Thursday, July 31, 2014

Running Through It All

"For from Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things."    Romans 11:36

     I participated in MOPS for the first time this past year.  MOPS stands for Mothers of Pre-Schoolers.  It is a Christian based group that meets every other week during the school year.  While our children were being cared for by loving volunteers, we moms ate delicious food, listened to presenters, and discussed mother-related themes in an environment filled with support and inspiration.
     For our last session of the year we did an arts and crafts project:  making a bird's nest necklace out of beads and wire.  When the volunteers brought our kids into the gathering space at the end of the session, my four-year-old daughter Jocelyn immediately began examining my necklace.  A big smile broke across her face when I  told her that she was the turquoise bead in the nest.  She then began rapid firing questions at me:  Which bead was Zack?  Which bead was Mason?  She caught me off guard a bit when she asked me where I was.  I fumbled for a minute, and then said that I was the nest surrounding the three beads.  When she asked me where Daddy was, again I scrambled, and said that he was the chain.
     As I drove home, I kept thinking about my necklace and how rich and deep the symbolism goes.  The different colored beads represent how uniquely different my three kids are, yet all are just as fragile as the paper-thin eggs they represent.  Each child has his/her own beauty, but like the beads, none of them is perfect.  They each have their individual challenges to overcome, lessons to be learned, before they become their true selves.  
     I am so grateful that my daughter forced me to define my husband's role.  As a stay-at-home mom, I sometimes get so bogged down in homework, taxi rides, and laundry that I don't recognize my husband's efforts to keep us all afloat financially, physically, and emotionally.  Without a chain, my nest would have nothing to hang from.  My life would be less stable, less love filled.
     I am also grateful that I now have a visual reminder of my role:  the responsibility I have to always maintain a safe and nurturing place for my kids to land, to be themselves, learn, and grow.  When something inside my kids hasn't hatched yet, I need to be patient, warm and gentle.  If I'm not, if I'm jarring and demanding, I will inadvertently crack their shells, their fragile egos, in the most delicate places.  And as unpleasant as the idea is that a mama bird eats food, breaks it down, and then regurgitates it into the mouths of her baby birds, the metaphor is there for my role as my kids' mom:  to ingest everything they need to know about life and their faith, break it down into small bits that they can comprehend, and feed it to them slowly, consistently, with repetition, ad infinitum.      
     As I thought more about my daughter's questions, I heard a voice in my heart ask, "Where is God?"  As a mom who is trying so hard to weave God into every aspect of my motherhood, it is obvious to me that God is the wire.  He is what my nest is created from.  He is the one who gifted me with these beautiful children.  It is His love that runs through each one of them, connecting them to each other, and to me.  He is what anchors us to my husband, and to all that is good in our lives.  The necklace is a wonderful reminder that these little birds are only mine for a short while.  I need to rely on His guidance to equip them for success before they fly away.  When they do take flight, it will be through His grace that they soar! 
     Like all little kids, Jocelyn LOVES to repeat her questions.  Every time I wear that necklace now she asks,  "Where am I?  Where is Zack?," etc. ,etc.  When she is finished with her questions, I ask her, "Where is God?"  I help her answer, "He is surrounding everything, and running through it all."  


For more information about MOPS, and to find a group in your area, visit  For information about the group in Windham, NH, contact TJ O'Loughlin at

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Going To God With A Wheelbarrow

On hearing this Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'"  
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Matthew 9:12-13

     This is how I want to live.  I don't want to put my time and energy into sacrificing.  The second I go on a diet, or give up something delicious for Lent, all of my focus and energy gets stuck on wanting that: craving Cheetos, obsessing about chocolate.  I admire people who can cheerfully do this, offering the sacrifice up to God.  But I am not one of them.  I get irritable and downright miserable, dragging everyone down around me.  I see no grace or blessings in that wretched sink hole.  
     Instead, if I focus on pouring out mercy on people, I am inspired to help, give of myself, and feel God's presence as I'm doing it.  Suddenly my needy kids become a source of purpose, a place where I could pour out mercy twenty-four hours a day and still be able to give more.  Now the cranky woman at the grocery store becomes a personal challenge:  if I pour out enough kindness on her, maybe she'll smile, or, at the very least, soften.  Instead of trying to avoid the difficult mom that I always run into, I make a bee line for her, hoping to show her maybe one silver lining in the slew of problems she's always complaining about.
     However, what is critical for me to remember in this "campaign of mercy" is that I can only show as much mercy as I'm willing to accept from God.  For it all to be genuine, it has to be God's mercy that I am showing, giving to others, not my own.  If it's just my mercy, that well runs dry fast, and I'm left feeling drained, unappreciated, and resentful.  
     God is always ready and willing to pour out mercy on me, to soak me in it, to drown me in it, if I allow Him to.  But I have to ask, and I have to ask big.  If I go to Him with a tea cup-sized request, He will fill that tea cup to the brim, so much so that drops spill out.  But a tea cup takes minutes to empty.  No.  I need to go to God with a huge-sized request, a request so large that I'll need a vessel with wheels to contain it so I can still move about when He fills it to the top.  It may not be as pretty as my tea cup with dainty roses on it, but if I truly want to be a source of mercy to others, I'm going to God with a wheelbarrow!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Telling The Whole Story

