you feel something.”  By way of further explanation, she gave this example, “Like when you feel like you are wearing a necklace, but you don’t have one on.”

And the word she made up for that feeling?

librareiinstastane (pronounced lie-berry-en-sta-stain)

Of course, being the English major that I am, I enjoyed very much her making up a new word.  It cracked me up that despite the fact she actually spelled the first part of “librarian” correctly, she still pronounced it “li-berry.”

Still, fiction words are pretty cool.  I mean, she’s in good company after all.   Lewis Carroll immediately came to my mind and his nonsensical Jabberwocky poem, and, of course, the well-worn world of gaxes and sneetches, et al. created by the beloved Dr. Seuss.  So I beamed that she was fearless enough to just make up a word.

And a definition.

And show it off.

And for whatever reason, this word hung with me all week (while her dad was out of town).  Off and on I would find myself wondering What part of speech is it?  Adjective?  Verb?  How would you use it in a sentence?  (For some reason it never occurred to me to ask her to use it in a sentence).

Anyhoo, the week wore on and every time I would think of this word, I would smile.   I’d think about how she came home that afternoon with a  note from her wonderful, compassionate, amazing teacher that said proudly:  “This is an enormous fiction word!”  followed by a big smiley face.

Because it was.

And I’m sure it made her smile.

Simple as that.

But still, something about it lingered with me.  I’m really not sure what or why.  Just thoughts of that word drifting in and out of my consciousness throughout the week.

Then, on the weekend, when her dad returned from his trip, I told him the story and showed him the word.  Without missing a beat, he walked into the living room where she was sitting and started a casual conversation with her by saying, “You know what, Bean? (That’s her nickname.  We don’t fancy naming our kids after vegetables, just so you know. )  Sometimes I librareiinstastane my Blackberry.”  And he said it without even looking at her.

She glowered at him. (Because she almost always does. *sigh*  We have no idea why.)

And he replied innocently, “What?   I do.”  And he turned and left the room.

And I’m sure he does.

And now I knew how to use it in a sentence.

And the whole point of my writing about it is this:  I don’t have a word for how I’ve been feeling, or why I haven’t been writing, or just where I am in my faith journey right now.

That’s why I haven’t written.

Not because I don’t want to.  Or because I’m done with this whole blog thing.

Not at all.

In fact, I librareiinstastane words for my blog.

I really do.

But just like the definition says:  I feel them, but they’re not really there.

Hopefully, maybe even sometime soon, I will un-librareiinstastane those words.

But for now?

For now, there are no words to form sentences that outline or connect the thoughts along my journey.  Only some random thoughts that I’ve been repeating to myself often, which I’ll share with you now:

“All is well, and all is well, and all will be well…” ~Julian of Norwich

“God does not love us because we are good.  God loves us because GOD is good.”  ~Richard Rohr

And then there is this story shared in Ronald Rolheiser’s book Our One Great Act of Fidelity, from a lecture he’d heard given by James Mackey  about a man on a hunting expedition in Africa who bagged two wild turkeys and headed back to his camp (that story I paraphrase here, but the point of which has been bouncing around in my head for weeks):

At one point upon his return to camp he realized that he was being followed by a naked, starving, adolescent boy.  Seeing this, the man unbuckled his belt, let the turkeys fall to the ground and gestured to the boy to come take the birds.  The boy ran up to the birds, but refused to pick them up.  He was, seemingly, still asking for something else.   Finally, as a last ditch effort for the boy to show what else he needed, he backed off from the birds several meters and stood with his arms and hands outstretched…”waiting, waiting until the man came and placed the birds in his hands.  He had, despite hunger, fear, and intense need, refused to take the birds.  He waited until they were given to him…”

And on that final thought, that’s perhaps why I’ve librareiinstastaned the words for this blog.

I refuse to take what I’m experiencing and share with you, until the words for it have been given to me.

In the meantime, just know I don’t mind this lack of words.

My twisted, jumbled wordless journey suits me just fine.  (It’s not real helpful to the blog, though, so that’s why I thought I’d check in).

But for now, know this:  that when the words are finally given to me?

Well… I’ll be  certain to write a big smiley face next to them.

 

Waxing Nostalgic

 

I sometimes think we are a little overly zeaous in our efforts to become whole.  I don’t know that we will ever be whole.  I believe that God calls us to be in process and this means one step at a time, one minute at a time, one day at a time.  A faithfulness to living our lives in process is, perhaps even more important than all our efforts to become whole.

~from Gold in Your Memories, Macrina Wiederkehr

Ahh…that time of year again.

The kids’ school year is winding down, their activities are ramping up, and I am left standing in the frenzy of it all going, Wait!  What just happened here??

