Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Feast of the Holy Family

This past Sunday, December 26, was the Feast of the Holy Family. This is a relatively new feast for the Catholic Church to act as a model for modern families. Growing up I often wondered about poor Saint Joseph and if he had annoying relatives. Did anybody tell him NOT to marry Mary? Did they shun Jesus because of his questionable parentage? What did they think about him taking Mary to Egypt? Imagine: "Joseph! What are you doing taking your family to Egypt?? Do you have a job? How much will you make? What do you mean God told you to go? What makes you so special??" Ah, yes. Families.

This Christmas has been rather eventful. On one hand it was glorious. One of the elders of the family is in a medical care facility until he is strong enough to go home. He wasn't allowed to go home for Christmas so Christmas was brought to him - complete with a turkey dinner, gifts, and five young children running and crawling around. My five year old nephew led us in prayer. This old man sat in his wheelchair with a grin on his face watching the happy anarchy take place. For a while it was all about him. Then it was about an uncle who happens to have a Christmas birthday. But really it's all about the little ones, isn't it? Everybody was happy. Everybody except one.

There is always One who is always upset if others are the center of attention. This year the One was staying in our apartment for the holidays. It should have been fun. We had made plans to spoil her and take her around to see national parks. My son was thrilled to see her. But it wasn't enough. Somehow things that weren't about her (children's meal times and nap times) became about her. Somehow her resentfulness warped the happy atmosphere. Naps and mealtimes were late. Snacks were skipped.  I was told to be bitter towards my husband. My son was told that we were too strict with him. She snuck candy to him and got him worked up and smiled when he misbehaved and told us what bad parents we are. Within two days of her arrival my son was having tantrums and wetting his pants. He was getting up in the middle of the night to ask us if we still love him. The day after the wonderful Christmas Eve she snapped. She picked a fight on Christmas Day and stormed out of the house making as much drama and confusion as possible.

As she stood sobbing waiting for her taxi (nothing else would do but to storm out with her bags and an unchanged plane ticket and no plan) she tried to convince me that she was the victim. I calmly and boldly negated every point telling her that she had a choice and if she left this way that she would regret it. I wanted her to know that whatever fantasy she had dreamed up I was not buying it. I wanted her to know that she could not mess with my family so easily. Oh, she still left and I was not about to let her stay. I could tell from her eyes that she got exactly what she wanted on Christmas day and she hated herself for it. Merry Christmas.

The longer I am a wife and mother the more I realize that I am the glue of the family. This means that I must be strong and form myself to other people. Sometimes I get a bit squished. But really I am a visionary who, like Joseph, dreams what her family can become. I decide the pieces I attach to the family mosaic. I direct the pieces and form the picture. The picture of this family will not include bitterness, self-victimization, self-delusion, covetousness, or pride. Not if I can help it. 

But it doesn't end there. It is not enough to say that this woman is not allowed back into my house. Because in the end she is family. Mary and Joseph probably had to deal with this as well. What would they have done? They would have complete faith in God that would lead them into action. 
I took my family before the Holy Eucharist and prayed for healing and guidance. 

I would love to say that all of my problems miraculously went away but of course they didn't. My son is still nervous. My husband is confused and angry. I am furious that this woman would use my children as pawns in her delusional power trips. But then I remember something my beloved grandmother once told me about forgiveness: remember that Jesus already died for the person who has wronged you. THAT is how great His love is. Have I forgiven this woman? Obviously not or I wouldn't be ranting about it on my blog. Forgiveness is not an act of will. Forgiveness is the conscious decision to allow God to take control, transform and heal the situation. 

I wish I had more wisdom in this situation. I wish I could kiss it and make it better. For now I will have to content myself with not bad-mouthing this person in front of my son (or at al)l. After all, she has her own problems. One day I will be able to forgive because that is what God expects from His children. Until then I will try to keep in mind that Jesus has already died for her sins. And I will keep her the hell away from my children.

