Tuesday, November 30, 2010

While We Wait

So if Advent is the season of waiting and waiting is active, what do we do while we wait? Well, we could do nothing at all. This seems like a great idea if you're sitting down to address Christmas cards. We could run around like crazy trying to prepare for the Big Day. This pretty much fits the job description for 'mom'. OK, it doesn't have much in the 'self awareness' category but things sure get done. Well, Ladies, Rome wasn't built in a day and we shouldn't pack Christmas into one day, either. Think about it this way: celebrating Christmas in one day (trying to make the 'picture perfect Christmas') is like neglecting your child every day because you're planning a birthday bash. It leaves you exhausted and others dissatisfied. If we are celebrating Jesus's birthday then He should feel comfortable at His own birthday party. As we have learned from Martha and Mary, Jesus wants to be able to converse with the hostess.

Yes, I hear you saying "nice idea, Theology Mom, but we do have obligations!". I hear you! Here are some ideas to get away from the gift-wrapping and turkey-stuffing mayhem.

Advent prayers: I love the Advent wreath. Some of my fondest memories as a child were coming together as a family and saying special Advent prayers before dinner. This tradition combines my favorite elements: prayer, ancient traditions, and fire. For more information follow this link. 
(Special thanks to my Dear Friend who shared this with me.)

Go to church before Christmas day: This should be obvious. Catholics are big on community. It's why we get together once a week to celebrate the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the heavenly banquet. If you want to know what heaven will be like, it will have wine, candles (there's that fire thing again), music, and moms running after their screaming toddlers. We should feel right at home.

Pray by yourself and as a family: Church is where we go to pray as a community and celebrate. Home is where we go for quiet reflection. Read the Bible. Pray the rosary. Learn about the saints. We are blessed to have two thousand years of prayer tradition to draw from. Failing that pray that your children will sleep through the night/stop fighting/prayer of the moment. Those are valid too. 

Spend time, not money: Take your children to Zoo Lights, children's Christmas concerts, or to the local coffee shop for hot chocolate. 

Bake with your children: Do all of the special desserts have to make their appearances on Christmas day? (That was our tradition growing up.) Why go crazy getting every body's favorite desserts out at once only to see them go to waste? Teach your child(ren) to make his/her favorite dessert. Spread it out over Advent.

Do charity work with your children: Bring your children (if they are old enough) to a soup kitchen or have them help trim the Angel tree at church.

Have your children pick out toys for needy children: (Thanks to another Special Friend for the last two ideas!)

Ask your family what they want for Christmas dinner: Many of my mom friends are discovering that the family would prefer something simpler than a turkey meal - especially if you're still finishing the leftovers from Thanksgiving. Spend the time playing with your kids.

These are only a few ideas. To use the tired phrase: Jesus is the reason for the season. To refer back to an earlier post, we are waiting for an event that we cannot control and that will lead to our transformation. Spend some time in prayer and ask Jesus how He wants to celebrate His birthday with you. You will be pleasantly surprised at the results.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Well, Ladies, this is the time we have been waiting for...the time of Waiting. And what is it we are waiting for? The coming of Jesus Christ. Secular society views this wait as a bit of a joke. Even I would joke at the end of my pregnancies that the second coming would come before the birth of my children. Waiting is equated with passiveness; the spiritual equivalent of sitting on the couch watching soaps and eating bon-bons (with the benefit of not having to go through labor at the end). Taken a step further this waiting can go on until, well, the second coming. Not a bad way to wait, is it? And wait. And what were we waiting for again?

If you were to have asked me before I became a mother about the season of Advent I would have said something about joyfully waiting for the birth of a child. That would have been when I was an observer who could hold an adorable baby and pass it back when it cried. Secular society promotes this idea because it's easy. Buy some cute outfits and our job is done. 

But we who have carried life inside of us know better, don't we? There is not a part of us while pregnant that is not busy one way or another. If we were too exhausted to leave the couch it was because our bodies were busy preparing new life. (I referred to my babies as tyrannical parasites while I was pregnant.) My point is that as passive as we may have appeared we were really hard at work preparing for birth. Our waiting was active and all-consuming. 

If we have been wise we will have spent our time in preparation for birth. Not just the get-the nursery-ready-and-meals-in-the-freezer kind of preparation (as important as that is), but the oh-my-God-I-have-no-idea-what-is-about-to-hit-me kind of preparation. Secular society has no real answer for the second one which is a shame because I don't know of one mom-to-be who wasn't at least mildly apprehensive about the upcoming birth.

