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:


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


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


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!

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.


A Real Bible, Just Small ~ Jen

“Mom” Gabriel says one day when he comes home from school, “For my birthday, can I have a Boys Backpack Bible?”

“A what?”

“A Boys Backpack Bible. It’s small so it can fit in my backpack.”

“Is it a kids bible? With pictures?”

“No, it’s a real Bible, just small.” This with an eyeroll.

Pretty much, when your eight year old son asks for a Bible for his birthday, you make that happen. Even if the good folks who make the backpack Bible don’t make a Catholic version.

Don’t worry my Catholic friends, Grandma was in charge of getting the Bible and when she was at the Religious Education Congress last week, she let some publishers know they got out maneuvered by the Protestants in the boys backpack Bible market.

The adults in my family, Catholic and non-dom church alike, could not wait to see what this backpack Bible was all about. When Gabriel opened it last weekend, we snatched it out of his hands and passed it around.

I can report that you need to be eight to read the teeny tiny print required to make the Bible backpack sized.

I can also report that there’s an insert called Grossology, with a list of scripture where gnarly things happen. And before you wonder if that’s appropriate, I found Gabe huddled with the Bible looking up those scripture, book, chapter and line. You know, studying.


There’s also a list of Good Guys and a list of bizarre happenings.



I think this is brilliant. Christians believe the Bible is a dynamic, inspired book but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Especially for kids. But here’s this approach—to meet the boys where they are and show them there is something for them in there.

Yes, there’s a girls version, but I haven’t seen it. We could get into the whole gender specific argument but this Christian mom is going to shake it. My eight year old is reading his bible, people. ‘Nough said.

The company who makes this bible is called Zondervan and they have a ton of different and accessible bibles for kids and young adults.

I did some preliminary research and couldn’t find a complete bible in a smaller, light size for Catholic kids. There are lots of kid’s versions here, but they don’t appear to be scripture. I am sure there is something out there that would do and I just didn’t find it.

And even if there’s not, Grandma made sure some people know that needs to change.