Monday, July 28, 2008

Seven


Today you are seven-years-old. I will take you to the mall to get your ears pierced because that is what you asked for - because that is how old I was when I cringed from the heat of an ear piercing gun in the shaking hands of a teenager working the counter at a chain boutique selling lip gloss and cheapy jewelry. I can still feel the burn and exhilaration.

You like it when I tell and re-tell you about the morning when I had cramping, consistent and steady cramping that I ignored because it was early, one month too early for your arrival. You laugh when I explain how five hours later, I was rocking you in our living room while the home birth nurse filled out some paperwork and daddy and I tried to process the shock of your unexpected existence. I was tired but elated. I was perplexed, but relieved that it was over- my gosh, the labor was over before I 'd even had time to dread it or fear for our safety. No one had been prepared; nothing had been organized, and it didn't matter.

When you were tiny, I'd try to imagine what you'd look like when you got older; I wondered if I'd recognize your face with its skin pulled taut against your cheeks once so fleshy and doughy and irresistibly pinchable. I scrutinized your features, your hands, and knees, and toes hoping to find on your pudgy body a physical trait undeniably passed down from me, your beaming mother. Like the roses in our garden, you bloomed in an instant, so seemingly over night I was surprised that I hadn't captured with my very own eyes your pants getting shorter or your toes creeping out over the edge of your summer sandals. You've got your adventurous and ambitious spirit all set on tearing through the next decade knowing freedom and independence lie beyond it - but I'm not nearly ready for that, so please be patient.

I was timid and you are brazen. I was a follower, you're a leader. I had frizzy auburn curls whereas your own locks are tame and smooth and the color of coffee with cream. We are opposites in many ways, you and I, and yet at times I swear I can read your thoughts or predict with perfect accuracy the next words that will exit your mouth. You are the sweetest, most affectionate, most stubborn little girl I've ever adored with all my heart. I know now, finally, contemplating you, just exactly how much my own parents loved me. Because you can't understand, you simply cannot imagine how intense is the connection between a mom and her daughter until you yourself are consumed by the enormity of such a miracle. From now until forever I will swell, deflate, shine, sink, rise on the coattails of your own joys and sorrows. "Will you please come and help me when I'm about to have my own baby?" you inquired of me just a couple of days ago. "Nothing," I assured you, "and I mean absolutely nothing could stop me."

We were talking about heaven, you and your brothers and I, and what we'd do first upon arriving. Elijah thought he'd ask some questions of his fiery patron saint; Ben thought he'd look around for the rest of us. But you sweetheart, cleared your throat and adjusted your facial expression until it represented appropriately the downright seriousness of your intentions. "I," you announced slowly, dramatically,"would find Jesus and wash His feet...with my hair." And we all had to concede that that was officially the best answer. I smiled in my soul but not outwardly lest you mistook my utter enjoyment for disbelief, because I honestly think that that is exactly what you would do and I respect you for it.

I hope, my dear, that you retain your passion and sensitivity, and I pray that adolescence will not rob you of your sprightly unselfconsciousness. May our Lord God override my own desires for a smooth and easy future and lead you, via whatever paths He deems best, toward salvation. In the meantime, let me bask in your creativeness and constant presence. Let me hold you, delight in you, and ask you for forgiveness when I forget to tune out the peripherals and really listen. On this day, seven-years-ago, we were formally introduced and life's been better, rosier, more spectacular ever since. You're a gift to us all, Priscilla.

Happy Birthday!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Boundaries

I can be good, maybe too good at setting personal boundaries. When things get hectic, I pull inward, zoning in on nothing else but the tasks before me. Being naturally introverted, my default reaction to stress or piling responsibilities is to cut myself off socially - no phone calls, no correspondence, no invitations, no volunteering to bring a meal, host an event, or clean up afterwards. I am not the type of woman who needs to curb for the sake of her household an excessive preoccupation with people, parties, or participating in anything other than in the lives of those living right here, under my roof, sharing my last name.

