Be Good To Yourself

My mother has been giving me this wise advice for decades. For many years I would smile and nod. You know the nod that respects the person giving the advice, but also concedes that they cannot fully understand the complexities of the situation. How could she? She raised five kids, was married to a paralyzed man, had to work outside the home, and never had a moment to herself. How could I have been so narrow-minded to think she couldn’t possibly understand when in fact, she comprehended the depth and necessity of those four words with the wisdom of one who had gone there herself.

With age comes wisdom.

So how can you be good to yourself and, be a great wife and mommy too? Boundaries. I didn’t have any back in the day, and I shudder at the sheer amount of commitments I had in addition to wife, and mother of five little ones. My husband was a junior pilot, so absent much of the month. This left me to be both mom and dad oftentimes. I was not good to myself at all. If I could do it, I did. This made me a less than patient, loving mom, or wife. Our communication as spouses was not particularly productive, so I was unable to voice my frustrations, nor communicate effectively on what help I needed from him. I wanted him to just know and do it without me asking. I am grateful I finally learned to just ask with respect and patience, and he has always been happy to comply. Men need direction. How we ask, and when we ask, is important. They do not see things at home especially the way do, it is a waste of time to get angry at them for this. Ask for help from your beloved in a way that motivates him to want to help you.

Here are some habits I’ve formed, that might benefit your life too.

Be intentional about getting a little you time each day. Don’t just wish it, plan it. Decide what best regenerates and invigorates you. A bath, a walk, a nap, prayer time alone. Be specific and then put things and people in place to help you be successful in achieving it.

Set healthy boundaries. That might mean earlier bedtimes for the kids, and for you. It might mean saying “no” to something really good for now. It should mean not putting so many expectations on yourself. Talk and pray with your spouse, asking him to help you succeed. Work as a team.

“Happy wife, happy life” as the saying goes. But I would like to add a few lines:

Happy wife, valued mom. Fulfilling life, sweet calm. Blessed home, love’s dome.

So, I say from one old mom to you, “Be good to yourself.” The repercussions of this small gesture on your marriage and children, have benefits far beyond your own peace of mind.

From One Mom to Another

“This is my Body given up for you.” These are familiar words we hear during the consecration at every Mass. Jesus so desired to redeem us, that He allowed Himself to be immolated on our behalf. He held nothing back. In looking at the Crucifix we should have no doubt of the limit of His love, nor the price He was willing to pay. When we look upon a Crucifix, we are reminded of what real love looks like. It is sacrificial.

As mothers we understand this on a very real level. Physically, we carried and birthed our children. Even those of us who have lost children before we ever got to see their beautiful faces, have given our bodies and minds in this gift of self. Fr. Thomas Loya, states that “heaven and earth meet in the womb of a mother.” The flesh of the child from its parents, and the soul from God.

On an emotional level, dare I suggest, that from the moment we know we have conceived to the moment we breathe our last breath; we have given ourselves over as a gift to our children. We are vested in their well-being. We hurt when they hurt. We laugh when they laugh…sometimes. We cry when they cry…unless we were the perpetrator of the punishment. I haven’t met a mom yet, who has ever used the bathroom in private before her kids were teens.

Mothers are mothers for life, always giving, doing, and loving. That however can be incredibly exhausting. It is both unrealistic and unhealthy. So I offer a few suggestions that might help ease the weight we place on ourselves.

Do not compare yourself to other moms. Our kids were given to us because of who we are and the gift of self we must share with them.

“Be good to yourself.” Our kids can feel our vibes, negative and positive. By taking care of ourselves and not trying to be super mommy, we will be a more relaxed wife and mother.

Play and pray. Don’t be so serious. Pray with them and with your spouse. Tell them stories when God did miracles in your life. Sit down and play games now and then. My kids were convinced I didn’t have a sense of humor for most of their young years, sadly.

Foster a spirit of watching for God Moments in the everyday. and share them over meals or at bedtime. Make sure they know they are loved uniquely, and irrevocably. By modeling your faith in God, you show them this.

Give your frustrations, fears, and need to control life, over to the Author of Life. When you do, your life becomes free from having to carry that heavy burden.

