An Adoptive Mother’s Prayer

white-roses-3627.jpgWhat they want, I cannot give them, Lord.

What I have, they do not want.

I reach for answers, and come up empty.

A solitary ache steels between my eyelids

and chases sleep dead in the night.

How does a mother love, love truly

if she cannot bear to like?

Slowly, slowly, each labored breath

is sweet anticipation of goodbye.

For now, all I ask

is for the grace of hello.


(c) Heidi Hess Saxton 2017



Revive Us Again

shroud.jpgHeading into Holy Week, my parish (Queen of Peace in Mishawaka, Indiana) is hosting a special display of the Shroud of Turin. (Not the original cloth shroud, but a photographic likeness flanked by displays outlining the history of the shroud and the scientific research done to ascertain the identity of the man whose image was miraculously imprinted upon it.)

As I sat pondering the display, I found myself thinking about a homily I heard a couple of weeks ago, while traveling to Atlanta to visit my elderly parents. It was serendipitous; I had merely picked the church closest to our hotel. But when the priest started talking about the raising of Lazarus as a “resuscitation” rather than a “resurrection,” his explanation stayed with me.

When Jesus raised Lazarus and others, prior to his own resurrection, these miracles served as a sign of who Jesus was — and what he had come to do through his atoning passion, death, and resurrection. And yet, the priest reminded us, this was not “resurrection” in the same sense that Jesus was raised, in his glorified state.

“Imagine what Lazarus experienced,” Father said. “He awakened, no doubt stiff and sore from lying on a stone bench for three days. He was still subject to pain and illness, and would one day die again. His was not the glorified state, a true resurrection. Rather, it was a sign that he still had work to do.”

On Saturday, the Church welcomes thousands of new Catholics — some receiving all the sacraments for the first time, others are simply confirmed. But each in some way suffers a little death, a putting away of the old and a putting on of the risen Christ. And each of us, whether our faith can be measured in minutes or decades, have work to do.

As a Catholic mom and writer, I confess that right now I feel very much in need of revival. If parenting were a marathon, it feels as though I am sorely in need of a second wind. And so, this year I look forward to the Easter season with great anticipation, trusting God for a “second wind” for my family. Like Lazarus, may Jesus breathe new life into us by the Spirit, that we might finish the race strong.

When It Hurts to Pray

palmsDuring the season of Lent, many times we start out with the best of intentions. We want to sense the presence of God in our lives. We long to encounter Christ at Mass or at Adoration. We teach our children, and rightly so, that God loves it when we pray.

And yet, this longing often goes unsatisfied. Depending on what is going on in our lives, God can seem very distant. It happens to all of us at times. It even happened to Mother Teresa, as her friend Father Brian Kolodiejchuk revealed in the book of her private letters and other writings that was published after her death in 1997, Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the ‘Saint of Calcutta.’  He wrote of Mother Teresa:

“The smile that covered a ‘multitude of pains’ was no hypocritical mask. She was trying to hide her sufferings – even from God! – so as not to make others, especially the poor, suffer because of them. When she promised to do “a little extra praying & smiling” for one of her friends, she was alluding to an acutely painful and costly sacrifice: to pray when prayer was so difficult and to smile when her interior pain was agonizing.”

For Mother Teresa, joy was an act of obedience. Prayer was her daily sustenance. Now, I am no Mother Teresa; there have been times when I found it difficult, if not impossible, to pray. And yet, even in those moments, God lavished amazing graces upon me, until I became thankful even for the darkness that pushed me relentlessly toward the light.

I remember a time in my life, on a short-term mission trip to Poland, when I found it difficult to pray because of anxiety. As the leader of my team of nearly 30 college students (half American, half Polish), I had been responsible to get the group to the rendezvous point in Frankfurt Germany at the end of the trip. But as the weeks went on, the trip fell apart. Our accommodations fell through at the height of the tourist season. Our Polish team members were unable to obtain visas. We lost our “chaplain,” the only member of the team who spoke fluent German (which we needed to communicate with our Hungarian bus driver). Our interpreter, whose wife was six months pregnant, had to return home prematurely. Somehow we made it to the meeting point – where the director of the sending organization chastised me for “allowing” team members to discuss the gifts of the Holy Spirit with each other. I couldn’t believe my ears . No apology. No acknowledgment for how difficult the trip had been. Just, “You should have handled this.”

The injustice of this man’s silly accusations ate at me, and I became depressed, a combination of exhaustion and outrage. Returning home, I went back to the non-denominational “mega-church” I had attended and felt my prayers bouncing off the ceiling. Had God had abandoned me, too?