Luckily we have the season of Advent to help guide us. Like pregnancy, the season of Advent is a time set apart to prepare for the birth of a child. Just as the birth of a child transforms the mother, so does the season of Advent transform our souls. Because, all joking aside, Jesus will come again. One day humanity's long wait will be over.  How will we have spent our time of Waiting?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Jesus the Kid

Just for the record I am not the first person to wonder what Jesus was like as a kid. If you read The Infancy Gospel of Thomas Greek Text A, we discover that Jesus was quite capable of smiting his playmates when he got cranky. (And what toddler does NOT get cranky?) Let's take a quick peek. (This is my not so reverent take on an English translation. It is not meant for academic use. Nor is it meant to be offensive to any Gnostics.)

Here we go:
Villagers: Hey, Joseph! Can you do something about your son? He smote another child.
Joseph to Jesus age 6: Did you do that?
Jesus: Yes, father.
Joseph: Why?
Jesus: He was mean. He pushed me.
Joseph: So you had to curse him? Jesus, if you keep killing your little friends you won't have anybody left to play with.
Villagers: He's also blinded half the village.
Jesus: Only those who talk bad about us behind our backs. They deserve it.
Joseph: I'm very upset with you right now. The whole village is against us.
Jesus: You don't understand me. You're not my real dad. 

If you would like to read the whole gospel follow this link:


So why don't Catholics believe in the gospel of Thomas? From early in Church history (the earliest versions were written about the end of the second century) it was believed that these stories were made up to fulfill a desire to know more about Jesus as a child. Being old doesn't make it correct though. (Just think of the Legends of King Arthur. Sir Lancelot was made up by author Chretien de Troyes by the command of his patroness, Marie de France, who wanted to hear about the perfect French lover. Just try convincing somebody that Sir Lancelot wasn't part of the original story. Trust me, they just make disparaging remarks about your university.) So my point is that people like a really good story and stories about a kid with supernatural powers are, by definition, cool. But not even their coolness was good enough for the church fathers. They wanted cultural, historical, and theological consistency. Many critics of this narrative state that the author had no knowledge of the ancient Hebrew culture except what could be found in the Gospel of Luke. Most important (to me) is that it is inconsistent with the loving teachings of Jesus. Sure, Jesus might go running off to the Temple leaving His poor parents to have early heart attacks but that isn't quite the same as striking down children who annoyed Him. Which is a good thing because a god who smites children out of annoyance isn't a god worth having.

This post was meant to be a bit of fun. I'll reflect on the importance of Jesus coming to earth as  a helpless baby later.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Just one of those days

Have you ever had one of those days that blends into the one before because the kids have been tag-teaming sleep patterns and tantrums? Of course they don't sleep at the same time for very long but they have no problems in the tandem tantrum event. They could win an award. 

I swear there is a reason why I drag my kids through a drive-thru every morning to get a cup of coffee. Actually there are several: 1. The kids are STRAPPED IN. I could stay in the car all day. 2. For the coffee, of course. 3. I don't have to make it or clean up after it. 4. I feels like someone is taking care of me. I have friends who tell me "oh, my husband is out of town for the night so my mother and sister are coming over to help". Envy. Then there are other friends who live far from family whose husbands are in the military or have to work long stretches out of town. OK, I'm better off than that. And single moms? I salute you. 

This week while my husband has been out of town has been an experience of single mommy-hood for me. Some parts were nice like eating what I wanted and having simple dinners etc. The hardest part is the isolation. In all honesty I have had a great deal of help from friends (Thanks!). I'm not ungrateful. But in general it's still up to me to go from child to child through the night and then to get up (early) the next morning to do the same thing again. I'm handling things, but not as gracefully as I would like. And then there are times like now when I want somebody to take care of me for a few minutes. I am also somebody's child and I want my mommy to give me a hug and make dinner.

My mother died a few years back. She never met her grandbabies. Just thinking about it makes me want to cry. She would have been incredibly annoying in her admiration of my children. But there you go. Nobody to ask about pregnancy/ labor. Nobody to tell me what I was like when I was that age because nobody remembers. Nobody to go for that coffee run while the babies are sleeping. Silence. Void.

I'll be honest with you. The pain is still there. I try to count my blessings but that makes me feel worse because I'm so much more fortunate than so many others. Then I feel that I have no right even to feel guilty about needing help. Isolation. But then I think that God really doesn't need my strength (if I'm really strong at all). He needs me to come to Him with my vulnerabilities so that He may guide me through. Sometimes I pray that Jesus tell my mom just how much I miss her and to tell her about her grandchildren. Sometimes I imagine that I can visit Mary and cry on her shoulder. Then she says to me "It's hard. I know. I know. I've been there. You're not alone.."  Pathetic? Definately. But it does keep me from having a meltdown in front of my kids (for the most part). Because, ladies, we have a tough job. If we don't take a step back and acknowledge it then we're doing ourselves a disservice. God values our hard work even if society doesn't.  After all, Mary had to wipe Jesus's bottom, too and I bet he was grateful for that.