This time will pass. We will be stronger and smarter for the next cross, and all the ones to follow.  What I have observed is that moms (and wives) and take life really seriously, thus taking on undue burdens that are not ours to carry alone. These small suggestions can help us be a more joyful and peaceful mommy and spouse to be around.

Do Whatever He Tells You

These famous words are the final words recorded in Scripture coming from the Blessed Virgin Mary. Remember the story in John 2:1-11, the Wedding Feast at Cana? Mary let her Son Jesus know that they had run out of wine. It was a big deal then and a big deal even today. One that would embarrass the couple and their family. Our dear sweet Mother Mary, the perfect woman, sees the need and brings it to the One she knows, who can do something about it. So, with total confidence and trust she presents the problem at hand stating, “They have no wine.” There is an exchange between Mother and Son that is rich with theological meaning and then she turns to the servers and says, “Do whatever He tells you.” Conversation over, it is time for action. Mary doesn’t tell Jesus how He should go about making wine, she simply entrusts the task for Him to accomplish as He sees fit.

Mothers know when to give their offspring a little necessary nudge.

It was the summer of two thousand something. All the boys plus one, had moved back after college and between jobs. Life was good for them. They ate, they played, they swam, and they gamed all the day long…. until one day in August, when mother had enough. Their plates, and their buns were still in the same place they were hours earlier. I would leave with everything straightened up, only to come home to a mess, and four hairy, twenty-somethings doing pretty much nothing with their life. I wanted to still love them, but I had passed displeasure, and was quickly heading towards abhorrence. They weren’t doing anything bad. They weren’t doing anything, and that was the point. Time for my little birdies, plus one, to get kicked out of the nest and fly on their own. I gave them three months to get out. “Geez, Barb,” you might think, “How cruel.” To this I would counter, it was the best thing I could have ever done for them. You don’t learn how to grow up and mature unless you actually do it. There is growth in the struggle and in the doing. There is joy in breaking through barriers of fear. Years later, they told me it was the right motivation needed.

Mothers know when to give their offspring the necessary shove.

May I propose to you that Mother Church is suggesting it is time to come back to her loving arms. Come home to the warmth of her embrace and to the Sacraments. Sure, it might be scary venturing out if you haven’t yet, but where else can you receive the Bread of Life? Without the Eucharist as nourishment for our souls, we grow spiritually weak.  There is a battle raging outside our doors and we need to be fully equipped to fight the good fight. We are needed. If not us, who will put love where there is hate, peace where there is strife, forgiveness, and justice where there is injury? Our world needs us as Catholic Christians, to be Christ. We cannot do this without being properly fed or equipped.

Life was never meant to be 100% safe. In anything there are risks. When I took my bike out five years ago to just ride over to St. Andrew’s for a couple of hours, I had done everything in my control to get there safely. EVERYTHING. However, as humans, much of our life is completely out of our control. Just as I could not account for the woman who wasn’t paying attention until I crashed into her windshield, we cannot guarantee your complete and total safety. What I can tell you is that we are doing everything to make it as safe as possible for our parishioners to return.  I learned from my little encounter with glass and metal, that all I can do is what is within my power, and the rest I must leave to God. Learning to let go and surrender our lives to the Almighty is a lifelong task. Every time we let the fear of “what if” take control, the devil wins more influence over our life. Fear is a big motivator and a highly effective weapon in the war against God.

God is bigger than our worst nightmare, our worst illness, or our worst fears. Do you believe that?

I’m not just blowing smoke here. I feel like I have been living some of my worst nightmares for a few years. I never wanted brain surgery, nor to be hit by a car, or fungal meningitis, to name a few. God knew I needed to learn the lesson of entrusting my life over to Him, and to let go of my false belief that I was in control. What I have learned beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that He has never abandoned me. He takes me through it all and I grow in faith and trust. This is not unique to me or my situations, but to all of us. God, our loving Father, really does love us more than we can imagine. He really cares about us, our happiness, our eternal destiny. Not just the collective “us,” but the us, as individuals. He knows that for us to grow, He needs to give us opportunities to entrust Him. Sometimes that feels a little scary to us.

