With five children in three schools, plus activities, appointments, and work, my husband and I didn’t think our lives were crazy enough. So, we bought a dog.
Not just any dog, mind you. I may be biased, but I think our Lola Rose is the cutest little puppy ever. And it’s a good thing, too. Because I know for a fact that she’s been (more or less) absolved of a myriad puppy sins based on sheer cuteness alone.
While I don’t subscribe to the “fur baby/fur Mommy” culture that’s exploded in recent years, I understand how and why hyper-attachment to furry companions is a real temptation.
Hello. My name is Heather. And I have a problem with Lent.
Before you sharpen your pencils to compose a blistering letter to our esteemed editor recounting my heresies, I humbly implore you to please hear me out.
I know all about the regulations and practices and have heard countless suggestions for having the BEST. LENT. EVERRR. I understand that the Church, in Her wisdom, provides us with this designated time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as an opportunity and a gift. As one who enjoys opportunities and gifts, I am totally on board. Goodness – I actually like Lent, in theory, and often in practice – especially when I can continue consuming bacon and gelato and social media. I’ll even go on record as being pro-Lent. And yet, I have struggled with discerning and maintaining my personal Lenten observances.
My theory is that my difficulty with Lent was rooted in a skewed notion of what the season is actually intended to accomplish. As an example, let’s look at my approach to fasting.
Over the years, I’ve attempted to give up just about everything – sweets, screens, sanity – you name it. And I think I knew, at least in the back of my mind, that I was sacrificing something I enjoyed to become closer to God. But I don’t think that half-praying, half-crying, “Dear God, when will it be Easter so I can eat chocolate/drink coffee/indulge myself?!” several times a day for 40 days straight is what our Lord had in mind.
Here’s the one I’ve come to understand a little bit better this past month:
No sacrifice, no joy.
Now, it’s one thing to sacrifice something and experience pride because of it – and there’s nothing wrong with a healthy sense of pride over a job well done.
The joy I’m talking about, however, comes from an interior knowledge that you’re uniting the discomfort of your present circumstance with the Ultimate Suffering of Christ on the Cross.
This month, our church encouraged its parishioners to offer up extra prayers and sacrifices in honor of Respect Life month. Multiple crosses made from construction paper sat on a table in the narthex awaiting someone’s written description of their offering. Once complete, the crosses were affixed to a larger cross at the front of the church, making a beautiful collage of prayer to support the dignity of life.
I think there’s gotta be a rule about one’s sacrifice losing efficacy should one constantly grumble about it. Same with talking about one’s sacrifice with anyone who will listen. After all, “God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).”
So I tried really hard not to do those things.
It’s honestly mind boggling that, even thirty days in to the month, I am still jonesing for soda or juice or milk or iced coffee. Mmmm. Coooffffeee.
The good news is, as best I understand it, that I’ve had way more opportunities to offer up my minor inconvenience and suffering (small ‘s’) for human life. And, hopefully, rather than being too proud of sticking to my promise, I’m taking it in stride, experiencing a deep sense of joy that comes from knowing that, even in my small way, I’ve entered in to the mystery of Christ’s redemptive suffering on the cross.
(And I’d be lying if I didn’t add that I’m excited about coffee on Sunday. C’moooon November 1st! Amen.)
Until tomorrow, may God bless y’all in His loving kindness.
Confession: I haven’t always lived the shiniest life ever. As Freddie Mercury so emphatically sang, ” … and bad mistakes/I’ve made a few.” Or five hundred.
But since my reversion process began, with many starts and pauses along the way, I’ve really tried to walk as a child of the light, and part of that walk, for me, means taking care of myself by not smoking, not drinking to excess, not using illicit drugs, and staying true to my marriage vows.
Am I perfect? Excuse me while I go laugh myself completely off the page. No. I am absolutely not perfect. Just ask my husband and my children. But I keep trying. And trying. And trying. Ad nauseum. My Mom used to tell me growing up that saints keep trying while sinners give up. Well, I haven’t completely given up yet. I surely have a long way to go, but I hope it’s a shorter climb than it was when I was living as a agnostic hedonist 20 years ago.