Have a Blessed Christmas Season.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Family Christmas

Christmas has become a really hard time for me. My mother was a substance abuser and this was always her holiday. My earliest Christmases I think were fun. Then I sensed the 'have fun or else!' undertone. Then it became 'you don't appreciate me enough'. One year when I was still fairly young (around 9 I think) she followed me around the house telling me that I was to blame for her addiction and if I didn't like her behavior then I should support her more and make her feel more lovable. (She would usually choose my grandmother for that little speech.) Then she would lavish us with expensive, unnecessary gifts and an extravagant meal that she had slaved over and told us that that proved that she loved us. There are so many things wrong with this pattern that it makes my head spin.

Then one year in my early twenties something changed. It was a Christmas miracle. My mother went into rehab. She wasn't happy about it. She blamed us for all of her problems. But she did it. She made it. Well, she shifted her addiction from more destructive substances to cigarettes. For a few years after that Christmas became unbearable. In her mind we had banished her to a hospital right before her favorite holiday so we could have fun without her. (We really saved her life.) 

A few more years passed and Christmas became fun again. Oh, it was still stressful. Some of my family could never manage to get close to my mother. I am happy to say that my mother and I worked through most of our problems. It was really hard. It took years. We both swallowed a lot of pride along the way. It was messy. But in the end we managed to salvage something. 

She died of a heart attack a few years ago. Near the end of her life she admitted to me that she wished she had done things differently. She knew that she had messed everything up and wondered when God would start healing her. I think that she had abused her body so long that God didn't have much to work with. You could tell that she couldn't even think properly. Imagine living in a diseased body like that. I miss her. I even miss some of the craziness. 

Now I have children of my own and I have to wonder what the hell was going through my mother's mind all that time. Weren't we, her children, worth a trip to the doctor? Didn't she think we would miss her? And her grandbabies? She will never meet my children. I can't go on. I'm crying as I write this.

I guess my point is that now my son is old enough to understand that Christmas is a special time of year. I cannot help but think of my own mother and how she loved Christmas. Because as wrong as she got things (and she got a lot wrong) she got some things right. I know that she would be scandalized by our small tree and few gifts. But just last night I was holding my baby girl in my arms and dancing around the room with my son while listening to Christmas music in the glow of the Christmas tree lights. I think THAT is what my mother wanted for us but she didn't know how to get there.

In the end I believe that my mother is in a place where she can finally love us the way she wanted. I believe that she is in a resurrected body that can take a deep breath and no longer craves a cigarette. I believe that she knows about her grandbabies and looks after us. I think that part of her purgatory is not being able to hold us in the flesh and her salvation is being able to love us anyway. I believe that this is possible because Jesus was born on Christmas Day.

I miss you mom. Your legacy is greater than your failures. I hope you are in a place where you can finally see that. I love you. Merry Christmas.

I'm sorry if I've been too personal here. I'll try to do better next time. If I don't get to this blog before Christmas then I wish you all a very Merry and Blessed Christmas.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

This December 8th was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. It is on this day that we celebrate Mary being born without the taint of original sin. What is original sin? It is humanity's refusal to be loved by God and to do His will.  To curtail God's power is humanity's greatest vanity.

Mary was without original sin, but so were Adam and Eve. Mary could have said no. She did not. She chose God's love. (To refer to Mary as the New Eve is theologically correct. If you have the time and want your head to spin click on the following link:  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07674d.htm )

Being mothers we are forced to choose between what is right and what is easy. And society is not easy on us. We are continually bombarded by conflicting messages: Do we work or do we stay at home? Do we use formula? Pump? Breast feed? In public? Do we vaccinate our children? And what would happen if we told our parents that an angel of the LORD appeared before us? Our society can accept mystical events (near death experiences, etc.). What our society has more difficulty with is God working in everyday life. Miracles don't happen or if they do they are huge events that science can explain away. It's all just a point of view after all. But what will happen if you live your life according to God's will? You'll be laughed at for your faith.  (This is what happened to me when I refused to sleep around and do drugs in college.) It wasn't religion that kept me from these things. It was common sense and the belief that God wanted something better for me.