Now one of those days is about to become one of those nights. My son is awake and will probably go down about the time my daughter wakes up. Am I whining? Certainly. But that's OK. It's tough. I know. I know. I've been there. And tomorrow I'll have my babies to hug and kiss and to tell that they're gifts from God. And it will be just one of those days. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thoughts on the Future

I started the day feeling a bit like Supermom. (This is a new feeling for me.) We are relocating and my husband is out of town working with the movers. This leaves me here alone with two young children in a small place with air mattresses and folding chairs. The move has been hard on the eldest and daddy being gone has made it worse. Then my eldest gets sick. Nothing serious but boy has he been whiny and clingy. So this morning when he was finally feeling better I thought 'Aha! I've come so far! Go me!'. 

This feeling lasted until I had to go to the grocery store after the baby's nap time. I was loading the kids into the car and then... my baby pukes all over. Then she sneezes and gets snot all over my shirt. But what can I do? We have to eat. I made a very quick trip and then made a fast, frantic dinner at which point my daughter decided that she was DONE and my son decided not to eat the meal he had specifically asked for. In a relatively short time (which seemed like forever) both my children were sleeping after going to bed in tears. I went downstairs and looked at my trashed kitchen (which I had so optimistically scrubbed a few hours earlier) and thought: "Oh my God! This is it! This is my Life!" And so it is.

This is where the "what would Mary do?" starts to unravel. Because really, moments like that never would have taken her by surprise. She would have known her future from early childhood. But we ladies in the west have a harder time of it because we were trained to be something other than mothers. Home economics was not available in my high school. Many of our mothers worked. Face it, ladies, we are totally unprepared for motherhood. We're handed a baby and a shiny catalogue for adorable nursery items and off we go. Many of us choose to or have to work. We are told we can breast feed or formula feed. We can put our babies in strollers or we can carry them in slings. There are so many options! And the future years of children melting down at dinner time? We all know that it happens but at least I have this idea that if I had planned well enough that it all could have been avoided.  We no longer live in a society that revolves around the family or that understands the dynamics of young children. If you can't buy something to fix it or avoid it then you are left on your own. 

In Mary's day society was strict about these things. There was comfort knowing what was expected of you because life didn't change very much from generation to generation. There was a system and it worked. Unless you became an orphan or a widow and left to starve. This was just the reality of the ancient world. (The academic in me must clarify the above statement by saying the system worked unless you became an unprotected member of society such as an orphan or widow without family to take you in. It doesn't sound as zippy but it is more accurate.)

But Jesus didn't think like that. He would probably never say: "Gee, Theology Mom, if only you chose to go to the grocery store yesterday instead of succumbing to the slothful habit of getting take out last night you wouldn't have had two children melting down at the same time. What would the neighbors think?" This is because Jesus is less interested in social norms than he is about love. Not just love as it is commonly used in English. Love as in 'Caritas', which means the love that inspires you to action. 

So you see, Ladies, we don't have to be supermoms (the feeling WAS nice while it lasted). And this is a good thing because if we start thinking that way we'll be more worried about what other people think of us than doing what is best for our families. (That would be vanity.) We are also lucky because even though it might make our lives very confusing at times we have options that our mothers never would have dreamed possible. Best of all we believe in Jesus who calls us into a more loving relationship with Him instead of following a bunch of rules because that is the way it has always been done. 

So next time you tend to your child's cries instead of, say, running from the room screaming, (though there are times for that as well), think about caritas. Your love for your child has prompted you to go beyond your desires and what you think is possible to do what is best. In a single moment you have fully lived Christ's commandment to love another as He loves you. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Wow! Just a few days up and I already have followers. Now I can start my own religion and collect money to pay off my student loans. It'll be kinda Catholic but we'll have priestesses. We could use names like Grace, Sofia, Glossolalia... But then again I'm Jesuit trained and they have really high standards even for heresy. (You'd be amazed. If you're going to commit heresy in one of your papers it had better not be accidental and it had better be good. You'll still fail but at least the remarks won't be as scathing. For example: "Excellent reasoning. Unfortunately you have just negated the existence of the Holy Spirit." Accidental heresy: "Your logic is unsound, the premise weak and your examples unhelpful." ) I don't think I have the energy.

