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So I dropped something the other day – it made a loud noise, and I got annoyed because my teen-age son didn’t bother to check to see if I was okay. Out of nowhere, I experienced intense anger, and a real moment of unforgiveness. The place where my heart usually was felt like a stone.

Normally, I’m as pleasant as pie. So pleasant, in fact, I’ll bet some crotchety-types might find it annoying! Hey there! Turn that frown upside down, grumpy cat! 😾 There I go with the emojis again. I heart smiley-faces!! 😍

So that’s my default setting. Finding myself in such a foul mood was jarring. Now, it lasted less than an hour, but what an intense experience it was. I really had to ask pointedly in prayer, “Take this from me, Lord. I don’t know how to release it.”

The negative narrative was running in a loop: How could he not have heard such a loud noise? Doesn’t he give a heck? Haven’t I raised him better than that?

Even trying to forgive felt forced:  Why have I always got to be the one to let things slide? After all I’ve done for him! I just couldn’t let go of this anger.

In a previous post about Hugh Jackman (my next ex-husband-to-be, only he doesn’t know it yet. Yes, I’m willing to re-locate to Oz-Trailia) I said that it’s possible to find wisdom in unexpected places. This time it came from a roots Rock band called “The Record Company.I gotta pick myself up off the ground. I got the answer to my biggest question. Got to lose where I was to get my direction.

Staying in the moment that had hurt my feelings meant I was stuck in it, as if time stopped there. There was no present anymore, only this past pain.

I talked to my son again after I’d cooled my jets. He’d had his headphones on halfway, so it’s possible he didn’t fully hear the loud sound. Still, I reminded him: we watch out for each other. Because I don’t want to be emoji-less again! 🌈😊😺

My son is eighteen-years-old, and, as you can imagine, I’m keeping him covered in prayer. At the same time, I’m trying to keep my distance.

After all, he knows how to navigate the world, and he’s got a good head on his shoulders. I have to remember that I’ve raised him to the best of my ability, and now the rest is up to him.

Still, occasionally, if my prayers were read aloud, they would sound frantic. Because sometimes, that’s just how I feel.

He’s going to college. He’s got a steady girlfriend. He’s driving on New Jersey’s busy highways.

The other day, I prayed anxiously. I’d been thinking of all the things I hoped for him in his life, and felt tight. At the end of the prayer, I spoke to myself, just as if in conversation with a friend, trying to understand why I felt so unsettled.

I hope he does well.
I trust God knows what he’s doing.
I believe it all works out in the end.

Breathing in and out a few times slowly, I went into my sunroom and sat in the spot on the couch bathed in soft light rays. Just as my cat might do, basking and being. Just being.

There was a subtle shift in my soul and I exhaled, speaking out loud the words I had just said, only this time, I changed the punctuation slightly. When I put the emphasis back on Providence instead of on the problem, a wave of of peace washed over me.

I hope. He does well.
I trust. God knows what he’s doing.
I believe. It all works out in the end.

“What if you woke up and the only things that remained were the things you gave thanks for yesterday?” This is something I read on Twitter recently, by a site called Amazing Grace.

Staying in a state of grace is putting God back in charge. You know. Where he was all along. It’s okay to let go of things you really can’t control anyway. Just a gentle reminder from someone who’s been there.

ellen

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My son, Cole, graduated from high school this past June, and he received many lovely gifts, but the one that warmed my heart was a simple card that he received from his sister, Isabel.

At first blush, one might see a re-purposed holiday card, but look closely: it’s actually a benediction. It’s a five-year-old girl’s way of bestowing a blessing on one of her favorite people in the world.

Isabel really loves some Cole. And I can honestly say, the feeling is mutual.

Once, while she was visiting, I asked my son to put out the garbage and recycle bins, and he headed for the door. “I want to help!” Isabel said. “No, honey, it’s garbage. Dirty.” “But I can help Cole!” she insisted. “Well, okay. You can be his helper,” I said. “You walk with him as he carries out the cans.”