Just like when we learned to ride a bike, our parents would let go, even when we didn’t think we could do it alone. Before long, we were riding by ourselves and felt the thrill of accomplishing something we previously thought impossible.

We miss your smiling faces even though we can’t see them under the masks. Your squinty eyes, however, say it all. Mother Mary and the Saints, Jesus, and the whole host of heaven await your presence at the Heavenly Banquet. Come.

Why God?

“Why do you have to bring God into every conversation?”

This seemingly simple question was posed to me by one of my daughters some years ago. I took the occasion to ponder the question. I believe contemplating our relationship with God is just as relevant today for each of us, especially in these uncertain times.

The world has permanently changed. Everyone is impacted in one way or another. In this calling to live our Catholic faith, where are you at? Are you on firm ground? Have you had to rethink how you will practice your faith? Where is God in all this for you? And, what does it look like going forward?

It is good to examine our hearts, pondering these questions, and being honest with our responses.

At St. Andrew the Apostle, we are also asking some of these questions as we look ahead. We will not be doing business as before, but with greater attentiveness to the needs of our parishioners. How have our parishioners been affected? Where are they in their faith journey? How can we meet them where they are at to share the Good News and reasons for our hope? Know that we are actively working on these matters and if you have suggestions, or want to help make a difference somehow, please let us know.

As far as my own pondering on that important question she asked, I would like to share with you the letter I wrote to her in response. As I read it now, nothing has changed for me, except to be more convicted than ever.

Daughter,

How do I not bring the Author of Life into life itself? How can I speak of the reason for my joy, my hope, my strength without naming its cause? What is the reason for oxygen if not to breath, or for water if not to cleanse and satiate?  How do you describe a rainbow without using color?

How can I not give recognition to the One, who animates all things and brings everything into existence? Without God there would be no bird to sing a melodious song, no leaf to sway in the invisible wind, no eye to see your untold beauty or ear to hear your boisterous, contagious laughter.

Through His great love we all came into being, and it is His immeasurable, inexhaustible, unconditional, and infinitesimal love that helped me find daddy and together in love, incarnate five unique,  unforgettable, exquisite human beings we call sons and daughters.

How does one speak of conquering mountains and surviving floods without mentioning the lifeline that pulled them up or saved them from drowning? God is the blood that courses through my body, and the air that fills my lungs.

God is the lens through which I see the world and even if I should lose my eyesight it would not dim nor change how I interpret the world around me. He is the glue that holds everything together, the stream connecting every water way, the thread that binds, assembles, and weaves all matter together.

He is at once the question and the answer, the reason and purpose, movement, and motion itself.

Because of God I am here and so are you. I am able to listen, respond, love, laugh and cry with you; thus, becoming your source of frustration, amusement, exasperation, and dependability.

In a world that constantly shifts, betrays, disillusions, and deceives, He is the objective truth in which I anchor my existence, when storms thrash and overwhelm me. I get beat up, pulled under, and resemble death more than life, yet God is the tether that holds me firm, keeping me safe and steadfast through it all.

God is light in the darkness, joy in hardship, hope in disaster and the answer to every human cry for help. He is love, forgiveness, mercy, justice. Only He can make sense of the senseless or bring good out of evil.

So, my darling I can only say with conviction and certainty that it is nearly impossible for me not to bring God into my conversations. I am hopeful that because of this fact, that deep down inside, you realize this, and it is why I am worth speaking to at all.

May you one day find, this inescapable verb to be inseparable from any sentence uttered from your own lips and fondly remember this question from so long ago, and now equipped with greater knowledge,  wisdom, and understanding do the same for your children. 

All my love, Mom

My kids will confirm that I never had a short answer for anything. It is the written word that I love, so emails from me were common, especially on touchy subjects, and for their deeper consideration after stupid choices. I invite you to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and state with conviction your own relationship with God. It is a very enlightening exercise for spiritual growth.