Telling The Whole Story

His disciples asked Him what this parable meant.   Luke 8:9

     For a while now I've been telling my kids stories from my childhood.  They love hearing about the silly things I did, mistakes I made, and what things were like back then.  But the real reason I tell my kids stories about my childhood is I want to teach them to be grateful for the wonderful life we have, and to put things in perspective for them.  Telling them that I lost TV privileges for talking disrespectfully to my parents reinforces why I take away their screen time when they are disrespectful to me or my husband.  Hearing that my mother threatened me with "going to bed without dinner" when I complained about food makes them realize that I'm not some terrible ogre when I threaten to do the same.  It's amazing how hearing how their sweet and kind "Narnie" disciplined me makes them more readily accept my rules, and the repercussions when they break them.
     Lately I've been ramping up the boys' responsibilities around the house.  At eight and ten years of age, they're more than capable of doing more, and should be contributing to the household.  I've been going on and on about the chores I was required to do as a kid, listing the things I was doing at their ages:  vacuuming, dusting, folding laundry, scrubbing toilets, you name it.  I was one of seven kids.  We all had to pitch in.  It's just the way it was, and we did it without complaint (for the most part).
     Today was the day I decided it was time to clean and vacuum our mini-van (something I haven't really done in eight years).  Today was also the day I decided that all three kids should help me do it (something they've never done in their four, eight and ten years).  As we were heading down the basement stairs with disinfectant wipes, vacuum hose and accessories, and their pouty attitudes, I was again going on and on about how at their age I was cleaning my mother's car, inside and out, all by myself.  With tears in his eyes, Zack said, "Why do you always tell us how mean Narnie was.  She seems so nice."  It was then that I realized that although I use stories to teach my kids things, I haven't been telling them the whole story.
     Jesus often spoke in parables.  He knew that people connected most to the things that were familiar to them.  It also was a way to teach them things at their level, without talking down to them.  But there were times when even His stories confused people, like in the scripture passage above.  As a farmer scattered seeds, some fell on a path, some on rocks, some amongst thorns, and some on good soil, each with different results.  Although Jesus thought He was talking in simple terms, the disciples still didn't understand.  They had to ask what each scenario meant.  So Jesus went on to explain the significance of the path, rocks, thorns and good soil.  
     Likewise, I have to go the extra step with my stories so that the meaning is clear, with no room for misunderstanding or confusion.  Otherwise, my kids are going to miss the point every time.
     As Zack pointed out through his tears in defense of his grandmother, I didn't clarify why my mother had us all pitch in to help around the house.  I never explained that it wasn't to torture us, or to only help her chip away at the pile of dishes and mountain of laundry that she was always getting buried under.  It was to teach us that family doesn't just play together, family also works together.  I didn't explain that I was grateful to my mother for teaching me that life has responsibilities and tasks that need to get done.  No one gets a free ride.  We are all supposed to contribute, to help out, to lighten each other's load.  If we don't learn this as children, we grow up to be lazy and spoiled adults who just take: not very attractive at all, and certainly not what I want for my kids.
     There are so many lessons I have learned from my mother, and from Jesus' example, that I want to pass on to my children.  But I have now learned that if I'm going to use story as a means to teach my kids, I can't just tell them half the story.  I need to go the extra step and teach them by telling the whole story.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Broken Gas Gauges

