8 Ways Mother Teresa Changed My Life (Day 1)

One Heart Full of LoveIn celebration of the canonization of Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) on September 4, I would like to share with you eight lessons and prayers that I discovered from reading Mother Teresa’s writings. Feel free to share some of your favorites as well!

Thanks for reading!

Lesson #1  The Power of Loving the “Other”.  I first discovered the writings of St. Teresa of Calcutta riding at the back of a cross-country bus in Mexico. A recent Bible school graduate, I had been presented with two options: Spend a year in Singapore, helping to start up a new Bible school for local pastors-in-training, or going back to school and becoming a book editor. I decided to take a few weeks to visit missionary friends, traveling by bus from Acapulco to northeastern Mexico. The adventure gave me plenty of time to think.

My backpack contained only a few essentials: a few apples, a roll of TP, a change of clothes and toiletries, my Bible and journal, and two books that had been recommended to me — Elisabeth Elliot’s autobiographical These Strange Ashes, and Mother Teresa’s, One Heart Full of Love. Early in the book, Mother Teresa recounts a story of going to help a local Hindu family with eight children who had not eaten for days. She writes:

“I could see the specter of hunger drawn on the faces of the little children when we found the family. . . In spite of their need, the mother had the courage and compassion to divide the rice that I had brought into two portions. Then she went out… It seems a Moslem family with the same number of children lived across the street. She knew they were hungry, too.”[1]

Her act of no-strings-attached generosity surprised me. I had been taught that “real” missionaries always focus on spiritual needs. And yet, nowhere in the text did it appear that Mother Teresa had prayed with the family as she handed over the food. What was more, she had clearly seen in that Hindu mother something. . . virtuous. What did it mean? Could one truly share the love of God in such a simple way, without expectation that the gesture would lead to a Bible study? This was an uncomfortable thought planted in my evangelical brain.

Mother Teresa’s “ecumenical mindset” flew in the face of my missionary training, which had elevated “church planting” over any other kind of service. I had not yet discovered the corporal and spiritual acts of mercy as such, or set foot in a Catholic Mass. And yet the words and actions of this dear “saint of the slums” resonated in me, and reminded me of the words of the Lord in which he separates the sheep (which up to that point I thought meant “Bible-believing Christians”) and goats (“everyone else”). And yet the example of Mother Teresa (a Catholic!), made me look again:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 

And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

 Gulp. Reading further in the book about Mother Teresa, I saw that even as she tended souls as they passed into the presence of God, she did not force them to say the “sinner’s prayer.” Rather, she urged them to face God without the weight of unforgiveness and regret upon their souls, to find peace before they died. Her heart of Mother Teresa was first and foremost . . . a mother’s.

Although I had been a Christian all my life, poring over that book on a bumpy Mexican bus I saw something that challenged my most treasured presuppositions about God’s love, seeing its simplest and purest form in the life of a Catholic nun – the last place I ever expected to find it. This was the first lesson I learned from Mother Teresa . . . but it would not be the last. As I worked, I took away seven more important lessons from the life and writings of this great lady, which we will examine more closely in the coming days. I’ve written eight daily posts, to take us from the canonization of Mother Teresa to the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

 Lesson #2: Take Mary with You.

Lesson #3: God Works Miracles When We Make Ourselves Small.

Lesson #4:  God Enjoys the Simplest Prayers

Lesson #5:  Faithful Love Sweetens Life 

Lesson #6: God Transforms Our Pain

Lesson#7: God measures “success” differently than we do.

Lesson #8:  Joy, Like Love, is a Choice.

 

If you are enjoying this series, you might also enjoy my two new books on her life and writings: Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta (preorders ship 9/16) and Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta, (preorders ship 1/17), both available through Servant Books/Franciscan Media.

[1] Mother Teresa, One Heart Full of Love. Edited by Jose Juis Gonzalez-Balado (Ann Arbor: Servant, 1988), 9.

Advent Blessing for Extraordinary Moms

Last Sunday was our annual Advent Tea, and at my table was a woman who had adopted two children. She had heard me speak on Al Kresta’s program about the Extraordinary Moms Network, and said she’d hoped I was still helping adoptive parents. It seems she was looking for a little support involving some changes her daughters were going through right now.

