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About a year ago, when I started working at AscensionPress, I thought my blogging days were over . . .  There was simply too much to do, and not enough time to write.

Four months later, as my family life unraveled at the seams, I had an even better reason not to blog: There are some things that are too private, and too painful, to submit to public scrutiny — even in empathetic circles. Now, eight months later, we’re seeing light at the end of the tunnel, and I can envision that one day I’ll be able to find a way to share some of the lessons I’ve learned from this experience. Not yet. But someday.

In the meantime, I’ve come to realize just how much it has meant to have people who have been where we are now come alongside us, reassuring us that we will survive this, too. I’ve had several such kindred spirits cross my path these past eight months, and I will always be grateful God sent them my way.

And so, I’ve decided to begin again, and find ways to reach out to other parents of extraordinary children. I’ve come to appreciate that “Extraordinary Moms” is not quite the right approach (who among us wants to think of ourselves as “extraordinary”?). We love our kids fiercely, passionately, and without reservation — just like every other good parent does.

And so, “A Rosary on My GPS” is my new blog — and I hope you will join me over there. It’s for parents of adopted, fostered, or special-needs children, and I hope to use the “road trip” metaphor to draw from the collective experiences of other smart mothers and fathers, who understand that family life is like a road trip. Sometimes literally — for adoptive parents, that trip can take them to the other side of the world. But always metaphorically.

As parents, we sometimes need direction to help us avoid the potholes and congestion; we need the practical variety (symbolized by the GPS) and the spiritual variety (the rosary beads). And so — voila! — my new blog. I hope you’ll take the time to weigh in on the discussions taking place over there.  If you have a story to share, I’d love to have you guest post. But for now, c’mon over and just say hi. (Extra points if you have a resource or two to share on my blogroll.) You can also contact me privately at heidi.hess.saxton@gmail.com.

Blessings, and thanks,

Heidi

At St. Joseph’s in Downingtown PA, those who show up five minutes late (or even, some Sundays, right on time) may not get a seat. When I was teaching CCD, this wasn’t really a problem; there was always plenty of time between class and Mass to install ourselves in our favorite pew.

Then, a few weeks ago, a shadow fell over our house. We have been deliberately vague on the details with people; suffice it to say that when we adopted our children from foster care, we never imagined just how far-reaching the past might be. At the advice of our pastor and other experts, we made a plan that involved removing our son temporarily from our home, and placing him in the home of his godparents (who have no children), until we could get things sorted out. I also resigned as a catechist so that I’d be able to focus on the needs of my family, and travel back and forth as needed. It isn’t ideal . . . but little about our lives is ideal right now.

In some ways, I feel like I am returning to those humiliating early days of foster parenting, when I went from being the leader of the worship ensemble to being the woman whose little boy punched a priest in the middle of Mass (Father had reached out to give my three-year-old foster son a blessing). Now as then, I have ample evidence that I am in way over my head in the parenting pool. Now as then, I try to keep paddling bravely. Now as then, I find myself wondering if I will make it.

Today we arrived at Mass just as the Gloria was being sung.  Sarah and I squeezed into a place between an elderly gentleman and his wheelchair-bound wife and a family with six teenagers (we later learned they were foster parents). In front of us was another family with two children who were about the same age as my kids. At first I was struck by how happy and affectionate the younger boy was, hugging his big brother and kissing his mother … and then he turned and I saw his face just as he erupted with a squeal of joy.

Sarah noticed, too. “Why does he look like that, Mommy? Why is he making those noises?”

“He has special challenges, honey. But he has special gifts, too. See how he loves his brother and father and mother?”

She nodded. “Yep. He’s full of love. That’s his gift, right?”

“Yes, honey. We all have special gifts and challenges. That little boy is a gift to his family … and today he is a gift to us. Just like you are a gift, with your bright eyes and sweet voice. You are a gift especially to me.”

And it was true. As I watched the family pass the little boy back and forth, encouraging him to be quiet and reverent, I was reminded that the best offerings are not always the most outwardly reverent ones. The most thankful hearts are not always the lightest ones. And the ones who most need to be there are not always the best dressed or best behaved.

