Mother of mothers

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with Mary.

It gets less complicated as I get older. Motherhood has made her more real to me. After Dana’s post about the spoons, I wondered if Mary ever ran out of spoons.

A two year old is a two year old is a two year old, right? Plus there’s the business of the missing teenage years.

Part of what I struggled with for so long was my church’s characterization of her as small, meek and sugar coated.

Because I’m not.

I resented the Renaissance depictions of her that hang in churches and museums all over the world, beautiful in form and face even as she grieves at the foot of the Cross.

I wondered, if she is the ultimate example of womanhood and obedience, in all her delicate beauty and grace, then what are the rest of us?

Then I became a mom and I knew the truth.

She was a lot like the rest of us.

She labored and gave birth.

She felt mama fear, as we all do. Probably more, after meeting Simeon in the temple and then being forced to flee in front of the slaughter of the innocents.

She felt mama anger, too. The bible tells us that she searched wildly for her son for three days when he was lost. And when she found him in the temple, she spoke up to him, in front of the men surrounding him.

The strongest word I could find to describe her tone is “questioning”.

Yeah, I bet. She probably wanted to question him all the way home and into his room until he was 30.

Which would explain the missing years. Huh.

She was Immaculately Conceived, gave birth to the Son of God and lived a sinless life (hey, I said she was a lot like us, not just like us), which makes her the Mother of mothers. She walked our path and then some. She gets it.

That’s what matters—not how she is depicted in a painting from 700 years ago.

When I descended into the darkness after Annie was born, and my counselor told me that meditation would quiet the loud and ugly voices in my head, I turned to the rosary.

For Catholics, the rosary is meditation. It’s also closely connected to Mary, and I needed the Mother of mothers badly at that time in my life. On the nights when the fears were chasing me, I let the beads slip through my fingers,  begging Mary to pray with me for peace in my heart and thoughts, to add her voice to mine and ask God for healing.

I never made it all the way through before falling asleep. But when I awoke in the morning, my rosary curled up in bed with me, I felt peace and knew that Mary was with me in my struggle.

My friend Steffani is the one who brought me closer to this understanding of Mary. She’s a homeschooling mom with eight kids, and her family is a great big joyful bundle of noise and love. In the midst of this, she is a very calm and wise woman. I used to think this was because she’d seen it all. But then I realized it’s because she gives it all to God. And she asks the Mother of mothers on a daily basis to pray for her and her family.

So I started praying the rosary beyond bedtime, looking for support and wisdom. I do feel that those moments of quiet reflection bring me closer to God, help me clear out the distractions and listen for the answers to questions and prayers.

A few weeks ago, my 36 year old rosary broke. I knew right away what I wanted to do. I had a rosary handmade for my godson Owen, out of his birthstone, for his First Communion last year. I got it from ClaresGift (Agnus Dei Creations) on Etsy.

I went back to the same shop and asked Ellyn if she could make me a mother’s rosary out of my birthstone and the birthstones of my kids. But of course. It arrived on Saturday:

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I love it.

I love what it represents, a powerful way to pray for my babies.

I love that it connects me to the Mother of mothers, who is ever ready to pray for me and with me in support and love.

I love that it brings me closer to God, and creates a quiet space where I can ask, honor and listen.

It’s another way to remember I am never alone.

I’ll bet Ellyn can make any kind of custom rosary—mother’s, grandmother’s, dad’s, godmother’s, First Communion, Confirmation, Wedding, Quincineara, etc. Or she has a standard collection of Catholic and Anglican rosaries at https://www.etsy.com/shop/claresgift.

 

Surrender to the Hope

IMG_20130325_161833A few weeks ago, a friend told me that the death of her child happened for a reason.

When I asked her what she meant, she told me that she believed God was teaching her a lesson by taking her child. That she had done something in the past that had “earned” this pain.

Like what, I wanted to know.

I don’t know she told me. That’s what I have to figure out.

I let those words sit there at the moment because I was trying to be a witness to the larger story of her grief.

