the myth of balance

I’ve found myself thinking about balance a lot lately.  What it is, how to achieve it, and why I should want to achieve it.  Among women, and mothers in particular, balance is a sort of holy grail.  Just read any interview of any successful woman, basically ever, and you’ll see the following question, “How do you do it all? How do you achieve (dun dun dun…) balance?” Normally, the answer will be some kind of vague murmuring about making the time for things that are important to you and letting go of the rest (as if laundry can be let go forever), or maybe something about self-care (which usually means going to get a pedicure once a month or something). But there’s a big problem, for me, when it comes to balance. Namely, that’s it unachievable.

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small. quiet. simple.

I’ve been pretty quiet here lately, I know.  It’s not really that life’s been actually quiet, or even that my mind’s been quiet.  Rather, the opposite.

Everything has felt so big in the world lately.  Even as I’ve tried to turn off the noise of the news and social media, it’s proven impossible.  The injustice and sadness and unfairness of the world has seemed so overwhelming and incomprehensible in their scope.  And of course I have opinions on some of these things. But they’re complicated, and my opinions don’t seem to come close to touching the the immensity of our problems. Nothing I say or write will temper it, and in most cases, I think it would only add to the cacophony. Continue reading

dealing with discouragement (CAPC series)

*For the past several years, I’ve been contributing to an amazing site, Catholic Attatchment Parenting Corner. (What can I say, I’ve really got a thing for niche-writing, yeah?) Due to all kinds of life circumstances, the site won’t be live for much longer, and the editor and creator of that site will be focusing solely on her other (wonderful) endeavor, Intentional Catholic Parenting.  So I decided to run a few of my old articles as a little mini-series, so they can find a new forever home here. Some of them are recent, and some of them were from a few years ago, but I hope they all speak to the experiences of different stages and moments in motherhood. *

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I’ve been thinking a lot about discouragement lately. How powerful it can be and how powerless it should be. We are all vulnerable to discouragement in different ways, and it’s a tricky thing- it can sneak up on us when we least expect it.

To be honest, I’ve been struggling mightily with discouragement lately. I feel it sneaking up on me each time my just-cleaned kitchen becomes sticky with spilled juice and scattered with crumbs. It rears its ugly head when an idea I’m excited about for my moms’ group isn’t met with the enthusiasm I expected. I find it lurking in the background when I struggle with overcoming challenges in my marriage. And often, discouragement can be the dominant feeling when my kids are just not behaving the way I want them to. Discouragement says, “Why bother? What you’re doing isn’t working. Your efforts are not worth it. You might as well just give up.”  This quickly leads from simple discouragement to despair, which is a scary, lonely place to be.

As parents, we have to be on guard when this voice whispers in our ear. Why? Because I can tell you, with certainty, that voice is not coming from God. In fact, it almost certainly is coming from below . And there is nothing he wants more than to convince us that what we are trying to do as parents doesn’t matter, that it’s not worth it.

Let’s face it. Parents can be easy targets for this kind of temptation. Parenting can be an exhausting, thankless job. There are no promotions, no bonus checks. We are often criticized for what we do or don’t do, even by those close to us. When despite our efforts to parent with gentleness, grace, and love, our children act less than angelically (as children do), how tempting it is to say, “Why bother?”

The world would have us believe that we shouldn’t. That the effort that we put into raising our children might be better channeled into a “paying job” or something that we find more personally fulfilling. The world would have us believe that having a well-behaved child is more important than how we are working toward that behavior. When faced with this kind of thinking, of course we are susceptible to discouragement and hopelessness. I’ve often come face to face with despair when I think too much about how to navigate this world that is so often at odds with my faith. So what can we do about it?

Well, to start with, we must acknowledge this feeling and name where it comes from. When I hear the words in my head, “Why do I even bother?,” it is a signal for me to stop what I’m doing and identify the source. Once I’ve acknowledged that it’s not coming from God, I can begin to actively work against it.