"... for it is time to seek the Lord."   Hosea 10:12
     Past summers seemed to have a rhythm to them: I'd be up and out fairly early for a short and fun Adventure with my kids, then back home with a long expanse of time still left to the day for Quiet Time.  During Quiet Time, my older boys would chill out in their room listening to books on CD, my daughter would nap, and I would enjoy a cup of afternoon coffee on the recliner in the living room.  While I sat there, enjoying my air conditioning, I'd look out the window at the lush green trees and the deep blue sky filled with puffy white clouds.  I'd replay that day's Adventure in my head and make notations in my Gratitude Journal - recording my thanks for the fun my kids had, and the joy I got out of watching them.  I'd also use that Quiet Time to pray, to reconnect with God, to point the gratitude His way, and be refilled and refueled in the process.  In those moments, I knew that I was blessed to lead the life of a mom with young kids, and I was bursting with awareness and appreciation.
     But I haven't found my summer groove yet.  In fact, all I'm finding are ruts, pot holes, and quick sand.  We were cruising along just fine, having fun Adventures to great places, and wonderful pool playdates with dear friends.  But I didn't have the pacing yet.  I wasn't drawing limits.  I was either allowing the Adventures to be of epic proportions, overstaying our welcome, or using the small bits of down time to drag my kids around on the dozens of errands that I didn't wrap up before school ended.  I was still doing it all and I was still doing okay.  I was looking forward to when all the errands were done, and the limits were drawn, so I could re-institute Quiet Time.  But, all in all, I was doing okay.  Until today...
     Today is "crash and burn" day.  It isn't just a "tired" day.  It is a day where my brain is so scrambled my ears are ringing; my body is so exhausted I feel like I either have the flu, or I'm back in the first trimester of pregnancy fatigue; and I am so soul-weary I am at rock bottom.  I am shocked and amazed that I didn't see this coming!!! 
     I thought I was routinely checking my internal gas gauge.  I thought my tank still had enough to keep going.  But clearly the needle was broken!  It should have been pointing to "Empty" days ago.  Again, I just can't believe I didn't see this coming.  I've been doing this "summer mom" thing long enough.  Like the fact that I know I can't drive to Canada on just one tank of gas, no matter what the gas gauge says, I know I can't do day-in, day-out Adventures with my kids without having daily Quiet Time to refuel.  It just isn't feasible for me!
     To make matters worse, I have some more than usual stress to add to the pile of awful and overwhelmed feelings I'm dealing with.  In two days I have company coming for a four day visit.  I haven't gone grocery shopping in a week and a half.  I haven't cleaned my house in over three weeks.  I spent the morning trying to conquer it all.  Instead, I just ended up spinning my wheels and screaming at my kids:  taking it out on them, as if it's their fault.  I'm the mom.  I make the Adventure plans.  I pace out the day.  They're just along for the ride.  It's not their fault I crashed us all into a wall at high speed!
     So here I am, hiding in my bedroom, while the TV entertains my kids downstairs.  No matter what items are waiting to be done, be them unpleasant chores or fun Adventures, they're all going to have to wait.  I need to purge all these terrible feelings for my kids' sake and mine, as well as to make room for God to refill me.  If I want to have the energy and centeredness to make this a fun and enjoyable summer, I need to be disciplined about Quiet Time every single day.  So excuse me as I step away for a bit, ..."for it is time to seek the Lord."  

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Act of Simply Receiving

"And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He himself gives all men life and breath and everything else."  Acts 17:25

     I was fortunate to meet an amazing mom a few years ago as the result of a terrible tragedy.  She lost her husband when her kids were only three and five.  As a fellow mother of young kids, I ached for her.  The emotional turmoil I felt could only be quelled with action.  Although all I could think of to do was to make a meal for her, I wanted to give it wholeheartedly, with absolutely no expectation of reciprocation.  
     When I knocked on her door to deliver the meal, I was blown away by her ability to receive from a total stranger.  She stood on her side of the door, steeped in her grief, graciously thanked me, and let me fill her hands.  I knew in that moment that she had given me so much more than I had given her:  she completed my giving by simply receiving.
     Before receiving his First Holy Communion a few weeks ago, my son Mason had a rehearsal.  As all the eight-year-olds lined up to practice receiving Communion for the first time, a few of them were reaching out to grab the unblessed wafer.  It happened so often that the Religious Education Director stopped the rehearsal to catch everyone's attention.  She explained to the kids that Jesus gives us His body through the sacrament of Holy Communion.  They aren't supposed to reach out and grab it; they are supposed to cup their hands, remain still, and simply receive the host.
     Although I've carried the living example of that incredible mom with me ever since, it was the simply stated words of the Religious Ed. Director that brought the lesson to completion for me.  I'm not one to cup my hands, remain still and simply receive.  If someone does something kind for me, I feel compelled to give back.  There is a forever active scorekeeper in my head that won't let me rest until I've returned the favor: cooking a meal for them, babysitting for them, or buying a thank you gift for them.  I don't ever want to be perceived as a someone who takes advantage.
     Nor do I ever want to take advantage of God's blessings.  I always feel compelled to earn His grace, doing for others so that I will be worthy of what Jesus did for me.      
     Long ago, the world was in a tragic state.  God felt compelled to take action.  He gave us His only begotton Son, Jesus.  Jesus, in turn, gave up His life for us, wholeheartedly, with absolutely no expectation of reciprocation.  God doesn't keep score; Jesus doesn't ask to be repayed.  Serving Him, or others, doesn't make me any more worthy of His love.  Of course I try to follow His commandments and do good works to perpetuate His love, but I am worthy enough singularly because of what He did for me.  However, if I don't accept His invitation to the altar to receive Communion, I've broken the cycle, derailed the sacrifice, because I am not there to complete the process of His giving.
     As I approach the altar from now on, I hope to keep the vision of my friend, and the words of the Religious Ed Director, fresh in my mind.  I am going to cup my hands, remain still, and receive.  As my hands are being filled, I will complete Jesus' giving with an "Amen" of deep gratitude, letting His graces wash over me, and fill me, through the act of simply receiving.