But you better believe I went back to them later.

Yes, Christians say it all the time: These things happen for a reason. Too often, in our hurt and grief, in our effort to understand, we think this means that our suffering is a result of something we have already done.

We can hurt ourselves and others trying to find the reason, trying to place the blame.

We can damage our relationship with God if we see Him as a petty and cruel Father who punishes us, withholding love and forgiveness.

I do believe that things happen for a reason, but the reason is not behind us. It’s in front of us, and it’s a gift from God to help us heal. When people say that good came from some horrible suffering, this is what they mean. If we stay open and trusting through the hardest times, we will see God’s plan.

Even if we’re angry and questioning and closed down for a while, it doesn’t matter. There will always be a lifeline. That’s who God is, the Greatest Lifeline in the History of Ever. He doesn’t make bad things happen, but he does help us turn bad things to good.

It’s a mistake to look back and surrender to the suffering. As hard as it is, we have to look forward and surrender to the hope.

For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity,

to give you a future and a hope.  

                           Jeremiah 29:11                                        

Come As You Are

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I’ve been trying to write this post about the Drummer Boy and folks who don’t go to church because they think they aren’t good enough.

It wasn’t working. I was trying too hard to say the right words.

So here are the true words instead.

My favorite Christmas song is “The Little Drummer Boy”. I like it because it’s a song for the outcasts. The message is “Forget what they say, come as you are, all are welcome, all are loved.”

In today’s church bureaucracy, twisted up around rules and platforms, the come as you are message sometimes gets squashed. It’s easy to believe, from the outside, that only the right people go to church.

Of course, this is a lie. I’m regularly inside a church, which should be enough to convince you that “perfect” and “church” are not hand-holding friends. My church is full of sinners. I know this because we make a confession of sins every single week. And get this: even the priest says it. Boom.

Still, folks hesitate at the doors. They stay behind while others head out for midnight Mass, joking behind their glass of wine about being “retired”.

Or they shake off the invitation to come along with a whispered “I couldn’t because of, you know….” The divorce. The addiction. The lifestyle. The third husband.

Or they are angry at the church for some (probably very good) reason.

I think that most of the time, what’s holding them back is the brick and mortar institution of church. Which can be daunting, judgmental and sometimes—yes, we have to admit it—destructive. Any church that drives people out instead of in is destructive to God’s will.

I get it. I have packed my bags and headed for the door in my faith life more than once.

But then someone always says to me “It’s not about the church. It’s about Jesus.”

And this stops me because I cannot imagine my life without Jesus. I have to come to Jesus, like that Drummer Boy, with nothing but my weaknesses, imperfections and sins, and find love. Without that soul shelter, I cannot continue to wife, mother, friend, function in this world.

Can I get an Amen from the choir?

Right. So here’s the thing—We have to tell the people in our life who hesitate outside the door that we go to church because we’re human and frail and sometimes we suck. We’re not good because we go. If we’re good, it’s because of the love that we find there.

And if you are one of those people, already dreading the Christmas Eve guilt trip and also secretly wishing you could swallow your pride and just go, remember this: There is nothing, nothing, nothing in your life that would make the Baby turn you away. Just come as you are. Bring what you have. Let the love heal you.

Merry Christmas from our families to yours.

We wish you health, peace and of course many, many graces!

For Meg

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If you follow us on Facebook, you know we have been praying for Meg, a friend of Amy’s who was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with her second daughter. Just a few, too short weeks ago, she found out that her cancer was back, stage 4, aggressive.

Elle is 5. Baby Cora is four months. Sam is their daddy.

I don’t know Meg. But I know Amy and Amy’s heart was broken at this news. That was enough for me and Dana. We rallied the prayers for Meg. My good friend Steffani called on her homeschool prayer chain and the big guns at our church.

The disease moved quickly. Yesterday, Amy called to say the end was near.  We asked for help to pray Meg Home. Two hours later, she was gone, leaving her suffering and her fear behind her.

