A Time to Let Go …

Yesterday we spent the day with the boys of a good friend recovering from leukemia. Whenever our kids get together, the subject of their older brother always comes up. The violent fifteen-year-old has been holding the entire family hostage, with the assistance of DFS, which is refusing to place the boy in a therapeutic group home because of the expense.

Both social workers and lawyers have advised my friends to arrange a “planned abandonment” at the agency, to disrupt the adoption. Unfortunately, the state is playing dirty pool, threatening to take all four boys and put them back in the system if the parents do this. The parents’ names would also be placed on a registry, so that they would never again be able to work in a school or church.

Given the current dire straights of the state budget, it is understandable that the government would be unwilling to take on extraordinary expenses. However, to withhold mental help from teenagers is to create the next generation of criminals. When a family adopts a child from foster care, the state of Michigan promises to provide necessary mental health services. If they reneg on this promise, how can they expect other families to step forward and take foster children into their homes?

Every option has been exhausted. Financially and emotionally, the parents are completely spent. The veteran social workers handling the case have come up empty handed. “I just don’t understand it,” one of them says to me. “I’ve tried and tried to think of what God is trying to do here. I keep waiting for deliverance. But it isn’t coming. And I don’t know what to do.”

It was the proverbial horns of a dilemma: Whether to alleviate the pain of the present moment by putting the future in jeopardy. And yet, it has come to exactly this. Sometimes the only way to secure the future . . . is to offer it back to God. To release the dread and fear on one hand . . . and the hopes and dreams on the other. “Whatever you will, my God, the future is in your hands.”

How often do we find ourselves at this crossroads? Caught in the web of the present, spun by yesterday’s planning and conniving and dreaming. “I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “Plans for prosperity and not for adversity, to give you a future and a hope.”

Sometimes when we offer our dreams back to God, he gives them back to us in unexpected ways. But other times, he exchanges them for something better than anything we could have dreamed for ourselves.

Is God asking you to offer your dream back to him?

Prickly Pear Confessions

One of the greatest challenges of blogging is knowing where to draw the line between one’s private life and public readership. It’s a bit different for everyone; I prefer to err on the side of transparency.

I recently came across this article by Annie Zirkel over at AnnArbor.com, and felt a gentle interior nudge. You know, it was almost as though the screen illuminated in neon yellow . . . “READ ME! READ ME!”

Now, anyone who knows me will not be surprised to learn that I recognize in myself some “prickly pear” tendencies. My mom used to tease me that “Heidi” means “battle-maiden” . . . and that I’ve been living up to my name ever since.

My battle-maiden tendencies notwithstanding, there are times when I worry that my “prickles” could make it hard for others — my family in particular — to relate and attach in healthy ways. And so this article provided a “teaching moment” for me to take stock.

For example, as I was sitting in Mass this morning, nursing the mother of all migraine headaches, a few pews away sat someone who I could not look at without a knot in the pit of my stomach. We had become Frenemies, gradually settling ourselves in opposing camps over what should have been a common cause. 

This weekend’s readings — combined with themes from a Lifetime movie called Amish Grace my husband and I watched this weekend — I was challenged to reconsider this situation. Watching this Amish mother struggle to forgive the man who had murdered her daughter and two others, for the sake of her peace, I was challenged to take the first steps toward releasing the anger, and asking God to bless this person. I resolved to release my inner “prickly pear,” and allow God to work as He sees fit.

The choice to release resentment — that is, to forgive — is an indispensable part of growing in grace. Forgiveness is the softening agent; discretion is the solvent; and prayer, the willing prayer of relinquishment is the clean, flowing stream that washes the prickles of anger away.

Is there someone in your life who brings out your inner “prickly pear”?

Lord, you are the living water, the life-giving stream.
You are the door of safety, the shepherd of the flock.
You are the Word made flesh, the Prince of Peace.
Fill up my hollow places with your abundant grace.