Today was one of those days when all I had to look forward to was bedtime. Yes, a day full of baby vomit, diaper leaks, tantrums, and several changes of clothing (theirs and mine). A good friend of mine recently visited and told me what a wonderful mom I am. I replied that it's easy when you have a friend who is happy to help with the kids and bring food and coffee. It's nice to know that I don't come off as some sort of psycho mom but I'm not sure I deserve all of her compliments. She never had any children (a bit sad because she would have made a great mom) so she had a lot of questions for me. Now, I'm not trying to build myself up. I'm not trying to sell anything but some of my philosophy as a mom is a direct result of my theological studies. If you've read this far I'll share with you what I've learned without having through academic humiliation. And it's free! The bad news is that you've probably heard it all before. Theology that isn't practical is a waste of paper. If you use these techniques rest assured that you're living a mystical experience. (My definition, of course.)

Friend's question: "What do you do when you feel like you're going to lose it?"

Answer: 1. I take a deep breath ask myself if 'the worst' is happening. Am I watching something horrible happen to my babies? Is something horrible happening to me in front of them or keeping me from caring for them? No? OK, I can deal with the situation.

2. Thank God that "the worst" isn't happening and start counting my blessings. There are lots of these.

3. Ask God to help me discern the best thing to do in this particular situation. 

4. Ask God to compensate for my inadequacies.

5. Thank God for the moment because I'll NEVER get it back. One day I'll miss cuddling my newborn even if it happens to be the 7th time I've gotten up that night.

This really works for me. I think it's because it releases me from thinking that I'll never get any sleep or that my baby will never stop crying. Eventually we do get sleep and babies do stop crying. Pray through your pain. Not only is it a reminder that 'the worst' isn't happening, it also keeps us from creating it.

In this illustration conflict has been healed by asking God for His intercession. That, Ladies, is a mystical experience. You didn't know that you were that good, did you?

Monday, November 8, 2010

At Long Last!

Yes, at long last my children are in bed. And quiet. At the same time. Who is to say that miracles don't happen these days? 

I know I said that I would begin my blog with the advent season and it isn't quite advent yet. (I think it begins Sunday, November 28 this year.) But if I don't get my rear in gear I'll be totally unprepared. I think at one time (before kids) we had an advent wreath. There are probably lots of resources for teaching children the true meaning of Christmas but it would be ridiculous to start on say, December 15 because I was concentrating on opening gifts on December 25. Strange that I can hand in a theology paper on some obscure topic that (hopefully) nobody will ever read on time but sharing our faith with my children seems to be unattainable. I think the difference is that I'm not being graded on my advent wreath. Or perhaps I believe deep down that I can cram for that 'final exam'. (If Jesus asks me how to write a footnote I'm home free! Woo hoo!)

Jokes aside, the preparation of the birth of Jesus IS important. Teaching rituals to our children is important as well. Brush your teeth, put on jammies, say prayers, go to bed. These are our daily rituals. When we become disoriented during our day we fall back on routine. It's why routines are there. When our children look back on their childhood they will remember when the family came together to pray. Prayer is not just a recitation of words but communication with God. Jesus has told us that whenever two or more are gathered in His name He is present. Prayer transcends space and time, continually giving our children a parent's blessing long after we are gone. It has no shelf life. It never runs out of batteries. It has no expiration date. It is the perfect gift. 

Now that I have written about an ideal world I have to go and clean up my real world. Tonight I will pray that God may keep my husband and kids safe, that my baby will sleep through the night, and tomorrow I will be blessed with lots of coffee.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

In The Beginning...

In the Beginning there was a mom with a theology degree and two young children who started wondering what it means to have Mary as an example. It's not as if she prayed the rosary. Yet she managed to son of God. How did she do it? And if she could do it in poverty and under Roman tyranny, why do I have such a hard time getting through my day? And do other moms wonder the same thing or are we all just trying to make it to our next cup of coffee?

I think the short answer is that raising kids has never been easy. I also think that modern views about spirituality, motherhood, and women's role in society are unhelpful. No wonder we are so confused.

My working definition of spirituality is our relationship with God. Prayer is not just a recitation of words. Prayer is the conversation. I believe that a mother's prayers are very powerful be it for the safety of our child(red) or for some sleep. If we use this definition then we find that we have plenty of time to pray. My grandmother would pray for her loved ones while doing dishes, folding clothes, and especially dusting. She found that this gave her work meaning. She said that prayer did not always change her circumstances but the change in her attitude did. I believe that if we lead a prayer centered life we will be in a better position to discern God's call in our lives. There is no one right way to be a mother and we will all make mistakes. 

In this blog I will explore how the wisdom of Roman Catholic tradition can inspire and guide me to a deeper relationship with God. It is with this understanding that I will apply the peace and wisdom attained from prayer to my daily life. I invite other moms to take this journey with me and explore how God works uniquely in your lives as well.  I will begin with the Advent season. Let's go!