But also her young husband and her two little girls, one old enough to feel this pain and the other too young to remember anything.

It makes me really, really mad. It hits very close to home for me, for Dana, for Amy. It’s hard to know what to do.

We can rage at the heavens. We can curl into ourselves, or push the story away from us and those we love. We can turn from the suffering of strangers, sad but relieved that it was someone else.

Or.

We can pray. We can witness. Not in a train wreck kind of way, but we can take a moment to acknowledge the grief that Meg’s family is feeling right now.

We can donate in Meg’s name to places dedicated to conquering this bullshit disease. We can honor those we have lost and those who have survived.

We can remember that suffering is a universal condition. We can do today what we want strangers to do when it is our turn.

Tonight, I am going to lift up Meg’s family in prayers for comfort.

I’m going to lift up Amy and her sister Ashley and their family in prayers for peace.

I’m going to lift up my own anger and give it to God. He knows what to do with it.

I am going to give thanks for the women and men who showed up in prayer for a stranger.

It’s the least I can do for a sister mama gone too soon.

Heart Warrior ~ Guest Post by Shalimar Niles

You know when you meet someone and they radiate calm kindness and patience? The kind that actually calms your own heart just from being in their presence?

Meet our new friend Shalimar. She is one of Kate’s Girl Scout troop leaders and I was amazed by her before I heard the story she’s about to tell. We invited her here because this woman’s life is full of grace–grace given by God and then distributed outward in total love. She knows that God is not here to test us, but to see us through.

She was born on a Friday morning. 10 fingers, 10 toes, and a head full of hair. Her daddy followed her to the nursery, and I went to recovery and waited for someone to bring my baby in to me. No one came. For more than an hour I waited, when finally, my husband came in, empty-handed, to tell me.

Our daughter was 1 in 100. That’s the likelihood of having a baby born with a congenital heart defect, or CHD. The ultrasounds showed us a healthy baby girl, but she was born with a severe CHD called Pulmonary Atresia. We had no indication that anything was wrong, and yet, our newborn daughter was now in a race against time to fix her heart before she started running out of oxygenated blood.

Emma at one day old

Shalimar with Emma at two days old

Hours after she was born, she was transferred to a hospital that could give her the care she needed. My husband went with her, and so it happened, hours after giving birth, I was alone in my hospital room, in shock and recovering from a c-section.

I held her for the first time when she was two days old. At four days old we walked her to the operating room doors for her first catheter procedure, which was unsuccessful. At one week old, her due date, which also happened to be our wedding anniversary, she had another procedure, also ultimately unsuccessful. From that point on, she was intubated and sedated, her right leg was purple and had almost no pulse because of damage to the artery during her procedures. We were broken-hearted for our girl, anxious to get her well and terrified of how bleak things looked for her at the moment.

Prayers and support came pouring in from friends and strangers alike. Her story was shared and thousands of people were praying for her around the world. I, however, was not one of my daughter’s prayer warriors. I told a friend that I felt like a hypocrite for allowing, and even encouraging others to pray for her when I could barely speak to God. “This is the time to let us lift you up,” she said.

We call June 7th our daughter’s Happy Heart Day, because that’s the day that things started improving for her. She had open heart surgery, which was terrifying, but we had the hope that things would be better on the other side. The texts, phone calls, and Facebook messages were incredible, and did give us strength through those awful hours. All those people kept me close to God when I couldn’t do it myself, and they all have been able to witness the miracle that is our daughter.

Emma after her surgery

Emma after her surgery

She came home just a week after her surgery. On medications, and 24 hour oxygen, but she was home. And the medical miracles kept coming. Just a couple weeks after surgery, I started nursing her (which for being on a feeding tube for most of her life was amazing) and she began to thrive. She gained weight, she went on to oxygen just for sleeping and by the time she was three months old she was off all meds and supplemental oxygen. At 10 months old, she had a hole between the chambers of her heart closed, which improved her health even more. By looking at her, you would never know the challenges she has had to face in her young life.