And she did. Silently, scrupulously, she walked side-by-side with her brother as he carried one, two, three cans of garbage. It was impressive that she could match his loping teen-age stride, as he’s 6”3, and, at five-years-old, she’s considerably shorter. She walked exactly in his footsteps. If he stopped short, so did she. If he scratched his cheek, she did, too. My son noticed her doing this and I saw that he smiled ever so slightly. I was amazed that the kids putting out the garbage could almost move me to tears!

The nice thing is, as Isabel said so eloquently in the graduation card she wrote to Cole, they love each other, but they also like each other. That’s a big deal. You can’t force kids to enjoy each other’s company, even if they live in the same household, and these two live in different homes.

The graduation card may look like a Christmas card to most, but to me, it’s actually a gift card. What a gift to have kids in our lives! What a gift to have family that gets along so well! What a gift to see the ones you love making their own way in the world. Well, come to think of it… with all these gifts, maybe it is Christmas after all.

Clean and Clear PostAlways Do Your Best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.
Don Miguel Ruiz
The Four Agreements

So I was in the kitchen washing dishes yesterday, when, for reasons unknown to me now, I started to think of a time years ago when I made mistakes as a mother, and it left me feeling sad.

How could I do that? I asked myself. Before long, I was in tears, still scrubbing away at plates.

At just that moment, I noticed some marks on the wall where the trash bins used to be kept. There were little flecks of debris that I’d never noticed, as this wall was behind a door we always kept open.

The garbage can was gone from that spot. All that was left was the residue.

Just as the things I was beating myself up about were well in the past, and all that was left was the regret.

It isn’t here anymore, I said to myself, wiping down the wall. It’s been removed.

Odd as it may seem, I felt that God was speaking to me through the grungy grime!

The things we can’t forgive ourselves for are echoes from a bygone era. If we’ve truly changed our ways and have brought it to God in prayer, the only thing left to do is release it. Not forgiving yourself is like saying God doesn’t know best. If he’s forgiven you, there’s nothing left to forgive. It doesn’t exist anymore.

When I was done with the dishes, I realized that I felt lighter, as if a burden had been lifted. As I cleaned in the kitchen, my conscience had cleared. I did my best at the time, I reminded myself, and I’ve learned to do better over the years.

Well. Laundry is next on my to-do list. I wonder what life-lesson I’ll learn from fluffing and folding?

Kids have not had a banner week, what with falling into gorilla enclosures and wrecking $15,000 LEGO statues and all. I have not formed an opinion on these events. I shouldn’t — I’m not a parent. I have no idea how tough it is to wrangle a small human being with a mind of its own. In fact, I’m not fit to judge anyone. I don’t know their lives: I’m not bipolar. I’m not an adoptee. I did not come from an abusive home. I’m not transgender. By the same token, you can’t possibly understand me, having not lived a life with the exact same contours, colored by the same emotions, experienced by a brain with its own unique wiring. No one can.

We are each alone in our brokenness. That fact tends to put up walls. More and more often, we see people wallowing in their aloneness, letting that aloneness define them. Why reach out to others when they can’t possibly understand? What is there to do but to trumpet my unique aloneness to the world?

There are constructive ways to deal with our aloneness. Several, in fact. One is to realize that, although our specific brand of aloneness is particular to our lives, we are all — every last one of us — broken and in need of healing. We actually have that in common. Maybe your “broken” differs from mine, but we can still reach out to one another in our common brokenness. I can’t understand yours and you can’t understand mine, but we can both understand how it feels to be sad, lonely, afraid, messed up. We are alone…but in a very crowded room. One touch is all it takes to bridge the gap.

Second, no matter how offbeat your type of aloneness is, there is someone who understands it. And you don’t need to go looking for a support group to find them. God understands every kind of brokenness there is, every kind of sinfulness, every kind of loneliness. Nothing is too foreign, too sensational, or too strange. I can’t promise instantaneous cures to your every injury, but I can promise that there is a listening ear out there who truly, deeply gets you. And, again, the chasm isn’t nearly as deep as you think it is. Open your mouth (or mind) and let it out.

Just as Emily Dickinson once opined that she was a nobody and asked if you, the reader, were a nobody too, let me be a literary catalyst: Hello, I’m broken. I’m a mess. I feel alone. How about you? Are you broken, too?