To be honest, I’ve become a bit gun-shy, and haven’t been writing as extensively about the subject of adoption for a while. For one thing, I recently resigned from the board of the foster/adoption agency because I didn’t agree with their recruiting practices, and was wondering God might be pointing me in another direction.

Over the years I’ve sometimes been denounced or outright attacked by others in adoption circles who disagreed with my position on reunification. (I believe that the adoptive bond should remain protected even in adulthood between parent and child, and that biological parents should be able to prevent the release of identifying information if they do not wish to be contacted by their grown children. I have no objection, however, to releasing this information if the biological parents ARE willing to be contacted, and agree that adoptees of all ages should have mediated access to medical information.)

Judging from comments I’ve received on this, and from the prevalence of open adoption, mine is not the popular opinion. I can live with that. What grew tiresome was the necessity of arguing endlessly with highly vocal and often disrespectful individuals who believe passionately that adopted children have the RIGHT to know their birth families. Always. Without exception. Even in cases of rape and incest, as this “Faith and Family” story shows.

And so, for a time I backed off on writing on the subject of adoption, to collect my thoughts a bit more systematically on the subject. To that end, my Master’s thesis is going to be about adoption as a metaphor for conversion — how the fact that the Scriptures speak of God adopting us as His children (Romans 8:14-15), giving us an inheritance we cannot lose (Galatians 4:4-6). The relationship is a permanent one. Here … read it yourself.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, 4 God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Just as biological families reflects in a unique way the life-giving love of the Trinity, so adoptive families uniquely reflect the redemptive love of God. Working together, parents and children, we help one another to grow in the perfection God first created in us, the perfection that was distorted by the sinful influence of our first parents.

So today, Rose Sunday, I wanted to share with any adoptive parents out there who are feeling a bit overwhelmed (the extended family time associated with the holidays can bring out other issues in our children, can’t they?), a bit of encouragement. This is my Advent Blessing to you.

You are doing God’s work. Right now, right where you are. Whether that means drying a tear or baking a cookie, creating memories that will always be a part of your child’s story.

Being an adoptive parent doesn’t mean being a perfect parent. If that were true, none of us would be qualified to take any child into our homes.

Being an adoptive parent also doesn’t mean being a second-best parent. You have no reason to apologize for your decision to adopt. Not now, not ever. Your child may never thank you for the sacrifices you’ve made — and in the years to come, their drive to find their birth parents may make you wonder if you’d done everything you could to give them a secure sense of love and identity.

Don’t worry. You have done your very best, and your children have reaped the benefits. Your reward in heaven will be great, for Jesus says, “Whosoever welcomes a child in my name, welcomes me.”

Just as the Blessed Mother had to relinquish her precious Son when he became a man, so the time will come when we have to let go, too. Sooner or later, our children — all children — must make their way in the world, guided by the things we have taught them.

But for now, yours is the unmistakeable privilege of forming your child. Forming him not in your own image, but in the image of the Father who loves us all. One day, sometimes one minute, at a time.

May all the blessings of this holy season fall upon you and your home, today and every day.

Don’t forget … You are an Extraordinary Mom!

Soft Hearts, Open Hands

It was the most remarkable Christmas miracle that transpired the other day in the Parent Room. Before my very eyes, a stand-off that had begun over an unfortunate misunderstanding, suddenly righted itself.  Without preamble,  a former political adversary suddenly and inexplicably proffered an olive branch. And I snapped it up before she could change her mind.

Now, I’d like to be able to say that this was an answer to prayer. But that wouldn’t be true, exactly. Typical Heidi fashion, once this individual ticked me off, I pretty much just carried on as if she didn’t exist. We both assumed the air of the injured party, and avoided one another. Four months later … she decided to let bygones be bygones.

It was a beautiful thing. Even though a small part of me kinda wished I’d thought of it first.

How often do we find ourselves hardened in opposition over an issue in the clear light of day is more complex than we allow ourselves to consider? In our rigidity, do we miss whispers of grace that are all around us, calling us to embrace a life of healing and reconciliation?