I also realized that we were exactly where we needed to be just then. By bringing their son to Mass with them, even though he might make a “joyful noise” at some inopportune time, this family had ministered to me in a way that no one else could have. My heart felt lighter just from having witnessed the sight of that family loving each other and drawing close to face their challenges together.  This boy was a true gift … and a rare treasure. And yet, many such children die while still in the womb.

Tomorrow is the “March for Life” in Washington, D.C. Thousands of pro-life marchers will converge in our nation’s capitol to commemorate the tragic anniversary of the signing of Roe v. Wade. Hundreds of thousands more will, like me, be with them in spirit as we continue to live out the daily challenges of family life as another kind of testimony to the dignity and value of every single life.

The elderly gentleman will fix his wife’s breakfast and brush her hair.

The foster family beside us will wait for the case worker of the sibling group they recently welcomed into their home.

The family in front of us will pull carpool duty as they take their younger son to therapy and school, and cheer their older son at his basketball game.

And I … well, I will continue my own vigil, asking God to do something so that one day we will all be under one roof, facing our challenges together. Thank you for continuing to pray with us.

 

Despite my best intentions, Christmas cards did NOT make it in the mail this year. For the record, I also did not manage to bake a single batch of Christmas cookies. Which is why it’s a good thing that there are TWELVE days of Christmas. But I digress.

This year has been a year unlike any other. It all started, appropriately enough, last Christmas, when in an unguarded moment, brought on by tremendous career and family upheaval, Craig turned to me and said, “If you find a job you like, we’ll move.”

I didn’t need to be told twice. (I’ll spare you the details, except to say that as far as I’m concerned, “family business” is an oxymoron.) In fact, I had already been looking locally, and had applied to a number of church jobs for which I was reasonably qualified. The highlight was showing up for one interview, only to be told, “We knew we weren’t going to hire you – but we just had to meet you after reading your resume.”

Have you ever been in a place where you were desperately seeking God’s will for your life, and nothing – nothing at all – was happening? I knew God had heard my prayers for deliverance; I also knew he had a plan for our lives, and that he understood the stress my husband was under.  I knew all these things . . . and yet, it grew harder and harder to trust as one job interview after another resulted in . . . nothing. After six months, including a few tenuous inquiries at a couple of publishing houses in the area, I was still jobless. “What does God WANT from me?” I asked my pastor, who had been praying for me as well. “I know exactly what you mean, Heidi,” he replied. “I often feel that way myself.”

Then, as if on cue, God threw our lives into hyperdrive. One day a friend mentioned to me that Ascension Press was looking for an editorial director. And next thing I knew, I had a job offer. Ten days later, I packed my car and moved to West Chester, PA. Within weeks, the kids and dog had joined me (Craig, it was decided, needed to stay until Christmas to give his work adequate time to transition to the new IT guy). Also with us was Andrew, the kids’ favorite sitter, who at nineteen was ready for an adventure away from home. (The kids alternately refer to him as “our new brother” and “the manny.” Andrew is an aspiring chef who spends his days while the kids are at school riding the train and checking out local eating establishments, and his nights dreaming up new taste treats for us.) This job has been such a great fit for me; I tell people I won the “job lottery.” In reality, it was simply a matter of waiting patiently for God to orchestrate all the details in his perfect time.

Of course, a few pieces still need to fall into place. We are still in something of a holding pattern, thanks to Craig’s boss, who convinced Craig it was his duty to stay on until they were good and ready to let him go. As I’m sure you can imagine, this has been hard on the kids (hasn’t done great things for our marriage, either). But I’ve come to realize that sometimes love means taking a step back, finding one’s own center, and letting the other person work things out for himself. (Or herself.) I also understand, for the first time in my life, why some seemingly successful marriages appear to suddenly unravel at the seams.  Finally, I’ve come to understand that marriage can be a lot like a warm woolen security blanket: Sometimes all you can do is hold on, and pray for the storm to pass. As the skies grow darker and the wind blows stronger, you keep holding, knowing that if you grope with both hands, the wind may soon carry it way.

I am grateful beyond words for all the people who have extended themselves for us this year: my parents, who have made several visits from Georgia just to make sure we got packed and settled, as well as friends in Michigan (especially the Phelps, Hook, and Tucker families and good friends Denise and Lilian) and here in PA (especially my new coworkers) who have reached out to us again and again. On our last weekend in Michigan, we had a little barbecue at a local park, with close to 50 people in attendance. As I looked over all their faces, I was so thankful for the wonderful people God had brought into our lives over the past eighteen years. It was hard to think of starting over . . . especially for Christopher and Sarah, who were leaving behind not only good friends but a brother and sister as well. Even so, we knew God was leading us to a new adventure. And that one day, we would get to enjoy it together.

