8 Ways Mother Teresa Changed My Life (Day 2)

In 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! Yesterday I wrote about the first “lesson” — The Power of Loving the “Other.”  I will write one lesson each day. Enjoy!


Lesson #2: Always Take Mary With You

Trains ready to depart Sealdah Station, Calcutta, 1944_2Today marks the ninth anniversary of the “home going” of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, who died on September 5, 1997. Although she became “Mother Teresa” when she took her vows with the Loreto teaching order in 1937, Mother Teresa didn’t become “mother” in the full sense of the word until nearly a decade later, on September 10, 1946 (the image here was taken two years earlier). She was recovering from an illness following the Calcutta Riots when she took the train to a retreat center in the mountains when she received her “call within a call,” in which the Lord revealed to her that she was to work among the “poorest of the poor,” to satiate the thirst of Jesus for souls. When I read about this, I wondered at God’s timing — why he would ask her to turn her life upside down like that, when she had already suffered so much. But then, the riots revealed the deep need of the people in an unforgettable way. It is no wonder that Mother Teresa would have felt compelled to act, no matter what.

In 2009, her private letters and journals were published in a remarkable book called Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. Many were shocked to discover that, despite the great joy and tenacity she embodied all her life, in reality her “beloved” often felt very far away. Perhaps for this reason, Mother Teresa always stayed very close to the mother of the Lord, invoking her frequently in prayers like this one:

Immaculate Heart of Mary, our Queen and Mother, be more and more our way to Jesus, the light of Jesus, and the life of Jesus in each of us…

She turned to Mary whenever there was a need, at times invoking the Memorare ten times (the first nine as a novena, with a tenth as a prayer of thanksgiving). One of my favorite stories about Mother Teresa and Mary is found in Mother Teresa: Reaching Out in Love. It seems that Mother Teresa had been presented with a lifetime railway pass for herself and a companion, in gratitude for her work on behalf of the poor. To celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, Mother Teresa brought a large statue of the Madonna onboard with her, so that people would see it and pray. The train conductor protested; the free ticket did not include a baggage allowance, only a seat for a companion. “She IS my companion,” protested Mother Teresa. “I talk to her, and she listens, and sometimes she talks to me. So I will not pay” (p.40).

This devotion to Mary is something I came to understand only gradually, and well after I became Catholic. Like Mother Teresa, my call to motherhood transpired when I was well into my thirties — and, like Mother Teresa’s call, it came seemingly out of the blue. Every time I went into inner-city Detroit to go to class at Sacred Heart Seminary, I would pass by Catholic Charities, and eventually my husband and I decided to go and register as foster parents. It was a complete change of life for us, and more than once I turned to the Blessed Mother and begged her to help me, often standing in the shower (the only time I was alone) that I would get through the day. “You were the perfect mother, and had one perfect son . . . I have neither of these things! Pray for me, Mary.”

And Mary always drew me closer to the source of grace, to her son Jesus.

It doesn’t really matter how we become mothers — through childbirth or adoption or foster care, while in our teens or in middle age, accidentally or after long bouts of infertility. Each of us has a place in the lap of Mary, where we can go when times get hard.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!


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.

Photo credit: “Life in Kolkata – 1944 Part 16

“Trains ready to depart Sealdah Station” from the Hensley Collection


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.

40-Day Challenge: Longing (Day 18)

Begin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

Do you ever feel lonely in your marriage? I think most of us feel a bit isolated and disconnected from time to time. There have been times when I’ve wondered whether I should have stuck with my original plan (the one I was forming just before I met Craig) and joined a cloister – at least then there wouldn’t be so many socks to pick up.

What I only recently recognized was that even women religious feel this way about their Spouse – in the book Come Be My Light characterizes the life of Blessed Mother Teresa with two predominant themes: service and loneliness. This woman, who had poured out her entire life in service of the poor, even she felt a dark night of the soul that stretched on not just for days, but for years.

For married love, a memorable example may be found in the story of Abelard and Heloise. Heloise was a precocious teenager when she fell under the spell of the thirty-something troubadour-philosopher. When she became pregnant, Abelard proposed a secret marriage (secret to prevent ruining his academic career). Heloise’s uncle retaliated by announcing the union . . . then having Abelard castrated.  Heloise was sent away to have her baby, then consigned to the cloister by her beloved husband.

She went, but not happily.  The passion poured out of her (in Latin, no less) in her correspondence with her husband: “For I often come with parched throat longing to be refreshed by the nectar of your delightful mouth and to drink thirstily the riches scattered in your heart. What need is there for more words? With God as my witness I declare that there is no one in this world breathing life-giving air whom I desire to love more than you . . . “ (Heloise, Early Letters, 23, as quoted in James Burge’s Heloise & Abelard: A New Biography, 49).

To say that Abelard did not respond as she’d hoped is something of an understatement. The message was clear:  I don’t want to talk about it – that chapter is closed. In time, “the silence of Heloise” has become synonymous with strong emotions unrequited and unexpressed.

Today’s challenge:  That Heloise sure had a way with words. What would your husband do if you “borrowed” her sentiments and slipped a note in his lunch bag? (Or, if you have a pretty good memory and dramatic flair, and can pull it off without giggling, recite them one night after the kids are in bed!)