Imagine, if you will, what would have happened if Elizabeth had caught wind of her unwed teenage cousin’s pregnancy and barred her from her home, in moral outrage? “How dare she show up here, and ruin my joy! How selfish can she be!?”

Instead, the mature Elizabeth listened to those whispers of grace, and allowed her heart to fill not with judgment or contempt, but with love. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb…”

So often in life, we are given the same choice:  To respond with anger and judgment, or to extend ourselves in love. To the thoughtless teenager. The arrogant in-law. The nagging, the ignorant, and the selfish. The hurtful, the prickly, and the private. The wounded and the weak.

This holy season, as we make room in our hearts to welcome the Christ Child . . . can we find a place for his brothers and sisters as well?

Happy last week of Advent!

Weekend Ponderings: “Your name will never be … blotted out.”

As we enter the third week of Advent, the somber purple of the penitential season turns rosy. In years past, I’ve hosted a tea for a small group of girlfriends, so we can catch up on each other’s lives. Sadly, I had to let this go this year — at times even the best traditions need to take a back seat to more immediate concerns. 

This week at school, several families are struggling with serious illness. One parent died unexpectedly, another parent — a good friend — is fighting for her life.  As a community, we’re taking up collections and doing what we can for the families … but there’s something vaguely unsettling about it all. It makes you take stock, re-evaluate. Consider what things are of eternal consequence. Happy Advent!

This week I’ve also been in a couple of exchanges about a topic that resurfaces from time to time (primarily because my own POV on birth records doesn’t overlap neatly with views expressed on many other adoption sites).  For me, the subject of birth records is not one in which I have any real personal investment;  my own children know their birth parents already. However, I DO understand why others are so passionate about the subject: The names on the original birth certificate represent a missing link to the past, without which they cannot imagine a “happily ever after.”

And so, when the trail runs cold, it hurts the one member of the adoptive triad that least deserves to suffer. It forces the child to bear the painful consequences of his parents’ actions, addictions, or flaws. With adoption, the child loses his first parents, who tapped into the gift of procreation without the ability to parent a child together. And whenever this happens, the child suffers far more than the parents. Sometimes that child is raised without a parent. Sometimes he suffers abuse or neglect. Many, many times he pays with his life through abortion or child abuse. And sometimes … he is loses his original parents through adoption. No matter what form it takes, the pain is real … and it has far-reaching effects that can be measured not just in years, but in generations.

I’ve said it many times: Adoption is never God’s first choice. And yet, adoption does reflect the kind of divine love God showed to us when he brought us through adoption into his family, through the atoning death of Christ. And in that sense, families that are formed through adoption get to experience in a unique way the redemptive love of God.

Friday’s first reading offers a reassuring message for those who are struggling with their sense of self, whose identity — personal, spiritual, familial, cultural, or in any other sense — has not yet fully formed.  

“If you would hearken to my commandments,
your prosperity would be like a river,
and your vindication like the waves of the sea;
Your descendants would be like the sand,
and those born of your stock like its grains,
Their name never cut off
or blotted out from my presence.”

That name we seek … that primal connection … is not one that we can ever hope to find in this life. We were created, first and foremost, to be called children of God.

Mighty Mom Monday: Lessons in Gratitude

Thanks to “Mighty Mom” for reprising this heartfelt post here at EMN. In this season of Advent, may we always be mindful of those for whom the “holidays” are a painful reminder of what they need … first and foremost, the preservation of dignity.

OK, when I was a child we lived in what I now know was poverty. However, because my then step-father was going to SMU to seminary (he never finished) we lived for a year and a half in the richest part of Dallas. It was very hard to be “the poor kid.”

Well, during the second of those Decembers we got an envelope in the mail that said “To the parents of Sarah …..” return address was Santa Claus. Inside were $100 in gift certificates to the local grocery store. Our Christmas was not big, but we did have one. Because of the former step-father’s poor spending habits, we would have had Christmas regardless…but then wouldn’t have had money for food. Those gift certificates were perfect. A month’s worth of food (give or take) that can’t be spent on anything else. (This was long before you could get groceries and “stuff” like clothes and toys at the same store.)