In the meantime, we have settled in for the long haul. Christopher, 11, is in middle school this year, and for the first time ever is on the honor roll. His science project this year will be to prove which brand of deodorant is most flammable. (His idea, not mine.) He will be confirmed at our new parish, St. Joseph Parish in Downingtown, on March 1, 2012. His new passion this year is Beyblades. He misses his friends, but has picked up a couple of good friends here and was recently asked to his first dance (yikes).

Sarah, 9 going on 16, is in fourth grade. She and I went to see her friend Grace perform in the “Nutcracker 1776” at her friend’s school. I think we need to get Sarah back in a tutu. She continues to love to draw and change her clothes a dozen times a day. I suspect she has a future in fashion design.

This year Craig and the kids spent 10 days over Christmas break in West Palm Beach with Craig’s parents (I didn’t have vacation time, but I flew down for the weekend). Craig’s dad has stage-four lung cancer (he’s a non-smoker), so we wanted to make a few more memories with and for Craig’s parents. We then spent Christmas weekend with my parents in Georgia, who opened their home to three out of four daughters and their families for the holiday. We decorated gingerbread houses, tried to stay out of the way of the four dogs, and had a lovely time. Craig and I are home now, and he will be with us until January 7. My Christmas wish is that this time next year, the transition to our new life here will be complete.

Wishing you and yours the brightest and best of Christmas blessings this year.

The Next Chapter…

If you’ve followed my blog with any regularity, you may have noticed that my posts have become increasingly fewer and farther between.  To be honest, it’s not that there hasn’t been anything going on. It’s just that I haven’t been able to talk about it, for reasons that I’m still not fully able to explain.

My friends — both virtual and in real-life — will be pleased to know that I am happier, we are all happier, than I can remember in years. Craig and I actually laugh out loud together at the end of the day. He goes off to work with a smile on his face. The kids bicker less. Even the dog smiles. A gigantic weight . . . has miraculously been lifted from the Saxton house.  As I’ve said in several cryptic e-mails now, God is good. All the time. Though we’ve had to wait for it, His best for us was infinitely better than anything I could have dreamed.

I’m hoping that even this much will be an encouragement to someone out there. After all, I started this blog as an encouragement for Extraordinary Moms — women who find themselves living out their vocations as wives and mothers in extraordinary circumstances. Many of you have cared enough to write and tell me how these posts have helped you, and it has been a rare priviledge to journey alongside you, even for a little while. But as most women who venture into motherhood soon discover, life is built in chapters. And many times, the only way to fully embrace the current chapter . . . is to let go of the previous one. It’s part of the deal.

Yes, even the “best” chapters of our lives carry a hefty price tag. In order to enter into this new family adventure, I will have to let go of some of the activities, and even some close friendships, that I’ve come to treasure. It isn’t easy. But it IS necessary.

So . . . this is going to be my last post, both here at EMN as well as on my public forums, for the foreseeable future. There are many reasons for this, but the most important is that what I need to do for my family in the weeks and months ahead is going to require every bit of spare time and effort that I can muster. Fortunately, it’s happy work, an unimaginable and jubilant release after what has been nothing short of months and months of … well, just the opposite.

And so, I close with one of my favorite bits by Robert Browning . . . from Pippa Passes:

The year is at the spring
    And day is at the morn;
    Morning is at seven;
    The hillside’s all dew-pearled;
    The lark is on the wing;
    The snail is on the thorn:
    God is in His heaven—
    All is right with the world!

Fondly,

Heidi

Anyone re-entering the workplace after taking time to pursue other goals — college, family, or writing the next Great American Novel — knows that finding the ramp back to the fast track can be a daunting experience.  (For those who live in Michigan, it’s more of a “painfully slow” track, but I digress.)

Coming up with a plausible explanation for any gaps in the resume is one thing; being able to articulate how these non-revenue-producing endeavors have contributed to one’s personal bottom line is something else.