Today’s prayer: “You, O eternal Trinity, are a deep sea into which, the more I enter, the more I find, and the more I find, the more I seek. O abyss, O eternal Godhead, O sea profound, what more could you give me than yourself?”  (Catherine of Siena). 

Photo credit:  Abelard and Heloise (image by Edmund Blair Leighton)

Where has Heidi been?

Hello!  Did you think I’d gone away?  It’s been almost a month since the last time I posted, which as you probably know is not the best thing for a blogger to do. Tends to diminish traffic considerably.

However (and I suspect many moms can relate to this), there are times when life kind of takes over and squeezes out all the “extras.” This, compounded by the fact that I’ve been dealing with some things in my own life that — until I had processed them a bit — I didn’t feel ready to write about.  Even now, I’m not sure it’s “soup yet,” but as someone pointed out to me recently, I tend to be someone who processes things best in writing. So here goes.

Some weeks ago, I met up with a young woman and her five adorable children. The “how” is less important than the fact that she and her family have gotten me thinking a great deal about how we as a society treat the poor and marginalized in our society. On the surface, “Sherry” is someone who made some bad choices early in life, which are still weighing her down.  She has no job, few resources, no car . . . and her friends and family have precious little to spare.

She loves her kids. She dresses the warmly, and feeds them even when she herself is not eating. She has shown great ingenuity in finding public resources to pay for food and shelter. But without a car, even the simplest task such as registering the children for school becomes an exercise in frustration. Her two cousins moved closer to her, to help her out . . . but neither of them has been able to find work, and one of them is still trying to get his GED.

Now for the part I’ve been trying to figure out:  What does charity (in the best sense of the word) look like in this situation? My own resources are not infinite, my time is also limited … and, as cute as they are, these children and their family are not my responsibility. So, what is the Christian response?

Surely not, “Well, she made this mess … let her clean it up herself!” (I’ve heard that one already.)

Possibly, “Let her ask you for what she needs.” (Which allows her to control her situation — but could create an unhealthy dependency.)

Possibly, “Just be a friend, and listen.” (This is easier than it sounds, when you find five children living in a trailer with empty cupboards that reeks of feral cat urine.)

This is a situation long on drama and short on answers, I know. Even as I write this, I keep coming back to the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the earth.” Jesus always expressed a preference for the poor, the fatherless and the outcast. He especially loved the children.

At times like this, I wish I could sit down with Blessed Mother Teresa (our priest gave a homily about her life today, tying it in with the parable of the mustard seed and the faithful servant). When she looked around and saw those hundreds of children who could not be adequately cared for, how did she prioritize?  In a word . . . she kept her eyes on Jesus.  Each day was an opportunity to dispense moments of grace. She could not solve the problem entirely. Some could argue that she was unable even to put an appreciable dent in the need.

But oh, how she loved. “Do small things with great love,” she’d say.

Lord, let me be like that.

Miracle Monday: “Strong Women and Holy Mothers”

mother teresa windowToday I’d like to share with you a lovely post I found over at “Happy Catholic,” who writes about Drana Bojaxhiu, the mother of Blessed Mother Teresa (patroness of foster families).

Favorite quote: 

Mother Teresa said her mother used to tell her: “When you do good, do it quietly, as if you were tossing a pebble into the sea.” That is a beautiful image of the hidden life. Of the life lived totally in the presence of God. It reminds me of what St. John the Baptist said: “[Christ] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Now … go and read the rest!

John Paul II and National Adoption Month!

“Adopting children, regarding and treating them as one’s own children, means recognizing that the relationship between parents and children is not measured only by genetic standards. Procreative love is first and foremost a gift of self. There is a form of ‘procreation’ which occurs through acceptance, concern and devotion. The resulting relationship is so intimate and enduring that it is in no way inferior to one based on a biological connection. When this is also juridically protected, as it is in adoption, in a family united by the stable bond of marriage, it assures the child that peaceful atmosphere and that paternal and maternal love which he needs for his full human development.”

John Paul II, Letter to Adoptive Families (Sept 5, 2000)

November is National Adoption Month — and today,  November 15 — is National Adoption Day!! Yipee!!!

Are you looking for ways to celebrate adoption? Click here to go to an article from “Adoptive Families” magazine that offers 30 ways families can celebrate!

For more information about this important resource for adoptive parents, or to subscribe, click here!

Remembering Blessed Mother Teresa

Today (September 5) is the feast day of a woman I feel sure is the rightful patronness of adopted and foster children: Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

“Do not let the children die. Send them to me,” she was often quoted as saying. In each of those poor, suffering faces she saw “Jesus in distressing disguise.”

Some time ago, I wrote a series of posts on her life, based on the book Come Be My Light. You can read the first one, “Come Be My Light: Thoughts on Spiritual Motherhood,” here.

Otherwise, today I’ll keep it brief:

Blessed Mother Teresa, who now intercedes for us before the throne of grace, please continue to pray that more hearts will be softened and shaped by the plight of the poor and helpless of our world. May we find room for them all — and, by doing so, diminish our own spiritual poverty.

Blessed Mother Teresa, Mother of the Poor, pray for us.