This happens every spring.  And every fall.   As my kids proudly march forward with time, eagerly looking ahead at what they’ll get to do the next year, and how much they can’t wait until X or Y or Z.  And all the time I’m sneaking downstairs and pulling their little onesies or memorable outfits out of storage boxes and sniffing them hoping that last little smell of their babyhood is still there.

Yep.  Welcome to motherhood.  These are the parts that everyone talks about (Where did the time go?  Oh, my gosh, they’ve gotten so BIG!), but no one really TALKS about.

You know what I’m saying?   No one talks about the way it can hurt sometimes when you least expect it as your first born, The Oldest One, now a growing “tween” stares blankly at some cartoon nonsense on the TV and in your mind’s eye you see him as a two-year-old infatuated with a show about talking trains.  Something he would now not only roll his eyes about,  but mock if you were to suggest he watch it.

And your now (very tall, very large-footed) 10-year-old, The Middle One, still sucks up trivial facts as though his mind is a vacuum cleaner,  but now instead of you telling him or reading him the facts, he’s giving them to you.  He doesn’t need  you to read them to him or to explain them at all.  Now you’re the one looking puzzled, wondering (and then secretly running off to search Google and see)  if what he’s saying could be true–that Albert Einstein really does have an element named after him. (He does.)

Then, there’s the Little One.  The only girl.  The one who just last fall boarded the school bus smiling and waving to you, so proud to be a kindergartner.  And you smiled and waved back even though inside you felt a part of you die.  Now she’s a full-blown reader and thanks to her EXTREMELY talented teacher, she shouts out words like “onomatopoeia” and “alliteration” (and she can tell you what they mean).  And another part of you dies because she doesn’t need you to read to her at all now, and she sounds like a fourth grader instead of the kindergartner that she still is for the  23 remaining days of school.  (Not that anyone’s counting).

*SIGH*

And so you sit here, trying not to panic as the clock ticks fervently forward in their lives (and in yours).  And you may begin to wonder why you ever wished away their time at home with you.

At least I do.  I remember how much I was going to relish the day all three of them were all in school ALL DAY.  And how I was going to have time to plan (and make) healthy meals, and I was going to have time to clean the house, and update the checkbook, and decorate to my heart’s content and greet the kids at the door with a warm smile and a fresh batch of baked goods each day…You see where this is going, don’t you?  I stop myself just short of donning the pearls, dress, and heels as I smile and push around the vacuum cleaner. (That part even I knew at least wasn’t gonna happen.  I mean, who smiles while they’re vacuuming?)

But at the very least, I thought I’d have a lot more things figured out right now.  Which was my first mistake.  Not because I’m incapable of figuring things out, but because of the time restraints I put on what is ultimately a lifelong process.  And all too often, at least in my personal experience, it’s not until the process is complete, that I realize that I’ve finally figured things out.  But then a new process begins.

The bigger question right now is probably, Why am I surprised?  It’s ridiculous, really, when I take a step back and really look at what I’d expected this year to be:

  • We were going to move to a new state. (check)
  • My kids were going to be in school all day. (check)
  • I would take a few weeks to get the house in order (every closet cleaned, every photo album filled, every old video dubbed to DVD, etc.) and become a gourmet cook and domestic goddess that miraculously loved waking up to begin cooking and cleaning, though I never enjoyed them before. (umm…still a work in progress….)
  • I would be a fitness queen! (Well, I DO workout regularly, but since the whole “healthy gourmet meals” thing has been overlooked, I have succeeded at being both stronger and fatter).
  • I would  launch myself into volunteer opportunities and different committees with the schools and at church and that would, in turn, open doors and point the way for me to my new calling. (Welllllll…I DO volunteer in the schools and at church sometimes, but so far I’m not finding my new calling…except to again remind myself that while I enjoy being in schools, and despite the fact that my B.A. in English Education would allow me to do so, I do not want to be a classroom teacher. )
  • I would understand the meaning of life.  (Yeah.   Another little coinky dink that fit perfectly into my “plan.”  Did I mention that I’m turning 40 this year?  Because EVERYONE knows that by the age of 40 the meaning of life suddenly all makes sense.  Except it doesn’t).
  • I would be fulfilled. (hmmm…still waiting…..)

And that’s where I am now.  Realizing that perhaps my expectations were a TOUCH too high for what this year would bring.

The reality is that each and every time we’ve moved (three times in five years), it takes me a full year (give or take) to unpack my brain and my emotions from that experience.  It takes me a full year (give or take) to get all of us set up with our new doctors, dentists, and hair stylists.  It takes me a full year (give or take) to realize which of the new people I’ve met, I could actually call and say, “Hey, do you want to get together?” and not worry that they’re going to say, “Uh.  Who is this, again?”  Add to that the fact that this year I crossed an invisible milestone where I am still a “stay-at-home-mom,” but most of the time the only one here to “mother” is the dog.  Stir all that together, and suddenly it feels like more of a recipe for exactly what I’m experiencing now:  nostalgia, mixed with a cupful of questions, and stirred together with a dash of wonder and a pinch of doubt.