Scripture is full of encouragement when we are feeling burdened by worry or failure, and I keep these passages handy for when the feeling pops up.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Where we are weak, God is strong. What greater encouragement is there!? We do not have to be strong, or even successful.  In fact, it is better if we are not at times, so that God can take over and work through us. This simple idea turns discouragement on its head because it take our failures and turns them into God’s sucesses. We need not strive for perfection, only for trust in God and his perfect plan for us.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

When the feeling of discouragement and despair feels overwhelming, there is nothing more powerful than prayer. When I was a child, my mom told me that if I ever felt really frightened, all I needed to do was say a Hail Mary, because anything evil was no match for the Blessed Mother. This stuck with me, and while I’m no longer afraid of what might lurk in the closet, I now have anxiety and fears that feel bigger than those monsters under the bed. Now, when I hear the evil one whispering discouragements in my ear, I stop what I’m doing and pray to the Blessed mother. The evil one and his disparagements flee. They are no match for a loving mother.

Which brings me to my next point: We have to talk to our kids about how to deal with discouragement. In a world that rewards success and punishes failure, we have to instill in our children that God’s ways are not the ways of the world. We have to tell them that hopelessness is not from our loving Father. Childhood has the potential to be rife with discouragement. There is so much to be learned, and thus so many opportunities to fail! But if we share with our kids that God takes their failures and makes them His successes, they will be empowered to withstand the real disappointments and yes, even despair, that they are almost certain to face in their lives.

As parents, we are called to stand in for our Heavenly Father on earth, encouraging our children when they are feeling lonely, despairing, hurt. Even if the despair of a small child seems inconsequential to us. (Raise your hand if you’ve comforted your child through the despair of not being able to put their shoes on by themselves, or the angst of not being able to spend an extra half hour at the park!) That is what God does for us when we feel hopeless. So when we say, “I can see you are upset that you can’t do this, but it’s ok. I’ll help you and you can try again next time,” we are showing our children how God treats each one of us. It might even be helpful to explain this feeling to our kids, and put a name to it. After all, naming this feeling as an adult takes away so much of it’s power over us.

This all brings me back to where I started.

Discouragement can feel like such a powerful emotion. It robs us of our peace, makes us question the plan God has for us, and tempts us to despair. But in reality, it has no power. When we call it what it is, the work of the one who wants to see us fail, it is so much easier to see it as what it is:  an illusion, a trick. Our God is infinitely more powerful than any of these tricks; we need only turn to him when we feel its presence, and teach our families to do the same.

yes. and thank you.

img_3910I’ve often felt that modern motherhood can be pretty isolating. Talk to any woman and she’ll tell you that it can be a lonely road, and a challenge to make friends in the beginning of the journey.  People often muse that we’ve lost the “village”- the female friends and relatives that live in close proximity and are constantly ready to pitch in to help.  And this is probably partially true.  But sometimes I wonder. Continue reading

7 favorite Mother Theresa quotes

I’m pretty excited about Mother Theresa’s canonization this Sunday, aren’t you?!  Over the years, I’ve collected so many of her words of wisdom, scribbled in notebooks or tacked to my fridge.  In honor of her becoming a saint, I’m sharing seven of my favorite Mother Theresa quotes! Also, I made ’em kinda purdy.  Happy Friday, all!

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*Linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum.  Go check out what everyone else is up to!*

the hardest job in the world (CAPC series)

*For the past several years, I’ve been contributing to an amazing site, Catholic Attatchment Parenting Corner. (What can I say, I’ve really got a thing for niche-writing, yeah?) Due to all kinds of life circumstances, the site won’t be live for much longer, and the editor and creator of that site will be focusing solely on her other (wonderful) endeavor, Intentional Catholic Parenting.  So I decided to run a few of my old articles as a little mini-series, so they can find a new forever home here. Some of them are recent, and some of them were from a few years ago, but I hope they all speak to the experiences of different stages and moments in motherhood. *IMG_1266

“Being a mom is the hardest job in the world.”

I hear this a lot, both from people who are mothers, and some who aren’t.  I even read an article some time ago that said that if a stay-at-home mom’s jobs could be quantified, she would earn $115,000 annually.  When I first read this, I thought to myself,  “Wow! How validating!  My job as a mom is worth way more than any other job I’ve ever had!”