I think the real miracles have been the intangibles. After being sedated and lacking oxygen her first month of life, she opened her eyes for the first time after her surgery and she was there. In the sense that I knew our worries about any brain damage were answered. She was delayed in rolling, crawling, and walking, and you could see the determination and grit in her face as she struggled in physical therapy to meet those goals. She is quite simply, a force of nature. Our daily reminder that miracles do happen, that God is with us even through the storm, and that hope we have in Him is real.

I live in a constant state of gratitude. I quite literally thank God daily that He saw fit to let us keep that sweet baby girl, who just turned two years old. A CHD is never truly cured, she does have more surgeries and challenges to face, and that is not what I dreamed of for my child. But as she healed, so did we, and I am certain that our strong family foundation, built of love and strength and faith will carry us through whatever may come.

Emma turns 2!

Emma turns 2!

 

 Tomorrow, Emma’s family and friends will wear pink to celebrate the anniversary of her surgery.

Happy Heart Day to Emma from all of us at Full of Graces!

 

Look at the Fruit ~ Jen

Big ups to Adopting James for blowing my mind on this one.

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Last week, AJ posted an article by the band Switchfoot, in which the lead singer said he doesn’t want to be known as a Christian singer because he thinks people then make the assumption that he is a better Christian than other musicians. He believes that we all have one calling: obedience. None of us knows what that means to another and we can only be obedient to our own calling. A teacher is not being more or less obedient than a preacher, if that is what God has called them to be.

AJ invited discussion about this topic at the bottom of his blog and I basically asked the question “How do we know when someone in the secular world is being obedient?” My example was Beyonce, who calls herself a Christian, but her music tells another story. I while I may be able to relate to the kind of mother and wife and woman she is off the stage, the sexualized and money hungry message of her music is not something I want in my life.

AJ responded to me with this: “Beyonce, I assume, has no fruit bearing from her songs. That is how we can tell.”

Say what?

Forget about Beyonce. Let me get this straight. All those sleepless nights I spent wondering if I was doing the right thing with the right people for the right reasons? Good Lord, how do I knooooooowwww?????

And all I had to do was think about the fruit??

Man, while I am sure that somewhere along my 42 year path, someone has said this same type of thing to me before, this time was the one that stuck.

Look at the fruit. That’s all I have to do. Because God knows the plans He has for me, to prosper me and not harm me. So if I am in right relationship, if I am obedient then my fruit of the spirit will be abundant, nourishing, sustaining.

And if I’m not, well. We know what that looks and feels like because we’ve all been there. Our souls screaming at us that we are doing the wrong thing with the wrong people for the wrong reasons and the fruits of our spirit are shriveled and dead from anger, jealousy, greed, spite, vengeance and fear.

Even if we are in that wrong place, the Good News is that we just have to get right to make our fruits blossom again.

Yet another reason to give up sleepless nights.

Just look at the fruit. That’s how we know.

 

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Friends, the one year anniversary of the passing of Dana’s dad is approaching and it’s been really hard for her. A year ago were the toughest times of her life. If you could please wing a prayer in her direction or send her an encouraging thought, I think it would nourish her soul and I would be so incredibly grateful.

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

The Moon

Have you ever been loved well by someone? So well that you are secure that person will receive you and will forgive your worst fault? That’s the kind of security the soul receives from God. When the soul lives in that kind of security, it is no longer occupied with technique. We can go back and do the rituals, the spiritual disciplines, but they are no longer idolatrously followed. We don’t condemn people who don’t do it our way. All techniques, rituals and spiritual disciplines are just fingers pointing to the moon.

But the moon is the important thing, not the pointing fingers.

~ Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs

We are entering the end of Lent and Holy Week is fast approaching. This is a Christian’s most sacred time, when all our pretensions should be stripped away, and we reach for the poor, the humble, the hurting both outside and inside ourselves.

Don’t get distracted by the pointing fingers. Everything we need is inside of us. Just look to the moon.

Because what is the moon?

A bright light shining in the darkness.

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