Co-Vid Claustrophobia

Mark and I had the chance to go out to dinner now that the restaurants are starting to open inside. My sweet husband asked our waiter if it “felt good to be back?” To which he responded, “I just needed to get away from the kids.” In one sense, we got it. This has been a particularly strenuous time with everyone in lock down mode. Kids ended school right after Spring Break, and parents were instantly expected to be teachers, coupled with some, having to work from home. “Yes. Daddy is working in there. Leave him alone.” Little options were left to burn excessive childhood energy. And worst of all, no break for parents except when they went to bed, if they went to bed. There has not been this much “togetherness,” since the kiddos were in the womb.

Our seniors, who were identified as potential unintended targets, kept friends and family at a safe distance. Our young people who are used to being socially active with groups of friends also felt the pinch of solitary confinement; keeping the rules, meant keeping others safe. No one was left unaffected. Our Priests too, Fathers Robert, Teilo, and Edward, stepped into unknown territory as they creatively tried to keep the Church open and Sacraments available. For this we are grateful beyond measure.

In another sense, the waiter’s comment was sad. He could have responded any other way, but he chose to express his desire to “get away” from his children. Now he may have poured himself out in love and attention to them these last couple months and the reality of mounting bills weighed heavily on his mind. I don’t know. I dare say we have all thought the same thing at one time or another about our precious little gifts from God. I can remember thinking during my crazy motherhood years when Mark was gone a lot for work, that if he really wanted to give me a great Mother’s Day, he would take the kids and leave for the day.

I know this forced closeness has also strained the best of marriages, and further crippled those in distress. Weddings were moved, and funerals especially saddened by the inability to have family and friends share the loss by their presence. Pilgrimages to both the Holy Land and ours, with Bishop Olmsted, to Poland, were cancelled. Anxiety and worry are unwelcome guests in our heads, taking up more space than they ought.

As restrictions are lifted slightly, St. Andrew’s offers the opportunity again to attend Mass in person. Parishioners can choose to come Saturday at 5 pm, or Sunday at 7 or 10 am. Always offered, is the live stream 10 am Mass and availability to receive communion after. Of course, there are protocols to follow in this new normal.

I am reminded of the old cult classic Mel Brooks movie, “Young Frankenstein,” back in the seventies. Gene Wilder plays the notorious Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s grandson. He has changed the way his last name is pronounced to distance himself from this association. He has come to his deceased grandfather’s lab to debunk his work. As expected, he too has an assistant named Igor. In one of the funniest scenes of the movie, and there are plenty, Igor has been asked to steal a specific brain from the coroner’s office, of a deceased brilliant man. After finding his grandfather’s secret notes, Frankenstein concludes that, “It might just work.” So, he too experiments on reanimating dead tissue. The procedure is a success and he anxiously awaits his creature, the monster, to wake up. Instead of the expected results using the correct brain of a magnificent scholar, the monster is uncontrollable and dangerous. In a particularly funny and memorable scene, as the monster is choking Dr. Frankenstein, He implores Igor about who’s brain he actually got. “Abby somebody.” He says incredibly pleased with himself. “Abby-normal.”

While we are all entering  our new “abby-normal,” we need to remember that God is in control of everything. God can even use this invisible virus to bring good out of devastation and fear. When we want to cling to the past, or control what little we have control over, it will further exhaust us and increase our stress and anxiety. Its like grabbing a handful of sand and squeezing it tightly so as not to lose a single grain. But the converse happens, the more we squeeze the more we lose.

The answer is to open-up our hands.

So too with our fears and worries about what if and what was. Open up those concerns before God and lay them in the hands of the Almighty. Sounds quippy, too easy, and simplistic. God does not make it complicated to love and trust Him. We do. So, trust me when I tell you what I have found to be true my whole life through so many unexplained, unexpected, and unwanted curve balls of my own.

Let go!

Every time we do, every time we let God be the Lord of our lives, things become more manageable and profitable to our salvation. God is, God the Almighty, the Alpha and the Omega, the One who loves us beyond compare or limit. Do you trust Him? Because now is as good a time as any.

This “abby-normal” reality is going to be around for a while. I believe with all my heart that our life is a preparation for life eternal. Situations that are out of our control, are not out of God’s control. We need only begin to entrust ourselves and our well being to the One who is trustworthy in anticipation of the future glory and union with Him in heaven.

Now that’s a reality I can wrap my heart around.