This would be fine and all, if my sabbatical from the outside world were a temporary solution to a temporary dilemma. The problem is that I'm always busy; I am always overwhelmed because, hello...I have four young children. My circumstances won't be changing anytime soon and I'm pretty sure it isn't healthy to keep burying my head in the sand without ever coming up for air - or reaching out.

A few weeks ago, we arranged a long overdue get together with two families very close to our own. They met at our house for an afternoon of barbecuing, beach frolicking, and uplifting conversation. All in all, we have fourteen children between us. I watched on with awe and fascination as these mothering friends of mine tended to the needs of their many sons and daughters ranging in age from four months to twelve-years-old. There was never a moment when their eyes were not scanning our crowded back yard for preschoolers known to wander. They moved fluidly from diaper changes, to nursing, to snack making to sunscreen applying.

They looked harried, much like I do right now, and stretched to their limits. There was no denying that motherhood has, at times, both suffocated and consumed them, has demanded more from them then they ever imagined possible. They talked honestly about their fears and insecurities, each of which sounded eerily familiar. They had more things and people to manage than I did. I had nothing on them in terms of workload or sleep deprivation. And yet, and yet they were able to step outside of it all and tune in to the quiet (and sometimes not so quiet) concerns of others, myself included.

I studied these women who never waited for a request to "hold my baby for a second,"or fill a plate, or pour lemonade into the cups of little ones not belonging to them. I observed as they asked questions of each other and really concentrated on the answers. I saw them laugh, embrace, and clean my kitchen. That evening, when only one of the families remained - the family with the longest drive home - I reached for a sweater in my closet and felt a gush of running water pouring down on all my clothes from out of a hole I had never noticed before in the ceiling. Without an ounce of hesitation, they decided to stick around and help to solve a potentially disastrous mystery that neither Troy or I felt capable of figuring out ourselves, especially at such a late hour. There was sawing in the garage, Home Depot runs, a toilet removal in our upstairs bathroom. Then at last, there was resolution. Even now I can't get over it, their thoughtfulness and generosity. It was all quite humbling, convicting, and very hopeful.

The other day, Elijah and I were talking on the couch. He had just finished reading to me from the July issue of a children's devotional booklet that several months back, he had ordered a free subscription to. "Shouldn't we be telling everyone in our neighborhood about Jesus?" he asked, and baggage I had buried years ago regarding "open-air" evangelism, scheduled "revivals,"covert operations involving plants with leading questions being placed in an audience gaping at mimes reenacting the crucification, resurfaced in an instant. I had to stop and collect my thoughts before I answered.

I knew that these were personal issues, irrelevant to my idealistic Orthodox Christian son. I know that I still have mixed feelings about "witnessing" and yet as followers of Christ we have been called to share our faith. Immediately I thought of our friends with their sacrificial offerings of time and empathy. I recalled how their natural referrals to prayer and Church were intermingled with the washing of my dishes, listening to my stories, and meaningful compliments about my kids. I remembered how after they left, I felt not guilty about my own shortcomings but rather thankful, thankful for all the goodness in my life; I felt not frightened about the consequences of my own selfishness, but rather inspired, inspired to pass along the kindness that had undeservedly come my own way via a hard working husband and wife. I remembered that our encounter with them had girded my soul.

"Well, Elijah," I finally replied, weighing each sentence carefully before proceeding. "Teaching people about Jesus, I think, should involve not as much telling as showing. If we keep our eyes and hearts open we'll see all kinds of ways to model Christ's unconditional mercy. Words by themselves, without a relationship, without trust that has blossomed within genuine friendship, can sometimes appear empty or inauthentic. An individual who has experienced first-hand the peace and love of God through us, will be much more likely to have a lasting desire to dedicate their whole entire existence to becoming like Him. Of course we should witness to our neighbors and we can start by making ourselves available to be of help to those in need."