Weeks went by, going to church with a plastered smile, and returning home feeling empty and utterly alone. One Sunday, walking toward my church I passed a little mission-style Catholic parish, and decided to sneak in. I didn’t know anyone — frankly, at that point it was a good thing, since I didn’t want anyone to know where I was. But as I sat at the back and breathed in the aroma of incense and beeswax, my shoulders relaxed … and I knelt down to pray knowing that — in the last place I expected it — I had God’s attention.

Long story short, about a year later, I stood with my sponsor at the front of that sanctuary and received the sacraments. That was 22 years ago, and I will always be grateful to the people of Holy Family Catholic Church, who welcomed this little Prodigal Daughter, and patiently led her back to God.

Are you in a place right now where praying is hard for you? Are you in difficult circumstances, unable to see a way out? Do you pray, and feel your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling? Do you feel like a fraud in your faith community? Take heart. Listen to the assurances of another great saint, Teresa of Avila:

Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you.

All things pass away, God never changes.

Patience obtains all things.

Whoever has God lacks for nothing. God alone suffices.


Heidi Hess Saxton is the author of Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Servant).


“Part the Waters, Lord”

One of the best parts of my Evangelical heritage is the music–four part hymns, solid Gospel and contemporary Christian recording artists such as the Gaither Trio, Keith Green, Second Chapter of Acts, Michael Card, and Evie Turnquist. (In one of my most rebellious moments, I sneaked a contraband cassette tape of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours.” I don’t remember actually playing it — just having it in my room was enough.)

My taste in music is quite a bit more eclectic now — from Big Band sounds to Top Forty with a smattering of alternative and international and show tunes. Give me a little Cole Porter or Jennifer Warnes, and I’m a happy girl.

Unless I’m not — and then I drag out the big guns.  Like this one:

When I think I’m going under, part the waters, Lord.
When I feel the waves around me, calm the sea.
When I cry for help, O hear me, Lord, and hold out Your hand.
Touch my life, still the raging storm in me.

Knowing You love me through the burden I must bear,
Hearing Your footsteps lets me know I’m in Your care,
And in the night of my life You bring the promise of day,
Here is my hand, show me the way.

When I think I’m going under, part the waters, Lord.
When I feel the waves around me, calm the sea.
When I cry for help, O hear me, Lord, and hold out Your hand.
Touch my life, still the raging storm in me.

Knowing You love me helps me face another day.
Hearing Your footsteps drives the clouds and fear away;
And in the tears of my life I see the sorrow You bore,
Here is my pain, heal it once more.

When I think I’m going under, part the waters, Lord.
When I feel the waves around me, calm the sea.
When I cry for help, O hear me, Lord, and hold out Your hand.
Touch my life, still the raging storm in me.

by Charles F. Brown

(If you’d like to hear it, here’s a YouTube version I recently came across.)

Last week was a difficult week. A time for letting go of a lot of things, some of them easier to relinquish than others. To add to the challenge, a dear friend of mine was faced with one of the most difficult choices of her life, the consequences of which were serious indeed. I prayed with her, then asked my friends to join me in praying for a miracle.

At times like this, when someone else is really hurting, it really puts things in perspective. I may not have gotten that job that I wanted so very much (still haven’t heard yet, but it doesn’t sound promising) . . . but I do have a husband and kids who love me dearly, no matter what.  We have enough to pay the bills (if we’re careful), and I’m almost done with the degree, and even if I don’t get THIS job I’m confident the right opportunity will come when the time is right.

Sometimes when I ask the Lord to “part the waters,” it turns out the puddles weren’t all that deep, after all. And that, too, is a kind of mercy.

A Blessing for Not-So-Holy Families

It was like scratching an itch that had been building up for years. Then, the day before Christmas, the proverbial straw landed. Finally, this ol’ camel scratched in the form of a carefully worded e-mail.

Ahhhh . . . camel crap.

We’ve been shoveling it for days now, with no end in sight. Someday I’ll get around to sharing details, but for now I’ll summarize it this way: Nothing, not even righteous indignation, feels good enough to justify hurting someone you REALLY love. And sometimes even the most justified comeback can have consequences you never intended.

In this case, the easy “Sorry” won’t work. You know, the one-size-fits-all apology married men discovered this eons ago. …

  • “I’m sorry I agreed with you that those pants make your butt look fat.”
  • “I’m sorry I said your laugh reminds me of your mother’s.”
  • “I’m sorry I didn’t bring home the milk you forgot to ask me to pick up.”
  • Why not? I offered, and Craig said it would only make things worse. So instead I’ve decided to turn this into a little life lesson, about the importance of keeping one’s saddle clean-swept. Of talking things out before the straws get too thick. Of tending to relationships in the short term, so the occasional bump won’t matter so much in the long term.

    This week, on the feast of the Holy Family, I offer this blessing for not-so-holy ones.

    Father God, we are all your children.
    And sometimes children squabble.
    Teach us to play nicely,
    and to use our words carefully, kindly, and at just the right time.
    In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen!

