Tuesday, November 27, 2012

At 29

It’s 3:30 in the morning, and I’m sitting next to our Christmas tree eating Aldi’s brand Cheerios and waiting impatiently for my coffee to brew.  

I think of my birthday.  Tomorrow I’ll be 29.  

I take stock of my situation:  I am married to my best friend and we have three small children with one due Christmas Eve.  I get to stay at home and write.  We bought a house this summer, and my husband works for the Church.  God is so good.

I try to remember where I thought I’d be by 29 when I was 19.  I close my eyes and picture me ten years ago, wrinkleless, rested, and with better-maintained eyebrows.  By 19, I’d abandoned my dream of becoming the Queen of England and converting the UK (getting myself to London to meet Prince William just wasn’t happening) or a famous actress who’d evangelize Hollywood (my leading roles in high school simply and astonishingly didn’t immediately result in my being discovered and transported to California) and by 19, I felt drawn to the religious life, partly to escape the reality of lost hopes of fame, as outrageous as they were, and very much to extract myself from the moral quicksand of life at the nation’s number two party school.  Having a penchant for enormous hoop earrings and adventure, I set my sights on becoming a Sister of Life in New York, imagining myself in a real-life version of Sister Act on a track that would inevitably result in my undeniable holiness, evangelizing the rough-but-lovable girls of the Bronx in my beautiful habit and hoop earrings.  

I sit in my living room, feeling my much smaller hoops in my ears and watching my pregnancy-swollen fingers type.  The baby in utero wakes up with the coffee and his three older siblings are still asleep in their rooms, their fans humming from behind their doors.  I look around at my cozy little home and at the same clothes I’ve been wearing for two days in a row.  I think of the day to come: of getting the oldest off to kindergarten, waiting to have two windows replaced, trying to persuade the four-year-old to wear pants, the inevitable struggle of wanting to eat everything in the house,  having the pleasure of holding a usually rambunctious but currently gray-faced sick toddler wrapped up in a blanket and kissing her miniature nose as much as I’d like because she’s too tired to swat my face away, cleaning up the oil slick in the kitchen that’s been there since this weekend, remembering to smile and act like a lady and pray and pay attention to our heavenly Father’s tokens of love throughout the day and finish up my Christmas shopping.  And taking a shower sometime.

I consider the life God has given me.  It’s beautiful and perfect and somehow just what I’d always wanted.  And yet so much harder than I could have anticipated.  And messier and more uncertain.  And hidden.  I am a day away from 29 and not a queen or an actress or a religious sister.  I am Mom and that’s all that matters to my kids.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On Giving Thanks to Our Father: Tips from His Tiny Ones

I think of my children, as I often do, either because they are sitting in my lap and putting toys down my shirt or fighting or crying or being totally silent or using a toy saw to saw between my toes during the rosary.  Today, though, during this Thanksgiving week, I’m thinking of them and how they receive gifts to see if I can learn anything about how I ought to change my prayers of thanksgiving to God.

Let’s start with the two-year-old:  a while ago, when presented with a gift with her name on it, she’d become so excited she’d visibly tremble.  It was very sweet to see how genuinely surprised she was to be confronted with an item that was just for her.  Her eyes would open wide and her mouth, too, as she looked inside to see what it was.  And no matter what is was, she loved it.  Because it was hers.  And she guarded it fiercely, shrieking, “Mine!” whenever someone so much as came near it.  She didn’t have much in this world, but what she did have she guarded with her life.

Next, my gentle four-year-old son:  last month for his birthday, he carefully unwrapped each present and closely examined the gift, all the while keeping his sisters and cousins within view to make sure that they were all a safe distance away.  Very pleased with the offering, he sat guard by his presents, eager to whisk them away to his room after the party.  There he stayed, sometimes for hours, preferring to enjoy his gifts in the solace and safety of his room rather than have to share with his sisters.  His toys came with lots of little pieces and he’s been remarkably good at keeping track of them all.