He had long ago stopped paying attention - had lost interest approximately two sentences in to my lengthy soliloquy on evangelism. I fully realized that I was talking, talking, talking to myself but it was imperative that I come to terms with a commandment I was in perilous danger of throwing out along with the tacky religious t-shirt and doomsday-ish infused bathwater. There's no time, no room for cynicism; no possible justification for withholding from others the same compassion God bestows upon me daily. Let your light so shine before men, said Jesus in the book of St. Matthew, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

The whorish woman at the well received forgiveness and lost her shamefulness. She was literally overflowing with a gratitude impossible to reign in or keep to herself. To say there was something different about her since her meeting with the Messiah would be an understatement. She was motivated by joy, undaunted by naysayers; she was on fire.

I am good, maybe too good at protecting my own modest flame from awkwardness, from unpleasantness, from darkness. I'd be wrong to think what I haven't done won't matter.

Photo by MrLomo on flickr.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Resignation



Dearest loved ones,

I am writing to let you know that I am sorry. I am sorry that I've spent so much, too much time agonizing over my own deficiencies when all you've ever wanted was my attention and for me to be at peace. It started when you were babies and I came home, stayed home all day. My own mother, and her mother before her, had been so very efficient at washing clothes and mending them, making savory and comforting meals from out of leftovers and pantry staples, mopping floors, weeding a garden - keeping house. So I waited, waited for the instincts to kick in that would help to control the chaos which had swallowed our small apartment; I waited and waited and waited but they totally stood me up - they totally stood me up and so I read.

You have no idea, my darlings, how much pressure there is on a young mother to keep everything in order: your behavior, the grocery list, our messes. I borrowed and purchased used manuals on bread baking, clutter clearing, schedule keeping, and discipline. I devoted myself to the process of transformation - to becoming my friend serving homemade granola and flax meal muffins to her toddler, my neighbor with the labeled bins and laminated chore charts, the woman in my Church with the hand sewn nativity calendar, to becoming everyone and yet no one in particular.

I apologize for the ruined laundry, the hundreds of resolutions I could never follow through on, for teaching you nary a handicraft or a foreign language; I apologize for shutting the garage door on our minivan. Somewhere along the way it ceased to be about your welfare and more about my own pride, insecurities, and envy. I wasted hours on treating the symptoms instead of the cause of my discontent. I'm a wreck, children, when I cease to nail my flesh to the fear of Christ- which is different, mind you, than talking about Him or making references to His goodness in conversation. When I reach the point where nothing truly matters but the obtaining of my salvation, when my only motivation for speaking, redirecting, beautifying, entertaining, forgiving, writing, sacrificing, spending, befriending, volunteering, educating, and worshiping is love for Christ, plain and simple, I will lose myself and then rid myself of the pesky expectations so irrelevant to the existence I was created for.

So here's the deal, my sons and daughters, your mother is not gifted in the art of domesticity, she is impulsive and somewhat flighty, quite capable of getting lost in her own neighborhood. Though I may serve the same five basic dinners to you over and over and over again, though your batman suitcase may always be stuffed with mismatched socks whose partners I've misplaced and will most likely never find, though I no longer have any idea what is molding inside the Tupperware containers in the refrigerator, there is still plenty I can offer you as a parent:

I promise that I will stay loyal, stay loyal and devoted and invested in your lives. I promise to own up to my own mistakes. I will talk with you about anything; don't be ashamed or embarrassed to approach me. I will enjoy you. I will try to be more patient. I will focus my energies on becoming less obsessed with the ever rotating, new and grandiose schemes promising to improve my experience as a homemaker and more consistent with our family prayers and my personal prayers and remembering those who are struggling with pain or loneliness. I will do my best to keep all of our daily frustrations in perspective.

I used to think that I just wasn't mom material, which was true I found out if by "mom material" I meant "Stepford Wife," but raising mute and passive offspring without the messiness of free will to make things complicated now sounds awfully morose to me. I am certainly no expert on child rearing but I do believe (finally!) that I am the best mother for you, Elijah, Priscilla, Benjamin, and Mary. I believe that I will one day be held accountable not for how successful I was at getting the poster paint out of your jean shorts, but for how much effort I put forth toward to your spiritual development. I believe you have revealed to me just as much, if not more, than I've passed on to you so far about faith and resilience and mercy - about the second, fifth, millionth chance we are given to get it right. Thank you for that and for everything.