So this past week, I’ve been thinking about my vocation as a wife and mother, and above all as a child of God.  Even the word “vocation” is more complex for me now than it was when I was single.  It is infinitely easier to look “together” and “successful” without a captive audience to witness those less-together moments. As a single adult, I led the worship team and managed sixty projects a year.  As a wife and mother, I sat in the church’s “cry room” and aspired to a shower before dinner.

Here’s the thing:  As time went on, I discovered more than a little overlap in the life lessons I”ve learned between the “two me’s.”  For example:

One day at a time.  Projecting too far into the future based on one’s present circumstances can be problematic for mothers and editors alike.  As a new mother, I had to pull focus from “building a writer’s platform” and concentrate on the immediate challenges at hand (like getting that aforementioned shower).  My kids needed me to be fully present.

Now this lesson takes a very different form: I try not to obsess over the “big picture” of what God has planned for my life. Instead, day by day I take up the challenge at hand, always trying to remain attentive to that still, small voice of the Spirit. A Spirit who often speaks to me through my own family.

Rest in the knowledge that God knows me best, and loves me anyway.  Like most people, I have at times wished that life had a rewind button.  As a mom, I’ve cringed over my children’s boisterous behavior in public. My inner critic howled over the injustice of going from choir director to cry-room dropout in just a few short days.

Now, having come I’m through the worst of it, it’s alot easier to silence that inner critic where other people are concerned. Not that I have a flawless record. Like most people, I’ve said and done things that — in retrospect — were cringeworthy. And yet, my children have taught me something about God’s unconditional love, which helps me to extend tolerance and grace to others.  

The Iceberg Principle:  Human beings are like icebergs: There’s a lot more than meets the eye. These “hidden mysteries” inform and motivate both our actions and reactions.  However, with time and effort it is possible to develop an instinctive sense of the “danger zones.”

For example, I can always tell when one of my children “forgets” to take a certain medicine or has had a bad night.  The brother-sister banter is edgier, with shriller howls of protest. Cereal turns to mush as the kid in question makes umpteen trips to and from the breakfast nook. Directions go unheard and unheeded. As the mom, I understand why this kid is acting like a gerbil on crack. It’s not intentional, but aggravating nevertheless.

The Iceberg Principle applies in the workplace as well, motivating us to invest on a personal level with those on our “team.”  If we fail to do this, behavior that a friend might interpret to be  “collaborative” (or “proactive”), to a casual acquaintence might seem “lazy” (or “egotistical”).  Misunderstandings (or being misunderstood) is an occupational hazard for those who refuse to map out  those hidden layers.

What do you think? Have you made the transition from stay-at-home to either work-from-home or work-away-from-home?  If so . . . are there any aspects of parenting that have made you a more valuable employee?

Yesterday afternoon I decided to take a break from thesis (yes, I’m still pounding away at it) to do some grocery shopping. I had PROMISED my advisor I would have the paper in Wednesday, and I figured that I’d need every spare minute to get it done.

Just as I hit the produce section, a “text” alert came up on my Blackberry. “Mom and I are on the road. See you tomorrow at noon.”

This was news to me. Ordinarily I’d be tickled, as we only get to spend time with my parents 2-3 times a year, especially with gas prices being what they are.  But this week … well, I wasn’t really ready to receive guests. I called my father’s cell phone and explained my predicament. “If you come Thursday, you’ll have my full attention. Any sooner than that, I’m afraid you’ll need to help me with the kids. …

“Oh, we can help you with the kids. See you tomorrow.”

Yikes. Quickly I booked a room in the local “Sleep Inn,” which has an all-season pool. Then I did the fastest “company clean” on record (the dog actually hid in her crate and refused to come out.) And now, groceries stocked and house — well, if not gleaming at least looking several shades less grimy — and Sarah in her bathing suit doing a puzzle as I type this. As long as they don’t inspect Christopher’s room or examine my refrigerator shelves, we’re good.  Craig even managed to take a morning off work, so the lawn looks presentable.

Yes, life’s little surprises are not always what we would chose, but somehow it’s all good.

What little surprises have YOU had this week?

This one was so funny, I just had to share. 

What did you give your husband for your 10th anniversary? Bet this lady’s got you beat.

Thanks to Elizabeth Scalia (a.k.a. “The Anchoress) for sharing!

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