And yet, so many moms feel lost in these important, demanding “jobs”.  I have often felt this way myself.  Even though I knew that these jobs were part of the foundation of love and security that I was establishing for my son, my day-to-day tasks seemed empty.  I would clean the kitchen only to turn around to face a decimated living room.  I’d fold a load of laundry only to have another three appear in the hamper.  I’d finish the dishes from breakfast only to realize that it was time for lunch.  And as if that wasn’t enough, the management didn’t even have the decency to give me a solo bathroom break! I started to think that this job didn’t have the benefits that I had expected.  And where the heck were my vacation days?!

Oh yeah, and you can’t quit.  Ever. Continue reading

slow brain, bursting heart

IMG_2225I used to hear the term “mommy brain” and cringe. It seemed to me a polite way of someone suggesting that women can’t have it all; you either have to be a strong, intellectual career woman without children, or a flighty, insipid stay-at-home mom who’s not capable of holding a conversation with anyone over the age of 5.  I told myself that as a smart, intelligent woman, I would not let motherhood get in the way of my intellectual needs or satisfaction.

What I didn’t anticipate is how my intellect would change.  Or, as I have come to realize, how very real “mommy brain” can be. While I still grimace at the phrase, I now understand the realities behind it.  So much of motherhood feels like being emptied out in service of others so that we can be filled up with something greater.  That “something greater” just doesn’t happen to be well-articulated thoughts or the ability to form an opinion on anything other than the most simplistic current events.

I’ve always love to think. To read. To discuss. In college, I studied English Literature and Sociology, two subjects that are basically all about reading things and then thinking and talking about them to death.  I loved it.  Exploring new ideas, being challenged in my assumptions, recognizing the many cultural and sociological facets in not only what we read and talk about but in the way we go about our daily lives- I found it all fascinating.  And I loved to think on these things and write them down.  Man, I could write.  I could write and write and write and I was pretty certain it was all very good and intelligent, but at the very least, I know I was putting coherent thoughts on paper.  I’m not a genius by any means, but I put a lot of value on the fact that I was smart and willing to explore new ideas, I was well-read, and I worked hard.  This was as much part of who I was as anything.

When I graduated college and got on with life, this stayed with me.  I found opportunities to write, I continued to be a voracious reader, I was proud that I could be quick on my toes and a problem-solver at work.

Then I had my son.  I had a hard recovery from a c-section I hadn’t planned, he was a poor sleeper, not a great nurser, and motherhood was hard.  I was so tired.  I started back working from home and wondered why it was so gosh darn difficult. Not only was I tired, but turns out working while also caring for a newborn is basically impossible. (Can I get a “duh?”) However, after I stopped working, I felt this huge void in my life. After the initial exhaustion of the newborn phase passed, I missed having the intellectual stimulation of work.  I still read a bunch of books, but had no one to talk to about them. I would sit down to write and the baby would wake up from his nap.  At night, when I might talk about adult things with my husband, I was so exhausted I would just pass out on the couch. The monotony of diapers and nursing and baby talk was mind-numbing, despite how much I loved my child and loved being with him. I had to really question my commitment to staying home with him many, many times. Then another baby, another newborn phase (this time accompanied by a toddler phase!), and I could feel more of my intellectual prowess slipping away. I’d sometimes find myself talking to someone about my kids’ sleep habits or how much laundry I do, and I’d stop and think, “No! It’s a grown-up!  Ask them their opinion on what’s happening in the MiddleEast! Tell them about that article you just read! ” But it all seemed so exhausting that it didn’t often happen.IMG_2205(This is basically what my brain feels like all the time.)

So here I am, pregnant with number three, with two small kids at home, and barely two brain cells to rub together.  I find myself often staring at a page in a book wondering what I just read. Or worse, trying to think of a word that’s on the tip of my tongue and not being able to get it out. Memorably, I tried to recall a line of poetry the other day and the theme song for SuperWhy came out of my mouth.  I wish I could say that I bear these indignities with grace and patience and the understanding that some day I will no longer be a sleep-deprived, hormone-addled mess, but that’s not always the case.  Some days I long to have a  conversation with someone about literature in which I can actually contribute something rational and intelligent. It makes it harder knowing that some people manage it, but I just can’t.