I am here for you...always.

Love,

Mom

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Marriage


My dress was off-white and perfect. Worn only once before, 28 years earlier by my mother, it reflected with its empire waist and flowing train a timeless elegance both simple and stunning. I fantasized about that dress and the sensation of its layered netting scratching my stockinged legs, the swishing sounds of taffeta serenading my every graceful step. I imagined myself as a princess lifted from the pages of a storybook; I imagined myself as a bride.

Just two months shy of my 23rd birthday, I walked arm in arm with my weepy father down the aisle of the church my future husband, Troy, had grown up in. I was thinking that he looked handsome and my bridesmaids beautiful in their coordinating mint green shawls. I was aware of my high-heeled shoes pinching toes more accustomed to flip-flops and of an impossible to reach itch beneath my carefully coiffed up-do, but that was the extent of my pondering. To be honest, I hadn’t thought much beyond this magical day at all. My wedding was the culmination, the happy ending, the grand finale of my inexperienced life. As a little girl, my daydreams had usually stopped here: in this dress and at this moment.

They always tell you (the already married women) that your wedding day will be a blur, and the bride-to-be smiles politely, secretly confidant that her wedding will be different, that she will remember every detail of that glorious occasion in slow, deliberate, motion. Never again, in all likelihood, will she ever plan any other event with the same degree of passion, drama, and intensity. I was no different, and was thus quite surprised when my wedding day was over as soon as it had begun - my memories but a swirl of camera clicks and kisses choreographed to the tune of clinking glasses.

I remember sitting at a restaurant with Troy just hours after our cake and finger food reception earlier that afternoon. With all the hullabaloo of planning and celebrating behind us we were at somewhat of a loss as to what to do next. The conversation felt awkward and forced (“Nice wedding uh?”). I was still in ideal mode, and worried a bit that the warm tingling passion I’d assumed would electrify us both from the moment we said, “I do” had not kicked in as expected. I was confused as to why in these first hours as a wife I still felt insecure, like I could say or do something stupid to make him love me less at any moment.

After a week in the Smokey Mountains, where we spent our honeymoon terrified by pitch-black skies, howling coyotes, and winding roads up to ear popping altitudes, I looked forward to starting life, real life, as a team; I looked forward to reveling in our intimacy. Without realizing it, I shifted all my hopes, my self-esteem, and my longings for contentment onto one imperfect man. A dangerous combination of wanting to please and yet of wanting to be pleased resulted in some initial passive aggressiveness on my part.

“Do you care if I go out with my friends tonight?” Troy asked me once early on in our marriage. I did care. I didn’t want to be alone on a Saturday. I didn’t want Troy to prefer their company to mine.

“That’s fine,” I lied, “…I mean if that’s what you want to do.” Knowing of course that he would read my mind and refuse to leave without me.

“Great! I’ll call them,” He’d said, pecking me on the cheek while reaching for the phone. I, in turn, pouted my way through the next two hours with grunts and one-word answers.

“What’s wrong?” He asked.

“Oh … nothing,” I sighed, and then stood up dramatically and started to wash the dishes.

“Alright, then. See ya later!” Without batting an eye, he took off for his guys’ only evening.

As the door closed behind him, I sobbed in disappointment. I felt completely overwhelmed by loneliness. I had, essentially, put all my eggs in one basket, a basket Troy had dropped because it was altogether much too large for any human being to carry. When he came home to find me crying, he wrapped his arms around my shoulders.

“What happened?” He asked alarmed.

“How could you leave, when you knew I had no plans? Why didn’t you want to spend a quiet night with me, your wife?” I blubbered.

Instead of an apology, Troy pulled back his arms and looked sternly at me. “I asked you if it was o.k. for me to go and you said yes. I asked if anything was wrong and you said ‘no’. It is not fair for you to say one thing and mean another. I need us to be honest with each other!” Ouch. The truth held up in front of you like a big old mirror in unflattering light is never pleasant to look at, but there it was, plain as day; I was wrong to think that Troy should bend over backwards to interpret my emotions. I was na├»ve to hope that marriage would fill a gap in my soul created for being stuffed to overflowing with adoration for God.