Mary's chose to follow God's call. I'm sure that Mary's parents wanted a very different life for their daughter.  We can be certain that Mary wanted a different life for Jesus. Following God's call isn't easy. God can speak in large flashes of light but most likely He awaits us in the quiet of a hectic day. Mary existed in this calm. We must seek it. We must continually seek it for ourselves so we can pass it on to our children. The greatest gifts we can give our children are faith in God's love and the tools to live life according to God's call for them. How do we know? God tells us we will know the tree by its fruit. We know from our own mistakes. We know from our conscience and our instincts. (God gave us moms instincts for a reason. Trust them!) If all else fails we can turn to the Church. She's pretty old so she's picked up some wisdom along the way. Turn to other moms for prayers and support. 

For what it's worth here's my personal prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for your many blessings. Thank you especially for those special souls you have entrusted to my care. Help me remember that they are Your children before they are mine. Help me remember that I am also your beloved child. Please keep my babies safe from harm and make up for my inadequacies. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.

Turn to God in your need. We're his children, too. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010


I am trying very, very hard to write a post worthy of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The thing is that it is a very beautiful topic which needs a great deal of care but all I am getting these days are interruptions. So I can either write something simple about the Feast of the Immaculate Conception or just write something simple for now and hope that the later post is worth the wait. 

In other news my daughter has learned to crawl. This means that she will be pulling up soon and then climbing. I am doomed. 

I think Jesus must have a special place in His Immaculate Heart for us moms because He probably wasn't an easy kid to raise. I mean, run off to the Temple leaving his parents frantically searching for Him? And then that snarky answer about "being in His Father's house"? Authors might make money writing books claiming that Jesus was in India during his childhood learning from the gurus and that's why there is a gap in the Bible from Jesus' childhood until his adulthood. But we moms know exactly where He was. He was grounded.

So if the post has a point it is that if Jesus wants me to write a more coherent post He should come down and change a few diapers or take over a few tantrums or nighttime feedings or something. I rely on Your mercy. Go on, Inspire me!

Monday, December 6, 2010

St. Nicholas Day

Well, Ladies, today has been the Feast of Saint Nicholas. Growing up I knew nothing about this day as our family was focused on Christmas. I think my mother would have loved it had she known about it though. My husband is of Eastern European descent so now we celebrate it in our family. Basically, we give each other small gifts and chocolates on this day. In so doing we are passing on a tradition that is over a thousand years old! (The historian in me loves this.) I have no problem with Santa Claus. I love the idea of reworking an old idea. But Santa Claus should not be confused Saint Nicholas. Here's something I found on the internet about St. Nicholas:

Santa Claus and St. Nicholas

Everybody loves Santa Claus. He embodies holiday cheer, happiness, fun, and gifts—warm happy aspects of the Christmas season. How do Santa Claus and St. Nicholas differ?
Santa Claus belongs to childhood;
St. Nicholas models for all of life.
Santa Claus, as we know him, developed to boost Christmas sales—the commercial Christmas message;
St. Nicholas told the story of Christ and peace, goodwill toward all—the hope-filled Christmas message.
Santa Claus encourages consumption;
St. Nicholas encourages compassion.
Santa Claus appears each year to be seen and heard for a short time;
St. Nicholas is part of the communion of saints, surrounding us always with prayer and example.
Santa Claus flies through the air—from the North Pole;
St. Nicholas walked the earth—caring for those in need.
Santa Claus, for some, replaces the Babe of Bethlehem;
St. Nicholas, for all, points to the Babe of Bethlehem.
Santa Claus isn't bad;
St. Nicholas is just better.


As you see, there is a lot more to the Christmas season than just opening gifts on Christmas day. I like that St. Nicholas was one of the earliest saints to be revered for his life and not  martyrdom (he died peacefully of old age). There are two points I would like to make about St. Nicholas Day. The first is that our faith is ancient. We have a strong anchor in this turbulent world. The second point is that there is more to our faith than can be disputed in a five page article in a secular magazine. We can enjoy our holiday season. We can be respectful of other faiths at this time of year. But we need to remember why we celebrate Advent and Christmas. The love of the Christ Child cannot be so easily taken from us. There is an abundance of spirituality in the Catholic tradition if we seek it. So let's put some candy in our children's shoes. Then we can tell them why it is there. Isn't that sweet?