And there are plenty of temptations, even as a mostly clean-living person. That used to surprise me: “I’m doing the right things! I love Jesus! I pray! I go to Mass every Sunday! I go to Confession! Why am I still being tempted?!” After some prayerful reflection, however, the ongoing temptations made so much sense: Of course I’m being tempted. Usually the enemy will try to get you where he’s gotten you before, and if you aren’t vigilant, BOOM! You’re taken completely off-guard by temptation that you thought you’d conquered years (or months or days) ago. The enemy of our souls doesn’t want us in the game of life at all, and especially not a life surrendered to Jesus, so he’ll use whatever he possibly can to take us out of the game.
Usually any desire I have to backslide is eventually trumped by my desire for Heaven.
Except. I still struggle. For several years now – maybe even for most of my life – the devil has been doing whatever he can to keep me out of the game using something that we all need to survive: food.
It’s not like there’s something morally wrong with food, as can be argued with other addictions. If someone handed me a bottle of vodka, I could graciously decline by saying, “No thanks, I’m cool.” I don’t NEED alcohol to survive, although after long days with lotsa kids, it surely can feel like it! 😉 But with food, man, it’s hard. We need food to survive. Granted, do I need mint M&Ms and pork rinds and chocolate cake to survive? No. But the stuff that nourishes always seems to be right next to the stuff that doesn’t on the buffet table. And so I take some. And eat it. And then I want more, so I eat more. And then I feel badly. So I eat more again. And on and on it goes.
Not only do I have a hard time with self-control and food choices, I really don’t care for exercise. Like, I hate it. That’s not a good combination. After five pregnancies in nine years, I think I probably could stand to lose about 75 pounds. The extra weight I carry contributes to feelings of depression, anxiety, fatigue, worthlessness … so many things. And yet, I continue to struggle.
For some reason, I especially struggle with keeping sugar at bay. It’s like my kryptonite or something. Seemingly, a pattern was established from early childhood: I remember the neighbor girl taking me across the street to buy sweets at the corner store. I remember using my garage sale money to buy ungodly amounts of candy. I remember my grandmother greeting me with a box of Red Vines whenever we’d visit. I remember going out for ice cream after each band concert, piano recital, play performance …
Last summer, I really and honestly rallied to make a permanent lifestyle change. After the cloud of post-partum depression from my fifth pregnancy finally lifted, I decided I was tired of being a food zombie, mindlessly eating whatever, whenever, and joined a national weight loss program. I lost weight. I stuck to my guns and lost more. I felt really, really good about my progress. Then we were hit by a cloud of stress including a surprising cross-country move and some other really tough things, and the weight started creeping – and then leaping – back on. I tried to go to meetings, but my previous resolve seemed so very far away and outside my ability.
I don’t know if my attachment to food – specifically to sugar – could be classified as an addiction, but maybe? I sometimes feel powerless to its allure. I have all the resolve in the world … until I don’t. I feel empowered … until I don’t. I exercise amazing self-control … until something like this happens on the day I have a Mother’s helper and am supposed to be working on 5,000 words for my end-of-the-month deadline:
And then I want to drink all the sugary coffee drinks in the world to make myself feel better.
Yet … I only feel better for a tiny window of space and time, and then … I don’t. I feel awful. I’ve fallen. Again. It makes me feel so dumb and helpless. I’m a smart person! I love Jesus! I have overcome so. many. things! Why can’t I overcome this??!
I spoke with my Spiritual Director about self-control the other day. It was interesting, because as I lamented how I frequently don’t feel like I have the power within me to say,”no,” he sagely suggested: “Perhaps, Heather, you need to do this for someone other than yourself.” What he was suggesting was that I offer up my cravings and self-discipline in food choices and exercise as a sacrificial prayer for other people, causes, and intentions. He was encouraging me, in essence to nail my temptation to the Cross.
Bottom line? Perhaps, dear readers, it is time for me to pick up my cross and try yet again. Will you please, please pray for me? I would very much like to know how I may pray for you as I’m on this journey. Maybe you’re struggling with something that’s really tough for you, too, and just don’t know how you’re going to overcome it. Maybe you just need to know that you’re not alone. Feel free to be specific or just say “special intention” in the comments. Thank you, thank you, thank you! <3
Oh, and by the way – yes, I did buy that gorgeously blended coffee drink (above) today. But it is sugar-free, half-caffeinated, with non-fat milk. Baby steps, y’all.