Bind your people close to your Sacred Heart,
That in our unity we may be a reflection of your love.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Photo credit: Prickly Pear Fruits

Weekend Ponderings: Faithful “Even When”

When fat cells grow, and hormones go
And gray hairs fill the sink again.
I will still be here, you know.
I will love you, even when.

This little ditty captures the essence of the marriage bond — for better, for worse, forever. Over the years I’ve watched as various friends and family members had this bond tested in the extreme by illness, infidelity, and financial ruin.

One example that sticks with me is the memory of my maternal grandmother tending to her husband as he battled first alcoholism then Alzheimers. Even when he grew belligerent and had to be locked in to keep him from wandering the streets at night, she stuck with him. It wasn’t a sentimental, syrupy kind of love; it was a love that did not shy away from personal inconvenience or pain.

It was the kind of love that persisted “even when.”

Such memories get me through the tough times, when the pace of life quickens until the days run together like Sarah’s watercolors, one barely distinguishable from another. Trying to figure out how the hours are best spent, and where, can be overwhelming. Tempers flare, frustration rises … choosing the joy becomes more and more intentional.

Choosing to love, even when.

In matters of faith, this choice is just as important. Choosing to believe, to trust, to stay. When people and even whole institutions let us down, remaining faithful despite it all requires that we tap into a source of power greater than ourselves. Temptations to defect are everywhere. As we read in this weekend’s reading:

In fact, all who want to live religiously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
But wicked people and charlatans will go from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived.
But you, remain faithful to what you have learned and believed,
because you know from whom you learned it,
and that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures,
which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Lord, help me today to stay faithful … even when.

Weekend Ponderings: Sabbath Rest

The other day I was challenged to consider the concept of “Sabbath rest” as it pertains to mothers — perhaps especially “working mothers,” those of us with significant responsibilities (often but not always wage-earning) outside the home, making it difficult to cover all the bases at once.

For those of us who grew up with stay-at-home mothers, our “inner critic” can be especially loud on weekends, when we return home and take in the collateral damage from our week in the saltmines. Instead of spending the weekends catching up with each other, we find ourselves playing catch-up with the laundry, scrubbing, shopping, and cooking we didn’t get done earlier in the week.

Then there’s Sunday, with rhythms that pick up pace as the day progresses, speeding steadily and inevitably toward Monday. The Third Commandment tells us to “Rememer the Sabbath Day and keep it holy,” a day set apart for worship, rest, and family. But practically speaking, what does this mean? No housework of any kind — coldcuts and premade salads, no electronics or gadgets, no turning on the dishwasher or washing machine? Or — taking it to the other extreme — “focus on the family,” running from one activity after the other (even skipping church) to get as much done as possible.

What does the Catechism say about it? From CCC 2186:

Sunday is traditionally consecrated by Christian piety to good works and humble service of the sick, the infirm, and the elderly. Christians will also sanctify Sunday by devoting time and care to their families and relatives, often difficult to do on other days of the week. Sunday is a time for reflection, silence, cultivation of the mind, and meditation which furthers the growth of the Christian interior life.

“Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.” Can a mother truly honor God and family … while tidying up an accumulation of weekly debris? Can a family revel at McDonalds as wholeheartedly as around a four-course dinner made by loving hands? When the rhythms of family life spill into Sabbath preparations, where is the line of demarkation? At what point does the payoff of interior peace justify a suspension of physical rest? In other words … does the satisfaction of being able to begin a new week with an orderly home, justify doing a few loads of laundry or scrubbing a kitchen floor on Sunday afternoon?

“Do small things with great love,” Blessed Mother Teresa admonished her Sisters of Charity. Her sisters observed regular rhythms of rest and work and prayer — the marathon of service that was their life demanded it. So, too, with us.

The line of demarcation, then, may be more cerebral/spiritual than physical. Are you getting adequate rest? Do you feel connected to God and to your family … or are weekends filled with nagging and pushing? Are you really enjoying one another, recharging the batteries of intimacy that keep families connected over the long haul?

Are you taking time to find your “Sabbath Rest”?

