Peace that Passes Understanding


Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God: and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7**


It had been eight days since I last saw him. This season of work travel and children scattered far and wide and aging parents has us stretched thin and missing each other. He found me upstairs in the furthest corner of the house, away from the late evening hum of teenagers.

"You look worried," he said.

He hasn't seen me in over a week and the first impression is one of worry. First, that's very perceptive. Second, oh dear, where is the peace that passes understanding? I am a creature of habit. I like to settle into rhythms, to work out kinks, to make life run along familiar, predictable tracks. 

But it doesn't.

Just as we figure out one stage of life, we move to the next. Life shifts and lurches and sometimes the fault beneath my feet nauseates me as it violently rocks. I want to make sense of all of it--to understand. And I want to be understood.

I have more than twice the number of children as my friends with large families. This life of extravagant abundance of souls doesn't look anything like the fundamentalists of my 20s and 30s said it would. Those lies reverberate some days: What's one more? There's always room; babies don't need much. They can sleep in a dresser drawer, padded soft. If you're diligent and organized and intentional enough, the Lord will bless your efforts and you will meet all their needs, all the time. And my favorite: Homeschool them. Invest the time--all the time--when they are little, you won't have any of society's teenage ills under your roof as they grow. We know that's not true.

One more is one more. And even when it is added to six or seven or eight, it is another whole person on whom all the many aspects of good parenting must be bestowed. I want to offer to my friends who have two children and seem bewildered by my present challenges the explanation that everything they do for theirs--everything they feel--I do just as much with each one of mine. 

A baby might be made comfortable in a softly padded dresser drawer turned into temporary makeshift cradle for a very little while, but when he is fourteen years old and six feet tall, he needs a bed. Oh, and there will come a time that he will outgrow his shoes every three months, so it's a good idea to start saving for that right around the time that you transition him out of the dresser drawer.

I love this life. I wouldn't trade a single moment of those 81 months of pregnancy (all those overdue babies making up for the one who came three months early, so that my average is just about nine average gestations). I wouldn't trade 22 years of diapers, sometimes three children at a time. And I definitely wouldn't trade more than twenty continuous years of nursing babies. I've loved every hour spent sitting next to a child as she figures out how to make sense of letters printed on a page. And yes, I've loved the hours behind the wheel of a car, with a teenage boy as my front seat companion. It turns out that I've gotten quite the musical education by allowing them to choose the station and spin the dial as I drive to soccer or basketball. We moved from Matchbox 20 to Blink 182 to Brad Paisley to Taylor Swift to Ed Sheeran--each boy in succession tuning me to himself at the radio controls. It's been quite a ride.

But I thought I'd have it all figured out by now and instead I'm still surprised that the sheer numbers dictate that nearly every day, there will be something new to wrestle. I want to understand. I want to flip to the end of the book and read the last chapter so that I can let go of the tension and relax into the middle of the story.

And I want to be understood.

Me, the crazy lady down the street with all the kids. 

I am worried. Times nine

And He tells me to be anxious for nothing. Nothing.

Come; crawl up on My lap. When you are tired of being the grownup and when you just really want someone to take care of you, turn your face expectantly to Me and see that I hold peace. Make supple your heart. Soften. Ask. Come humbly to Me and know that I see you.

I know your needs and I understand them perfectly.

Already, I know. 

And I will stand guard.

Are you worried? Can I pray peace for you, too?

The Impossible Becomes Possible



We have soccer goals set up in our backyard year ‘round. It’s a big backyard relative to most in our neighborhood and I’ve always imagined a gigantic garden all planted to bear goodness at least three seasons a year. Instead, we have a very small garden shoved up against the side of the house and a great, big soccer field.

I’ve spent hours (maybe cumulatively months or years) on the sidelines at soccer games, watching children of all sizes play the game. Looks simple enough; run and kick the ball. Night after night, when our boys were mostly smaller than me, they’d play “family soccer” outside with Dad. I was grateful for my pregnant and nursing excuses, but still I thought it looked pretty simple.

One day, I tried. The biggest of my boys were teenagers then. I had a girl well old enough to mind the baby and I got out there to run and kick with them. It was hard. It wasn’t even close to easy. I was wheezing in the middle of the backyard before long at all.

I’ve been thinking about that afternoon a lot lately. When all my babies were little, the days were long and sometimes the nights were longer. There were most definitely challenges. But I didn’t really consider it “hard.” I loved the long days and challenging nights and relating to small children came naturally to me. Truth be told, I understood people who hated the baby years about as well as my 12-year-old future National Team player understood my inability to execute a pass to him while being guarded by his brother. There was such joy in wee ones! It’s not hard! It’s a “good tired”—the kind you get after playing hard and scoring the winning goal in overtime at the State Cup.

Then we hit the teenage years. Sometimes I think I’m as suited to being a mother of teenagers as I am to being a forward on the National Team. I still liked being outside, wind on my face and fresh grass under my feet, but I wasn’t all that equipped for the game. Mothering teenagers, for me, takes a good deal more work and persistence and concentrated effort than mothering six children under twelve did. It doesn’t come naturally.