    St. Anne’s Miracle: On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

    Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the day in the Church calendar when we remember how God intervened in the course of human relationships to create the perfect vessel to contain the Word of God — the New Ark of the Covenant, if you will.

    According to Tradition, the names of Mary’s parents were Joachim and Anne. They were a devout, childless couple. Both these facts did not escape the attention of those around them, since infertility at that time was regarded as divine judgment. Most especially, they did not escape the attention of the Almighty.

    So when St. Anne conceived an infant, their joy was so great that they immediately dedicated the child to the service of God in the Temple. The child they had prayed and longed for all those years, with great spiritual courage they returned to God, just as Abraham had offered Isaac. And in the same way, God returned the child to the parents — with the understanding that this child was no ordinary child, but would be forever destined to accomplish something remarkable for God.

    Isaac became the father of the Hebrew people. Mary became the mother of all mankind, the New Eve, when from the Cross Jesus gave his mother to his beloved disciple, and through him to all of us.

    St. Anne also had a remarkable job to do. It was her task to raise the woman who would become the Theotokos, the God-bearer. And hers the task of relinquishing, little by little, all mothers hold most dear. At the age of three, Mary was brought to live in the Temple. A few years later, she returned home to prepare for her adult life … and was soon found to be pregnant. No doubt this caused many a sleepless night for Mary’s parents, just as it did for Mary’s betrothed. And yet, ultimately they held on to the fact that they had offered Mary to God when she was young; whatever happened, she belonged to Him every but as she belonged to them.

    And so, on this day when we remember Mary’s beginnings, we offer a prayer for our own children as well. No matter how our children came to us — through birth or adoption, or through simple association — they are not ours to possess. Ultimately they belong to God. It is us simply to take care of them as best we can, as long as they are with us.

    St. Anne, patroness of small miracles, pray for us.

    Prayer Warrior … ing

    This week at Mass we read what has become one of my favorite “prayer stories.”  It might seem a little obscure at first, but as I listened to the story, I got a flash of insight over a situation that has been bugging me for some time now.  So bear with me, and maybe it will help you, too!

    In Exodus 17, Moses and Joshua led the children of Israel against the Amalekites. This was not the first time the Chosen People had encountered this wicked nation. In Deuteronomy 25, we read of an earlier encounter between the Amalekites and the Israelites, in which the Amalekites slaughtered the weak and defenseless left behind in the camp as the Israelite men went into battle.

    It could be argued, therefore, that the account in Exodus 17 was divine retribution for Amalekite’s cowardice and cruelty.

    Have you ever noticed how often in the story of the Hebrew exodus, conflict is preceded by some dramatic encounter with the Almighty?  Following God’s orders, the people marched in silence for seven days around Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down. Prior to this, the Hebrews evaded Pharaoh’s troops when Moses lifted his rod and divided the Red Sea so the Israelites could make their escape.

    In this story, Moses sends Joshua and the troops into battle … but he and Aaron did not venture into the fray. Instead, they climbed to the top of a nearby hill, where they could clearly see and be seen. Moses raised his arms in prayer … and the battle began.

    As long as Moses continued to intercede for the people, all went well. But as he tired, and his arms began to sag, the Amalekites began to win. Aaron and Hur noticed what was going on, and they quickly intervened, bringing a stone so the prophet could sit and propping up Moses’ arms so they stayed upraised. Through their ministrations, the prayers continued to ascend to heaven. And in the end, God’s people won the war.

    Okay … so what’s the big deal? 

    In this story, everyone had a particular job to do. Some fought this powerful-yet-cowardly enemy in person, and others fought in the spiritual realm. Both were necessary. That was true in the Hebrew story … and it is true in our time as well.

    Without going into painful details, I have an Amalek in my life, someone whose thoughtlessness and selfishness has created great hardship for my family in general, and my husband in particular. While there have been periodic truces in the battle, they never last for long … and the attack always seems to strike hardest when he is feeling most vulnerable and alone.

    Early on in our marriage, I would get outraged and attempt to orchestrate the outcome of each confrontation. Invariably, it made things worse.

    But this week, listening to the story, I came away with a different approach.  Instead of going into battle, I need to climb a hill, lift up my hands, and pray for divine intervention. And when I feel discouraged and weak, instead of giving up and indulging in unhappiness … I will ask others to pray for me. For him. For us.

    I don’t know why God allows Amalek to torment his children.  Maybe it’s all supposed to be an exercise of faith. God promises to be father to the fatherless, and husband to the widow.  (Did you notice that the Gospel reading was also about how God listens to the prayers of the poor?)  I don’t know why. But Jesus, I trust in You!

    Lord God, in your justice protect us from destruction, and be our advocate in times of adversity. In your mercy, work in the hearts of the cold and indifferent, that your love will prevail over all.

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