But there’s a silver lining in all this.  I’ve had to come to the tough realization that I can’t be everything at all times.  My brain is still my brain, despite the fact that it’s tired and geared almost entirely to my family’s needs right now.  Instead of being resentful, I have to look on this as a gift.  When it takes me 20 minutes to write a thank you note, where I used to spend the same amount of time to write an entire paper on some literary analysis, I can use that opportunity to accept with humility my limitations and my stage of life.

It also has shown me that while I value my intelligence, it’s not the full story of who I am.  I’m not just a brain, I’m a soul.  And allowing my brain a rest while I pour myself into my vocation is nothing to be ashamed of.  It doesn’t make me any less of a strong, successful woman.  Rather, it’s allowed me to make room for other aspects of myself that were always overshadowed by my analytical side.  It’s allowed me to see the beauty and graces present in my everyday life more than ever before.  It’s made me slow down and enjoy beautiful sunsets, sweet moments with my children, and the simple pleasures of doing a small task with love. It’s caused me to be more in tune with God’s will for me, allowing me to spend moments in quiet, when my brain is all emptied out and I can just sit and be. It’s made me small and humble and open to Christ in a way that I don’t think I would have been able to understand before. And in turn, my intellectual understanding of who I am in God’s eyes has been vastly expanded and deepened. I couldn’t have done that one my own, when I was so caught up in my own intelligence and maintaining my intellect.

I do know that, God willing, some day my mind will sharpen again and I’ll be able to laugh at the haze of early motherhood with fondness.  My hope is that when I emerge from this phase I will do so with a humility and gentleness and depth of spiritual peace that reflects my experiences now.  I can see this mark of motherhood on so many smart, kind, vivid women who are well past this stage of life; I can see how they’ve embraced the each season of their life with their eyes on something bigger and more important than the frustration of that word that won’t make it’s way past the tip of their tongue. So for my fellow women who are in the midst of these humbling, frustrating, maddening years with me, let’s have hope and be gentle with ourselves.  Good things are happening in our hearts, even as we think we’re losing our minds.

a lesson in mercy (CAPC series)

*For the past several years, I’ve been contributing to an amazing site, Catholic Attatchment Parenting Corner. (What can I say, I’ve really got a thing for niche-writing, yeah?) Due to all kinds of life circumstances, the site won’t be live for much longer, and the editor and creator of that site will be focusing solely on her other (wonderful) endeavor, Intentional Catholic Parenting.  So I decided to run a few of my old articles as a little mini-series, so they can find a new forever home here. Some of them are recent, and some of them were from a few years ago, but I hope they all speak to the experiences of different stages and moments in motherhood. *

IMG_3595(My clearly perfect children who obviously never cause a commotion in Church. <insert belly laughter here>)

The Mom and the Sacristan: A Lesson in Mercy

I’m in the narthex of the church again, trying to pay attention to Mass while Grace stumbles around stacking and unstacking the brochures on the display table. Pretty much the same place I am every Sunday, at one point or another. I’m cool with it.

But this Sunday, about 20 minutes into Mass (yeah, we didn’t make it that long in the pew this week. Sigh.), I glanced out the window to see a woman crossing the street, holding the hands of two small children, pulling them along, looking determined and in a rush. She made her way across the street and into the church. But she camped out in the back with me and a few of the other parents of young kids. I gave her a quick, sympathetic smile. I tried to imagine the circumstances that culminated in her pulling her two boys into church 20 minutes late, the hustling and frustration and finding shoes and making sure everyone had breakfast. I noticed her boys, the younger probably around 2 or 3, and the older boy, who was 4 or 5, who had Downs’ Syndrome. She gently took off their coats, found a spot against the wall, and then started to attempt to calm the boys down. Continue reading

on joy

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Joy doesn’t look like it used to.  It doesn’t feel like I thought it would at this point in my life.  Sometimes, it’s hard to recognize.  Like, master-of-disguise, hiding under a bushel basket hard to recognize.

It used to be that when I thought of joy I thought BIG.  Big feelings, big emotions, big life events.  I associated joy with happiness, as most do.

But over the years, especially these past few, I’ve come to recognize joy as being about more than just happiness.  Happiness is fleeting.  It’s an emotion that’s easily changed as quickly as my circumstances.  It’s a risky business, there one minute and gone the next.