Two people trying to live by breathing in one another will find out soon enough that the oxygen is limited. Their love will inevitably fall victim to suffocation. Every married couple eventually gets to the point where the rose colored glasses, through with each of them had viewed the other, become shattered. It is highly common in this day and age to just assume, then, that the match was a poor one, that someone else is out there capable of saying and doing all the right things to keep you satisfied - all the things your old partner couldn’t. It is at this crucial stage that the difference between marriage as a sacrament of the Church verses marriage as an expression of affection between two individuals becomes most significant. It was at this crossroads within my own marriage that the death of romanticized misconceptions made way for the resurrection of a miraculous and unconditional love rooted in divinity.

There is no relationship between human beings, said St. John Chyrsostom in his homily on marriage, so close as that of husband and wife, if they are united as they ought to be. He goes on to say that:

Paul has precisely described for husband and wife what is fitting behavior for each: she should reverence him as the head and he should love her as his body. But how is this behavior achieved? That it must be is clear; now I will tell you how. It will be achieved if we are detached from money, if we strive above everything for virtue, if we keep the fear of God before our eyes. What Paul says to servants in the next chapter applies to us as well, … knowing that whatever good anyone does he will receive the same again from the Lord (Eph. 6:8). Love her not so much for her own sake but for Christ’s sake. That is why he says, be
subject … as to the Lord. Do everything for the Lord’s sake, in a spirit of obedience to Him.

Between the years of 1997 and 1999, I became a wife, an Orthodox Christian, and a mother; all three of these roles were challenging. My marriage went through several metamorphoses at break neck speed in order to keep up with the changes. By the end of that 24-month period, I was much too tired to be flawless. But in the midst of admitting I had no idea what I was doing, in the process of shedding old skin to make room for the new me growing and evolving with each trial, with the realization that my husband could not save me from the frustration of reaching my own limits, I found the desperation necessary to throw myself at the feet of Christ. I began to internalize the teachings of St. John Chyrsostom, and discovered that when my identity was wrapped up in my role as a Christian, when love for God was the source from which my thoughts and actions originated, I was more apt to support Troy with no strings attached. When I trusted in my own shallow resources, however, my love became possessive, manipulative, and self-serving.

With the onset of parenthood, Troy and I had to reacquaint ourselves all over again with each other, now as “mom” and “dad.” We had different backgrounds and different ideas about discipline and job sharing. I felt it unfair that his life did not change as severely as my own and he felt limited as to what he could give to a baby obsessed with its mother. Our words became poorly aimed arrows, usually missing their mark. I was too emotional to be taken seriously, I figured bitterly, and he was too removed from my existence as a lonely new mother to ever offer the right advice or comfort. Orthodoxy was the one common denominator in our lives. Communing together, fasting together, and standing as a couple before our icons in prayer, fueled our desire to keep trying, to keep giving, to keep sacrificing ourselves for the sake of salvation- to obey Christ by serving one another.

Troy and I each desired respect for the positive elements we were bringing to this marriage and to this family. I had to force myself to inquire about his day and really listen, asking questions that confirmed my care for and pride in his ability to persevere within a stressful job environment. I had to pause and mull over my grievances, determining while calm whether or not they were worth a confrontation. If so, I had to proceed with carefully constructed explanations (rather than loud, impulsively fired assaults on his character- assaults that would surely be regretted by us both) and remain open to the criticism I would receive in the process. I had to pray every morning for wisdom and correct thinking, for divine guidance on when to assert myself and when to hold my tongue. I knew that the natural outcome of a healthy marriage was healthy children who would not compromise for anything less than being treated with loving respect by their own potential partners down the road. I knew I wanted to show my kids that Troy and I were a united team, incapable of being divided.