And if so, can’t we be broken together?

Oh! So Your Phone Does Still Work Image

By the time I eventually moseyed over for a visit, my mother would have at the ready some carefully curated quotes, knowing full well that, as soon as I arrived, I’d be planning my exit.

“He who fails to plan, plans to fail,” she’d tell me, nodding. “What’s past is prologue!”

I would just shrug, which only led her to say:

“Youth is wasted on the young!”

She’d throw a Latin phrase my way and, like the former teacher that she was, expect me to respond with the correct answer.

“Panacea?” she’d demand.

“Cure-all,” I’d respond dutifully.

“Gallia est omnis divisa…?” she’d tilt her head at me.

“…in partes tres,” I’d say, barely stifling a yawn.

She’d share her pet conspiracy theories as well. “Sir Francis Bacon actually wrote all of Shakespeare’s works,” she’d exclaim, even as I tuned her out. “Known fact!”

After I left home, I could barely get through a visit with my mother. She smoked like a chimney. She’d stockpile every bit of bad news and tale of woe to aim at me, like a missile full of misery. I didn’t realize until later that it was her way of trying to prepare and protect me from things that might go wrong. “Forewarned is forearmed!” she’d say, finger jabbing the air.

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After her passing, I learned that, no matter how old you are, when your parents pass away, you feel as if you’ve lost your moorings. Looking back on old, poor-quality photographs, you realize that your mother had a whole life before you were even born, and now that she’s gone, you ‘ll never get to hear those stories.

Dear readers, if you’re lucky enough to still have your mother in your life, I’d like to gently and gingerly nudge you to spend time with her while you have the chance.

Heck, I think I’ll come at you like the
New Jersey Mama Bear that I am, and say it like this:
So, what, it would kill you to call the mother who gave you life? 🙂

Coffee and cake at a cafe′ once a year on Mother’s Day are all well and good. Being fully present and hearing with your heart? Priceless.

I look at the form. It is the 2016-2017 stewardship questionnaire from my local parish —my commitment to volunteerism and financial support for the coming year. How much will I pledge weekly? What can I do to help out: bake cookies? Mow the law? Clean the chapel?

It is not the “giving” part of the equation that bothers me, that causes the hairs on the back of my neck to rise; it is the actual form itself. “Family name” it requests. Easy enough. But then, this: “Mother’s name.” “Father’s name.” Each with a blank. My heart drops.

I am not a mother. I have no children, for reasons too personal to discuss. And yet, if I am not a mother, how can I put my name in this space? The Catholic Church simply assumes that if I call myself part of a family, I must be the mother. Who else could I be?

Much has been made of Amoris Laetitia (Joy of Love), the latest in Pope Francis’ responses to Catholic family life. In it, he asks that each parish be open to family in all its forms, welcoming and supportive. As usual, the document has been blasted by both sides — by traditionalists for being too liberal and by liberals because the Pope does nothing to change the church’s response to LGBT persons or divorced Catholics. I will admit to hoping for more, but understand that the Pope must tread gently in these divided times. Still, the document does much to open the doors to families in all of their nontraditional, messy splendor. Yet my parish still asks: “Mother’s name”?

I sometimes get the distinct feeling from my Church that if I am not a mother, I am nothing. I have no role. I am unfruitful, an anomaly. I have missed the proverbial boat. When I tell my pastor that I am childless, he says, “That’s okay,” as if to soothe me. What have I done that was so terrible? Do I need to be told — over and over again — that a woman without children is a failure?

My husband isn’t nearly as unnerved as I am. “You should write your mother’s name in the space,” he suggests. But the onus on him isn’t the same as it is on me. Catholics are notoriously fruitful. I knew a girl in high school who had 13 siblings. I have more cousins than I can count — 11 in just one family. My mom is the youngest of seven. In the Catholic Church, I do stand out like a sore thumb.

And yet there have always been childless Catholics. My great-aunt Lydia and her husband did not have kids. How must she have felt, back when “family planning” was an anathema akin to mortal sin? (Not that the proscribed methods of the Catholic Church are much better nowadays…as my high school religion teacher once deadpanned, “I used the rhythm method. I have 11 children.”) A childless Catholic woman is either a “poor thing” (she wanted kids but couldn’t have them) or a harlot (she didn’t want them). There is no room for anything in between.