I have a younger brother with a different last name. Why was it addressed to my parents? Who sent it? How did they know that just sending money wouldn’t be as helpful as the gift certificates? Did they know? How can you accept a gift when you don’t know who to tell thank you?

These questions have no answers.

But I do know this. I was 12 years old and very depressed. Ready to lose hope in everything. My Mom was in the process of kicking out the former step-father with poor spending habits. The world as I knew it was falling apart. Out of nowhere Santa sent me a gift. Not just a gift of money for food for the family, but a gift to me of hope, an example that people aren’t all hateful and snide, and the assurance that I could and would make it and be able to move on to a better life. Also, the knowledge that there’d be help along the way through the Grace of God.

Christmas is about the Birth of Christ. However, Santa Claus is about spreading hope and joy to those most in need. And every December I celebrate BOTH. Yes, I DO believe in Santa Claus and I DO believe that he still lives.

He lives in our hearts every December when we make a point of spreading hope and joy to someone else.

“And I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight
Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night.”

Mighty Mom Monday: Giving Thanks…

Sugars (21 months)Gator Boy (3-1/2)Sonshine (5)
Mighty Mom is back, feeling very thankful … As we enter the

Advent season, let’s join her in a moment of giving thanks.

(I’m especially thankful that the holiday weekend is over and

the kids are back in school!)

Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look

around once in awhile, you could miss it.”

So, what has Mightymom been doing for the last two weeks while

she wasn’t writing Mighty Mom Monday posts?

Cue the music! Sing along with me folks, the tune is

“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”…

There was retching and puking and cleaning the carpets.
washing the sheets and changing the diapers…
But the best of all …. are the blessings that I can recall!

(Ba dum dum dum)

Sick kids are very snuggly
Even those who usually aren’t
Husbands are very handy
Renting carpet cleaners fast.

Bath time is lots of fun
even several times a day
it makes you smell so yummy
and washes all the sicks away.

Then there’s one more very big… Blessing I must share
I would up and go to work… Leaving hubby there (he’s the best)!

Now all the kids are better
Eating all the food they can
Running around like banshees
Playing hard and chasing cats!

Yup, life moves pretty fast, remember to stop and count your blessings

during this busy season, folks.

Photo credit: Church Candles Online; also photos from Mighty Mom!

Wee Cook Wednesday: Rose Sunday Tea Cake

In just a few  more days — right after Thanksgiving — we will be entering the season of Advent. These four weeks before Christmas are about more than buying presents and baking cookies … They are about getting our hearts soft and warm with thanksgiving, ready to receive the Newborn King!

Every year on the third Sunday of Advent, I host a special tea party at my house for a group of truly extraordinary friends. We met when we were all still single … a dozen years later, three of us are married, and three have become adoptive parents. One hosts an exchange student every year.

Each of us makes a signature dish. Mine is a rich chocolate pound cake I make just once a year, especially for the tea (unless my husband is able to wheedle it out of me for his birthday). This year the cake is going to be a show stopper! Over the summer I was at a craft fair, and found these beautiful hand-painted cake plates. Here’s a picture of the one I got!

Rose Sunday Tea Cake

1/2 C shortening
1 C butter, softened
3 C sugar
5 eggs, separated
3 C flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C cocoa
1 tsp cinnamon
1-1/4 C milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour (or sugar) a 10 inch tube pan.  Cream shortening and butter until light and fluffy, gradually adding sugar. Beating well on medium speed, add egg yolks one at a time. Beat well after each addition.

Sift dry ingredients. Pour extracts into milk. Add flour and milk mixtures alternately, beginning and ending with flour, mixing just until blended after each addition.

In a clean glass bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold carefully, just until no white streaks remain, into the chocolate mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 75 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes, remove from pan, and let cool comploetely on a wire rack. Serve with chocolate sauce.

Devastating Fudge Sauce

2/3 C cocoa
2 C sugar
1/4 C Karo syrup
1 can evaporated milk
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 C butter

Bring cocoa, sugar, syrup, and milk to a boil. Add remaining ingredients, and boil 5 minutes longer. Serve hot.