Finally, the five-year-old:  with great vigor, she opens gifts for herself and wants to use them immediately, quickly mastering them and inviting others to do the same.  Her mind fills with various uses for each gift and suddenly her month is filled with projects and deadlines.  Her gifts yield great fruit that is generously spread around.

And now me: how do I receive gifts?  How do I thank God for them—and do I?  Bestowed, presented, gifted with the precious, do I guard it with my life, like my darling fierce toddler?  Am I willing to choose solitude over the pleasure of the company of others, like my son, in order to enjoy what I’ve been given and make sure I’m not losing track of anything?  And what have I done with all that I’ve received?  Have I used those gifts to bear fruit for Him to spread around to others, like my energetic, industrious five-year-old?

I think of what Thanksgiving Day will hold for us, as we’re spending it at my parents’ house this year:  the wine-and-butter soaked turkey baking all day, the heat from the kitchen warming the rest of the house, seeing my brothers and their families, liquored sweet potatoes, crescent rolls, pumpkin pie.  The stories, laughs, the Macy’s Day parade and the joyful din of the cousins tearing around.  In the midst of it, I hope to remember to thank God for all that He’s done for me, most especially for the gift of His infinite love: to guard it with my life, to prefer it to all else, and to use it to bear fruit for others.  I hope to remember to thank Him like a little child.  Because I am—His.  As often as I wish, I can climb into His lap and stick toys down His shirt and saw between His toes.  And I give thanks for that, for Him, our loving and tender Father.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Luminescent: Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, a Model for Moms

Blessed Chiara Luce Badano has been on my mind this past week since having read her biography online.  Struck by a rare form of bone cancer at the age of 17, she simply said, “It’s for you, Jesus.  If you want it, I want it, too.”  Thus began the final chapter in the teen’s life of holiness, one that had led her straight to the foot of the cross where she united her mighty physical suffering with His, always eagerly, always with a smile, always confident in His love for her.

Of course, she couldn’t have accepted this final trial with such trust and patience if the years leading up to such pain had been spent differently.  From a website belonging to Focolare, an ecclesiastical movement stressing unity through love of God that had been founded in 1943 in northern Italy by a young Chiara Lubich and her friends and of which Blessed Chiara Badano would become an active member, I learned that from a tender age, Blessed Chiara was guided by her parents and community to love and trust in Our Lord, offering all things up to Him who is Love.  

According to her mother, Chiara, from a young age, was known to go out of her way for others: giving away some of her new toys when she was only four, making a special effort to pay a visit to a sick classmate, happily agreeing to have another classmate who had recently lost her mother over for Christmas, insisting that they put out the best tablecloth because, according to Chiara, it would be Jesus who would be with them that day.  And it was at the tender age of 9 when Chiara first attended Focolare, whose spirituality would forever shape her and her family.  

Blessed Chiara’s teen years were like any other happy teen’s, spent busy with school, activities, and friends.  But in the midst of these ordinary joys and hardships, Blessed Chiara developed an extraordinary faith and love for Christ, revealed in her quote in the summer of 1988 following the news that she had failed some courses at school.  She wrote, “This is a very important moment for me: it is an encounter with Jesus Forsaken. It hasn’t been easy to embrace this suffering, but this morning Chiara Lubich explained to the children that they have to be the spouse of Jesus Forsaken.”  This interior light was a turning point in Chiara’s spirituality, which would lead to a depth of her love for Christ that she had previously not experienced.  And it came at the right time.

Later that year, she would feel a sharp pain in her shoulder while playing tennis, which she would soon learn was no mere sports injury but instead osteogenic sarcoma, a rare, serious, and most painful cancer of the bones.  Hardly missing a beat, Chiara accepted the illness as a gift from her spouse, as she called Jesus, and spent the last year of her life embracing her heavy cross with such joy and light that many in her community were drawn to her hospital room, uplifted by her deep faith and joy.  Her witness made a profound impact even on one of the doctors assigned to her, Dr. Antonio Delogu, who said, “Through her smile, and through her eyes full of light, she showed us that death doesn’t exist; only life exists.”