Troy is a very attentive father; I have fallen in love all over again with this “new” older man beside me, transformed by the hardships and pleasures of providing for his family. I am especially sensitive now to the slow steady drifting due to inadequate communication, pouncing on the widening gap between us and stitching it back together with prayer, apologies, and forthright conversation. We invest ourselves in this marriage, making frequent deposits of affirmation, unprompted kindness, and extemporaneous hugs and kisses. Troy and I make it quite clear there are times when he and I are not to be interrupted. We teach our kids by example that the relationship between moms and dads must be cultivated with time and effort, that giving us space to bond and catch up after a long day apart is beneficial for everyone.

I am proud of Troy and he is proud of me, out of that mutual pride flows courage, stamina and a continuous yearning for improvement. The sacredness of our marrital covenant only deepens as the years pass by and as the obstacles of raising four spirited children test our faith and commitment to one another. Marriage is never static. This miraculous relationship must be nourished or it will wither and die of starvation. It must be watered with sweat and tears in order to bloom and bring beauty to its household. The healing effect of a sincerely offered compliment from Troy never ceases to amaze me, nor does my own power to return the gift of encouragement with reciprocated words of heart-felt appreciation. May we never, when our children are grown and gone, look upon one another as strangers who have lost their one connection, their only adhesive whose absence makes evident two separate hearts beating out of synch and shivering in the frigidness of love grown cold. May the sacrament of marriage purify our souls and always remind us that God is good.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Lost

Photo by dani+elle on flickr.com.

I was already pretty sure I couldn’t hack it, even before the impending disaster that would only further verify my incompetence. Nine months earlier, having a second child had seemed like a wonderful idea but that was before, when filtered and distant notions were too far off to affect reality. As my due date loomed closer difficult questions began sprouting like aggressive weeds, strangling buds in my garden of idealism. Two arms, I had counted while taking inventory of my mothering assets, two legs and one body – there wasn’t enough of me, I suddenly realized, to go around. Elijah was a handful at 2 ½ years old, a kind of toddler unimpressed by a furrowed brow or high-pitched warnings. He’d grown accustomed to the life we’d built together, one in which he was the center of my universe. I had just enough patience and stamina to keep one kid away from busy streets, how on earth would I ever leave the house, make a meal, or finish a thought with yet another dependent little one strapped permanently to my person by way of breastfeeding, a sling, or a rocking chair?

Fortunately, upon Priscilla’s arrival, I remembered that adoration, in most cases, overrides our fear of failure. “So this is why we keep reproducing,” I thought to my infatuated self as I stroked the silky curls on my daughter’s head. Thankfully, there was plenty of help available for those first two weeks; I was free to sit and bond with the baby. Eventually, however, husbands return to their jobs and meals stop being delivered to your front door. Sooner than I would have liked, of course, I was alone again with my required domestic tasks and apprehensions. The days stuck at home stretched on almost unbearably as I was nervous to venture out of doors with just the three of us. When a month into my new position as a mother of not one, but two children, I was invited to go to shopping with my parents, I leapt at the opportunity and waited anxiously for the clock hands to turn. It took a ridiculous amount of time to pack a diaper bag with all of the burp cloths, extra clothing, pacifiers, and changing pads, but Priscilla and I were ready when our coach finally arrived in the form of a dark blue Passat. “Goodbye,” I waved to Troy and Elijah, way over excited about commonplace occurrences such as the wearing of jeans, seeing people I wasn’t related to, and escaping the perimeters of our urban neighborhood. It was exactly what I needed: a moderately grand adventure.

Our destination that fateful evening was IKEA, a massive and magnificent Swedish-born shopping arena packed with wall hooks, storage bins, and lingonberries. For weeks I had been drooling over their catalogue, daydreaming about how much better life would be if only my kitchen and bedroom had more jars, tubs, and shelves to keep all of our accumulating junk in order. Having been sequestered for a while within our modest Chicago two-flat, the stimulation of actually ogling and touching in person that innovative (and much coveted) merchandise was somewhat intoxicating. To my great relief, Priscilla was being an angel, sleeping soundly and silently in her car seat since entering the store. Perhaps this is why I didn’t notice at first her absence. For the previous half hour, my mom and I had taken turns pushing my newborn in the cart so when I asked her opinion about a picture frame I was interested in purchasing and noticed, then, that she was alone without my baby, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and I said, “Wait, where is Priscilla?” to which she replied, “Honey, I thought you had her!” And the horror that ensued was indescribable.