We’ve been having a difficult time getting going in the morning. It seems like, no matter what I do, somebody (and by somebody, I mean the 3-year-old and/or the 11-year-old) throws a wrench into the flow, everything gets all jacked up, and we’re late for school. Uh-gain.
Anyone who has tried to get more than two people ready and out the door by a certain time each morning knows just how crazy-making it can be. This particular cross is a legit reason, in and of itself, to homsechool, in my humble opinion.
Anyway, in an effort to retain what thread of sanity I have left and to hopefully improve my blood pressure, I’ve been working on streamlining our routine for the past couple of months. Here’s what we’ve been doing:
Clothes are selected, backpacks are packed, lunches are mostly made, and shoes and jackets are located THE NIGHT BEFORE.
Breakfast is over at 7 o’clock sharp, unless you’re age 3 and under and just woke up.
The three away-from-home school kids each rotate through dressing, teeth-brushing, hair-fixing, and last-minute lunch prep after breakfast. We have a rule that no two kids may be doing the same thing at the same time, because that’s just asking for trouble.
I help the 2-year-old and the 3-year-old get breakfast and get dressed, unless, by some miraculous occurrence, I can get one of the older kids to help.
The above plan has been working-ish, but we had a major problem this past Friday morning resulting in me falling on the garage steps and sniffling all the way to school and texting my husband that, yet again, SOMETHING HAS TO CHANGE!!!!!
After talking it over with my other half, the new routine was implemented today: all schoolkids must be dressed and have their lunches completely made before they eat breakfast. And Mommy is in charge of the babies, as usual. Sounds promising, right?
Except … today our schedule was hijacked because … wait for it … I had to go to the bathroom.
What was I thinking??!
Mere moments after I put the 11-year-old in charge, the 3-year-old was running full tilt up the stairs into my bathroom with her eldest sister in hot pursuit.
Man. Someday I will be able to toilet in peace.
Anyway, I will spare you the gory details, but the end result was me, blood boiling, fake-smiling my way through buckling car seats, and pretty much yelling at the older kids regarding listening and caring and helping. Yeah. I get the irony.
I think I might have asked them if they wanted me to suffer from a heart attack and die. Not my finest moment.
Once the kids were safely off to school (five minutes late, but who’s counting?), I texted my BFF and said, “I never knew how far from holiness I really was ’til I started having kids.”
There’s just nothing like having to wake up early after a restless night’s sleep to feed, clothe, corral, nurse, transport, educate, negotiate, soothe, bathe, train, love, discipline, and nurture five sweet, demanding, unbelievably loud and infinitely beautiful little souls to show you just how doggone self-centered you really still are. Especially when the kid who just had a rough time at the doctor’s office wants your snack. After he’s already eaten his.
But I digress.
Having children is like turning on a ginormous spotlight and putting a big, fat mirror in front of your face while hearing a voice sneer, “Neener-neener! You thought you were getting it all together, but this [insert crazy stressed Mom behavior] is how you really are!!”
Reflecting on the tumult of the morning and my response to it, I thought, “These children will be the death of me.”
I sat with that thought for a moment ” … the death of me …” It sounds simply horrible, doesn’t it? Perfectly wretched! But, upon further reflection, I considered what those words really meant and figured, THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I NEED.
Anything within me that isn’t love needs to die: the despair; the pride; the selfishness; the anger; the need to control; the fear of failure; the ego-centrism; the entitlement; the lack of gentleness, generosity, and compassion. Just like a really good clearance sale, everything must go.
The Bible tells us that God prunes those whom He loves. And to get to the essence of who I am as His child, to be more a more perfect reflection of Him, I must be pruned. A lot. Which means He must love me an AWFUL lot. Because the pruning? It often feels terribly awful and horrifically painful. Because those who bear the pruning sheers aren’t always gentle, and I’m not always (okay – hardly ever) predisposed to receiving the trimming I need.
But my Heavenly Father knows me well enough to know, as I like to joke, that it would take these five little people to get loud and crazy me to crave silence with Him in Adoration, and to really and truly lean on Him as I’d never leaned before – almost so far that I thought I’d fall over. He knows. Because He knows me. And He loves me. And He’s patiently waiting to see the good fruits that will be borne from this time of pruning as I remain in Him.
I think it’s time to go get some gardening gloves.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Remain in Me, and you will bear much fruit.” -John 15:5