Her heroism at the hospital remained firm.  As chemotherapy began and her beloved hair began to fall out, she’d offer each lock to Jesus as a gift of love.  She was known to walk the halls with a depressed young woman with a drug addiction despite the pain it caused her.  When her own pain began to increase and doctors recommended increasing her dose of morphine, she refused, saying, “It reduces my lucidity, and there’s only one thing I can do now: to offer my suffering to Jesus because I want to share as much as possible in his suffering on the cross.”  Cardinal Saldarini once visited her in the hospital and asked her, “The light in your eyes is splendid. Where does it come from?”  Chiara replied, “I try to love Jesus as much as I can.”

After intense physical suffering Chiara died October 7 of 1989 with her parents at her side, her last words being, “Goodbye. Be happy because I’m happy.”  Her funeral was carried out according to her wishes, looking like a wedding with Chiara dressed in a wedding gown, prepared for her Spouse.
During her final sickness, Chiara was known to say things akin to St. Therese’s sentiment, “You have to know how to die through pinpricks in order to die by the sword.”  I consider how a martyr’s life must necessarily be made up with innumerable small, hidden, seemingly insignificant sacrifices and sufferings before his glory can be revealed in a final, glorious death.   I smile.  That’s good news for moms.  With help from the Holy Spirit and from Blessed Chiara, there probably isn’t too much that we’d have to change about our days before we, too, like Chiara, could illumine the world with Christ’s love hidden in us.

Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, pray for us!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Yesterday Morning

It’s 4 am.  The babies are sound asleep, and the coffee maker has gurgled to a beautiful silence.  The house is utterly still, and I feel mercifully alert.

I reflect for a moment on the day—it’s the morning of the election.  By tonight, everything will be different…or not.  The air in my home seems filled with anticipation.  I consider the two outcomes and wonder what God has in store for our country.  I imagine the news coverage, wondering whose jubilant faces we’ll be seeing tomorrow morning, on stage amidst confetti and balloons.  I wonder what the Facebook feed will read tomorrow, whose status updates will be triumphant and whose will be angry and outraged or deeply distressed.  A picture of the Sacred Heart sits on a ledge in the silence of our living room, and religious persecution is on my mind.  I wonder if it will increase, if the pressures will soon affect my family directly.  Or, if after this brief period of seeing what could’ve happen to the Church, we are mercifully led down another path, everyone strengthened and more driven to protect that which they almost had lost.

I hear the lights hum and the clock tick, and I consider the peace of our country.  Prayers for peace and for unity in what feels like the stretching, sometime tearing, fabric of the United States are heavy on my heart.  With two outlooks on life that at times appear as far from the other as east from west, I wonder what the outcome holds for us all as we quickly lose common ground with our neighbors.  Long after the candidates’ yard signs come down, will there remain the invisible distinction, Democrat and Republican, between neighbors, deeply skeptical or frightened by the other’s worldview?  Or will we slowly reach out to each other again, reconnecting in the everyday activities that speak to our shared humanity?  Will we see our neighbors again as just that or will they remain political foes?  It seems fitting to ask Our Lady, Queen of Peace, for help.

In the meantime, I feel that it’s soon time for coffee and morning prayers and preparing for what is shaping up to be a most unpleasant day: an early morning appointment for the kindergartner to have her cavity filled, a late morning spent in line at the polling place with a teething toddler and a tired preschooler and then an early afternoon appointment with the tax assessor.  I frown, and I struggle to think the words of Blessed Chiara Luce Badano who had said, upon finding out she had been diagnosed with bone cancer, “It’s for you, Jesus; if you want it, I want it, too,” and then I hear two little voices grumbling in their room upstairs, somehow awake a full hour before when they ought to be.  Their tiredness quickly enters into my calculation of the day’s difficulty and blows it out of the water. 

The election, global peace, long lines, yard signs, tomorrow’s headlines, tired little faces, and the dentist swirl in my head.  Will today—will tomorrow—be awful?  Or will everything be just fine, happy even?  I think of Blessed Chiara’s beautiful radiant face and understand for her, it didn’t matter.  Everything was fine, joyful, because it was all for Jesus.  No matter what came.