Joy lasts. You can be joyful when you’re tired.  When your back is aching.  When you’ve just gotten terrible news.  When you’re emotionally wrecked.  When you’re lonely.  When you’re angry.  Through all these things, joy can be your constant companion.  Because joy isn’t happiness. Joy is peace and abandonment and trust.  It feels restful, even when life is hectic.

The word Joy gets thrown around a lot during the holiday season.  It’s particularly common in advertisements for the latest product we’re being sold, or snappy one-liners in Christmas cards.  Christmas joy is real, but we’re not going to find it at Target. (Unlike anything else you could ever possibly need, am I right?!)

My wish for all of us is true joy- joy that waits patiently, trusting in a will greater than ours, loving us wherever we are in our lives at this very moment.  Sometimes that comes with warm feelings, a family gathered around the Christmas tree, and hot cocoa in our favorite mug.  Sometimes it doesn’t; sometimes it won’t. Whatever it looks like for you this year, I hope you find it.

best laid plans and hope for next year

DSC_0190So. Yesterday was a rough day.  For many reasons, mostly the type of reasons that anyone who cares for small children all day has a myriad of (Colds! Tantrums! Why are there legos in the toilet!).  But yesterday, more than anything, I felt overwhelmed.

Because yesterday I realized that it was the second day of Advent and there was a disconcerting lack of Advent-y things going on.  I was definitely, at some point, planning on having the kids make one of these adorable advent wreaths. I’m pretty sure a bible study or reflection series was on my to-do list.  And I can say that I most certainly (almost certainly?) was going to wrap up 25 Christmas-themed books for my kids to open each day until Christmas.  I bought little gifts to put in the kids’ shoes for St. Nicholas Day, but wait, did those get delivered?  And I really wanted to get this tradition or this one started for our family this year but it is looking less and less likely.DSC_0175

However, we did put up the Christmas tree last weekend.  And I’ve basically bought gifts for everyone on my list already (don’t ask me how this happened; I honestly don’t know.) And I’ve made some Christmas candy and we’ve finally found some non-obnoxious Christmas music to listen to (Nora Jones Christmas station on Pandora!).

But really, I had planned to purposefully focus on Advent this year, and wait to fully celebrate Christmas until the Christmas season actually began.  The goal was to instill in my children that this season is about peaceful, joyful waiting- that it’s a liturgical season onto itself.  To get in all those lessons that Advent and Christmas aren’t really about the presents or the tree or the food.

And here I am, and the only seasonal goals I’ve completed are, in no particular order: The Presents. The Tree. The Food.

Oy.

But today is a new day, and I’m starting to think maybe I’ve gotten it a little wrong. If I want to make Advent about joyful anticipation (and I do!), I have to let myself and my family prepare in our way.  I keep telling Joey that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday party.  So why shouldn’t I spend this time preparing the way I would for that party?  In our family, we prepare for a party by making lots of food, singing while we do it, and maybe buying a few heartfelt gifts for the person we’re celebrating. These little preparations aren’t the point of Christmas, but they do fill our hearts with excitement, anticipation, and joy.  And so maybe it’s ok that I didn’t order Christmas cards or find the perfect church outfit for the kids or have a craft to do each day.  Those just aren’t the things that fill us with joy.DSC_0151

My Advent will be imperfect because I’m imperfect.  Joy doesn’t require perfection.  I am not failing at Advent just because my kids are already talking about getting presents on Christmas.  That’s a concrete way for them to understand the excitement of the coming season.  They might not have made an advent wreath, but I bought some nice greens at trader joes, scraped the Halloween blood-candle wax off of some votives, plopped it on a $5 ikea tray, and voila, we have an advent wreath to light at dinner every night.  There isn’t  stack of wrapped books to open each day before Christmas, but I printed off this cute calendar yesterday and the kids kind of loved it. We didn’t get to Christmas cards this year, but we’ve spent a lot of time with people we love, and really reveled in being together. And now that I’m not stressing out about all the stuff I’m not doing (maybe next year! there’s always hope for next year!), I’m feeling much more peaceful and joyful. DSC_0179