Weekend Ponderings: Come, Holy Spirit!

This weekend we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, the final day of the Easter season when the Holy Spirit fell upon the Lord’s closest followers in that Upper Room. This feast follows Ascension Sunday (originally celebrated on the previous Thursday, exactly 40 days after Easter), when Jesus returned to heaven.

Although the story of the original Pentecost never ceases to thrill, this time my eye was drawn particularly to the second reading:

No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.”

A short time ago I posted about these “workings” at CatholicMom.com, pointing out that each of us is equipped with special gifts, special burdens, and a task uniquely our own.

Ironically, those things can at times create “blinders” when God takes us along unexpected paths. Two days ago I received a lovely letter from a Protestant minister who had stumbled across an article I’d written a few years ago about Elisabeth Elliot — and this dear man thought I’d written especially for him to find, three years later. He writes about his own intrepid journey to the Church:

“I minister across denominational lines and I got frustrated with all the different flavors all claiming to be right. I slammed my fist down on my steering wheel about 5 years ago and said, “Lord there has to be one truth, they cant all be right so which is it?” Two weeks later I stumbled across The Journey Home program. That was the opening for me. Now 70 books later, a wonderful relationship with our priest here, and … I am at the door.”

With all my heart, I prayed that this godly man would find the strength to follow through on his convictions and become confirmed. Not that this would be the end of the story, of course. At Confirmation, we receive a portion of the Spirit … and yet, this Spirit does not prevent us from falling into ignorance, concupiscence, and sin. God in His wisdom gave us freedom to cooperate with that Spirit … or not. Our choices are real, our failures all too human.

And so, as a Catholic I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom of Christ in leaving behind spiritual fathers (an ordained, systematically trained teaching office) to steer the “Barque of Peter” in the right direction. I mean, if the Spirit does not prevent me from engaging in physical error, how can I presume that (under my own steam) I can long remain free of intellectual error — putting not only my own soul, but that of those I love, in real jeopardy?

It is with real horror I think of the first thirty years of my life. I obtained a “Bible degree,” but never stopped to consider the historical roots of the faith, never thought to see for myself what those first Christians believed. As long as I could support my ideas in Scripture, I was not readily swayed from my strongly held convictions! How prideful, how wrong! How could I have believed that I was better able to hear the voice of the Spirit, than to be guided by the collective wisdom of two thousands years of apostolic teaching? What possessed me to denounce the “dead church of Rome” without ever reading a single volume of Church history or Patristic literature — or a single volume of systematic Catholic theology? Why was I so quick to listen only to those who had already “jumped ship”?

True, the Church today bears little resemblance to the first-century model — that tiny, hunted Jewish sect of the first three centuries, until the reign of Constantine. (Note that Jesus promised to “build” His Church — a verb suggesting growth and development.) Since that time, the Church has suffered attack and betrayal from within and without … and many have chosen to “jump ship,” foolishly thinking it safer to founder in the water than to bail and row harder for shore.

This was not what Christ intended. “There are many kinds of service, but the same Lord.” Each of us has a job to do. Not all of us are teachers, and few are called to be apostles. However, each of us is called to come and serve. And so, together we pray this ancient prayer of the Church:

Holy Spirit, font of light, focus of God’s glory bright,
Shed on us a shining ray.
Father of the fatherless, giver of gifts limitless,
Come and touch our hearts today.
Source of strength and sure relief, comforter in time of grief
Enter in and be our guest.
In our journey grant us aid, freshening breeze and cooling shade,
In our labors, inward rest.
Enter each aspiring heart, occupy its inmost part
with your dazzling purity.
All that gives to us our worth, all that benefits the earth
you bring to maturity.
With your soft, refreshing rains, break our draughts, remove our stains
Bind up all our injuries.
Shake with rushing wind our will, melt with fire our icy chill
Bring to light our perjuries.
As your promise we believe, make us ready to receive
Gifts from your unbounded store.
Grant enabling energy, courage in adversity
Joys that last forever more.