The realities of this “recipe” and some of the “extra ingredients” I’ve thrown in, though, aren’t all bad.

For instance, in the process of this year we’ve rescued a very loving and intelligent Golden Retriever.  And  while I’ve never been one to consider my pets my “kids,” he has, like them, made me realize that just when I thought my heart couldn’t possibly grow any larger, he nestled himself right into a cozy available spot and opened a door there to show me that love isn’t always about words and actions.  What he’s shown me is how primal and instinctual love is.  With him it’s never about what I say, or what I do, but always WHO I AM.

I’ve also started this little bloggy adventure.  And I’ve (sort of) kept it going even beyond Lent.  And while I’m certainly no writing genius or expert, I’m suddenly realizing that nobody ever expected me to be.  Except me.  And so like the vision of pearls and heels behind the vacuum, it’s time for me to let that expectation go, too.  I don’t really want to write genius material, anyway.  I want to write about my journey.   So that sometimes, when I feel like I’ve lost my way, I can go back and say, “Oh, maybe I’ve gone farther than I realized.”  And I want to share it with others, so that maybe every once in awhile they’ll say, “Huh.  I thought I was the only one who ever felt that way…”

And my kids?

Well, it CAN be heartbreaking to think about their childhood and how fast it’s gone.  But, the real tragedy would be if I only mourned that loss, and didn’t celebrate who they’ve become.

That’s where the painful memories meet the Joyful Now.

Because while The Oldest One no longer plays with toy trains, he does still play with Legoes. But, as a middle schooler, he is also joining in with the adults from time to time when people come over, and he throws in his own two cents of opinions about whatever topic we’re discussing.  He’s also developing a great sense of humor. (Which despite my every effort to take credit for, he assures me comes from his Uncle Jeff.) (He’s probably right.)

And the Middle One?  Well, he’s thankfully developed his father’s ability to keep and store information in a concise and neatly organized file cabinet of a brain.  My brain holds facts more like a laundry basket.  It’s all there… but I have to dig for it.  And sometimes I can’t find the mate for the sock I need.  Still.  It’s nice to be able to sit back and let him teach me all he’s learned.  Some of it sounds familiar, like maybe I did know it once upon a time?  But much of it is new, too.  And though I’m sure I don’t want to be a classroom teacher, part of my reason for wanting to pursue teaching as a career is because I’ve always loved learning.  (Well, not algebra, but that’s another story).  So, the fact that my son loves sharing his newly found information and the fact that I don’t mind hearing it and learning it (or rediscovering it), makes our time together pretty enjoyable.

Then there’s the Little One.  Well, she may know fancy words like onomatopeia and alliteration, but just this morning she needed help getting her shoes on and she flat-out refused to leave the van without her “love note kiss” to her hand.  And only yesterday she was crying…big BAWLING sobs…about a stuffed animal she saw on TV that I flat out refused to buy for her.  So, I guess she’s not exactly leaving for college just yet.  And the fact that I can see how time keeps marching on makes me appreciate all the more every last snuggle and kiss and hug. Because I just never know when she won’t want them any more.

That is how I’m in process right now.  Not whole.  Not entirely fulfilled.  And despite the fact that I love my husband very much, he didn’t “complete me” the way Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger did for each other in Jerry Maguire.  For the record, having kids didn’t complete me, either.  Neither did getting a dog.  And to be fair,  expecting any one of them, or all of them collectively to “fulfill” or “complete” me, is a pretty tall order.  I mean, I’m pretty sure I don’t “complete” my husband.  Or my kids.  Or even the dog.  And to think that I could (or that they’d want me to)  would be a LOT of pressure that I don’t really need.  In fact, I’d be as sure to fail at that as I did my “little plan” for this year.

But by God… I am so grateful that they were brought into the process of my life.

And just like that!  The nostalgia is gone.  So is the self-doubt, and the nagging worry about all that I’d intended to do but didn’t get done.

The memories remain, of course, but without the longing for the past.  And suddenly, just like my kids, I’m back once again to looking forward to what the future holds.

But mostly…and this can only come for the wisdom of someone who’s lived almost FORTY YEARS or more…I realize milestones are like the pearls of life.

We can admire them.

We can cherish them.

We can hold them from time to time.

But in order to string them together,  we must walk the strands of the journey.

And every part of it– the pearls and strands– is essential to making our life the Crown Jewel it was meant to be.