I didn’t think or calmly retrace my steps, I just ran. I ran and scanned the aisles, growing more and more distraught with each minute that passed us by without me finding her. I was nauseous and inconsolable, irrational and ashamed. “My daughter!” I was yelling with tears streaming down my face, “Please help me! I cannot find my daughter!” An employee listened intently as my father described to him the situation. Immediately there was an announcement over the intercom: “Code 58!” said a disembodied voice, “we are looking for a four week old infant last seen fifteen minutes ago on the third floor.” All of the doors were locked; gaping patrons pointed and whispered, “There she is, the girl who lost her baby.” Either moments or hours later (I can't recall), I came across a crowd guarding protectively my abandoned child. In the exact place I’d started was a still sleeping Priscilla oblivious to the drama she’d been the center of. Had I turned back a few feet after talking to my mom, instead of taking off hysterically in the opposite direction, I would have seen her, I would have avoided that entire humiliating nightmare. But I didn’t pause, I panicked and under the scrutiny of fellow IKEA customers left trembling that night, ready to throw in the towel and let someone else more responsible rear the children I obviously had no business raising myself. It was the first of many times I would seriously doubt my aptitude as a parent.

Evidently I eventually recovered, going on to produce an additional son and daughter. Time and duty numbed the sting of those frightful memories and I stepped up to the plate to take another crack at molding thoughtful, resourceful, and productive members of society from out of the malleable and reliant souls within my care. I've skipped through months laced with pride and satisfaction as my growing children displayed intelligence, compassion, and creativity without my prompting. “It’s working,” I have concluded, “I do have brilliant, obedient, god fearing kids. I guess I am a decent mother after all.” And I offered up to Christ the appropriate prayers of praise and thanksgiving for all the blessings that a family affords until that is, there’s was a shifting within the serenity of our household. Behavior I find appalling from my five or two-year-old, a nine-year-old son’s inexplicable undercurrent of anger and disrespect, a daughter’s loathing of all chores (and her siblings) can instantaneously renew the angst of being powerless to ensure a romantic outcome - can knock me forcibly over the head again with accusations from myself to myself regarding negligence, misaligned priorities, and a general lack of skill. “I stink at this,” I moan while conjuring up numerous outlandish and unpleasant future scenarios involving four selfish, lazy, spiritually ambivalent adults each bearing my last name and fair skinned complexion.


“You can’t possibly know where to begin if you don’t start your morning with a fervent entreaty to God for direction and wisdom,” says my priest after every confession. I am, unfortunately, an agonizingly slow learner. It’s just that sometimes that answer seems so pat and far less palpable than, say, a how-to book on managing your home and the people in it. I should know by this point that Christ abides in the subtleties but I’m a sucker for what is loud and most blatant in the here and now – or more specifically, my needy family and our deficiencies. I’ve over packed, is what I’ve done, I’ve crammed morbid fears, weighty expectations, and popular opinions into my already full heart and now I’m wondering why my stride is so easily broken. We parents are such obvious targets for discouragement and despair because it rarely crosses our minds that when loving, pleasing, and fretting over of our family members takes precedence over the fostering of our faith, we, essentially, are rejecting Christ’s invitation to take His yoke upon us and find rest. Why not just claim the irrefutable truth that I am so unbelievably imperfect and in constant need of divine supervision? Why not spare myself from the exact same cyclical patterns? All this running around in circles feeling lost and scared and aggravated will only keep me from finding the confidence, the joy, the source of astuteness made amply available for those brave enough to slow down, release their baggage, and humbly receive it. Why not stop already with the negative assumptions and start anticipating the grace we've been promised?