I consider my spouse to be my family. It is the two of us against the world, and we’ve done okay. After all, he once considered himself an agnostic; now he is a full-fledged Catholic. We attend Mass every week. We give, financially, and of our time and talents. And yet, there it is: “Mother’s name.”

In the end, I will put my name in the blank, mostly out of resignation. But is it too much to ask: Can’t I be a married Catholic woman in good standing, a real woman of faith…but not a mother?

I recently saw a bit from a late night talk show: An interviewer asked children why it was that women make less money than men for doing the same work. The boys’ answers were varied, but often supportive of women (especially their moms), but the girls — almost every one — went negative. Women were dumb or lazy. They hadn’t been taught things that men had been taught. They didn’t take their work seriously. They liked to shop too much.

Couple that with this figure: 91% of women don’t like their bodies and want to change them. What is wrong with us? Why don’t girls and women think themselves capable, beautiful or strong? Why are we convinced — apparently from an early age — that we are failures?

It is not Godly, this lack of self-esteem. We all start off the same way, as happy, little embryos. More male fetuses than female fail to make it to birth. More male infants die within the first year than do female babies. Women live longer, have higher tolerances to pain than men do. And yet we spend our lives thinking, by and large, that we are not good enough.

Why? Tradition? Culture? Law? All of these? Yes, and the Bible doesn’t help much either, written as it was for men by men, with its dearth of female heroines. It is the male bloodline that counts in the Bible. And yet, the most important figure in all of biblical literature — Jesus Christ — has a human mother…and no human father. Joseph, while mentioned, doesn’t have much dialogue in the New Testament. Neither does Mary, but at least she has some. And not one line of it is, “Do I look fat in this?”

Remember, too, that Mary is the only non-divine human being to be born without sin.

Remember, too, the women who remain at the foot of the cross. Only one man, in all of the gospels (his own) does the same.

Remember, too, that Jesus was often seen “in the company of women.” This, in a time when women were basically chattel. It is akin to being seen in the company of cows. But Jesus does it, time and again. He speaks to non-Jewish women, divorced women, prostitutes — acts so radical for their time, they make equal pay for equal work seem elementary.

Any faith practice that puts women down or places them as mere secondaries to men should be reexamined, as I hope Pope Francis will reexamine the Catholic Church, providing more opportunities for women to lead and be heard.

God created all of us. God stands with all of us. God loves us equally. Isn’t it time we did too?

heart and hands

At eight years old, my son taught me an important lesson in body language and soul-speak.

After walking home from the bus stop, he came through the door, smiling.

In quick succession, I issued a list of his moving violations.

  • You wore that shirt?
  • Don’t slouch! 
  • You forgot your homework again.

Posture adjustment.

From “Glad to be home from school – oh look, there’s my Mom!”

to “Guess I did something wrong and didn’t even know it.”

Looked like a tiny candle’s flame, fading. Flickering out. Poof!

That very day, I learned something. I felt terrible that I had made my own child feel so terrible.

Next afternoon, I started a new tradition.

Since that time and to this day, when he comes home from school, I don’t harp or hassle or harangue. I don’t carp or criticize or cauterize with my words.

Front door opens. I dance.

Flail around like a dadblamed fool.

Like a cheerleader hailing a champion.

I clap my hands and sing. “My son is home! My sooooon is hooooome. Yay! Tell me all about your day, son,” as if talking to Magellan, returning from high seas with tall tales.

Sure, he may roll his eyes at such a dramatic display of MotherLove; still, he walks slowly down the hall to his room, as if secretly appreciating being appreciated.

Teaching is a part of life for all of us, but I’ve never learned anything from being yelled at, picked on or beaten down.

My son may have been the one coming home from school, but I’m the one who learned a lesson.

Note to self: When people you love come home, make them feel at home.

Love your loved ones.

Sounds obvious, but this basic truth can get lost in translation. I’m so glad I finally listened.

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