I watch as my children attempt new skills. This one can draw and it seems effortless. That one, six years her sister’s senior, struggles to capture same image, never satisfied with her result. This one has run rings around his competition, always, always confident with a ball at his feet. That one melted into midfield one day when he was six and swore through hot tears that he hated everything about the game. But they each have strengths in their own places.

The thing about motherhood if we are called at all, is that we are all called to be strong in this vocation. We cannot dissolve into a puddle on the soccer field and opt out in favor of a basketball court. We’re in this thing for the duration.

When it becomes difficult, when we are being pushed to grow and change and learn well beyond the curve, we tend to wrap ourselves in self-criticism and guilt. In begins almost imperceptibly. A little voice in our heads, reminds us that we aren’t doing it right and we didn’t do it right. Other mothers seem to manage effortlessly. We stumble around this age or that new stage and seem to do nothing but mess things up.

Take heart! I remind myself every day. Take heart! We cannot put on the mantle of self-criticism and guilt. If we do, our days are cloaked in fear and self-loathing. The reality is that being a good parent doesn’t come naturally to anyone. It’s not effortless. God doesn’t call us because He knows we’re capable. He calls us because He knows that His power is made perfect in our weakness. He speaks into our hearts the words of St. Paul, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:10)

Content with weakness. Not to give up and sigh a wistful sigh of regret. Not to berate oneself for being insufficient. But content to know that He comes to us in the weaknesses and it is then that He strengthens us. It’s in the struggles that we grow. And it’s in our weakness that we lean most heavily on Christ.

God is all about making the impossible possible. He’s all about taking the woman who’s been afraid of teenagers since she was a teenager and equipping her to raise up to four at a time for 26 consecutive years. (See? He knew it would take me a long time to get it right.)

God makes the impossible possible. God takes the things that don’t come naturally and infuses them with grace. In the end, whether it’s soccer, or pencil drawings, or raising children, it’s not about us. It’s about Him. 

These are my neighbors...


Small girl, up way too early, shattering the quiet I expected before dawn. I remind myself that you are not the intrusion; you are the reason that I've carved this time to fill my tank with Jesus. 

Some people can jump out of bed in the morning, swallow a handful of vitamins with a cup of coffee, scrape the ice off their windshields, commute in crazy traffic, and take on the world. 

Not me. 

I'm weak-kneed at the prospect of spending the day with six children. I jump when the phone rings and I recognize the ringtone as one belonging to a "child" living away. I am overwhelmed by mundane things like laundry mountains and soccer schedules and how to roast a chicken.

I spend my early morning drinking deep of Him because I'm going to need it.

This work at home--this holy,  holy work? It's not something we do to pass the time while we wait for Him to call us to something more, something greater. This is the more. These children in our midst, the ones that sleep horizontally in the middle of our beds, the ones that sit in the minivan as we drive to dance class, the ones who really need to tell us all about it at 10 PM, they are the holy calling.

They are the "neighbors," living right here among us. 

We are called to go and make believers of all nations. We are called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. We are called to holiness. Holiness. Even in our own homes. Even when no one is watching, but our children. Especially when no one is watching but our children. 



Photo 1-3


.Photo 2-2


C. S. Lewis offers this. I have taken the liberty to substitute "child" where he wrote "neighbour." I suppose we could substitute "husband" as well. 

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his [child]. The load, or weight, or burden of my [child's] glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the back of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of the overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations--these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit--immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have from the outset, taken each other seriously--no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner--no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your child is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian [child], he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ ver latitat--the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden. ~from The Weight of Glory

This is not a stop on the way to doing great things for God. This is the place where great things get done every day.


The Cure for the Crankies


Warning: There's no magic bullet;-)

I felt it creeping over me, a sort of sinister shadow, familiar, yet unwelcome. Even as the words escaped my mouth, I wondered at them. How could I say such things in that tone? It was the shadow—the cranky shadow. Irritability, annoyance, impatience all whined their way into the dialogues of the day.  And here I was, fully in the grips of the complaining crankiness I detest. 


How did I arrive here? More importantly, how could I find my way out? Try as we might to put them blame elsewhere, Crabby Mommy Syndrome has its root in sin. Those things which make us cranky usually point straight at our disordered attachments. Those attachments are one of four things (many thanks to St. Thomas Aquinas for nailing it all down so astutely): power, pleasure, wealth, or honor.


Every single time, when I put it to the test, Crabby Mommy Syndrome matches up against these vices. I’m irritated beyond words at the clutter and the chaos in the house. I feel like if I have to sweep the same floor one more time, I might break the broom over someone’s head. My sense of power is offended. I want control.  And without control, I think I’ll just lash out at someone so I can fleetingly feel like I have power over the situation. 


It’s so noisy, there are so many different conversations happening at once, that I’m certain my ears will burst at the assault. I yell for everyone to be quiet, the irony hitting me before the words leave my mouth. Quiet is my creature comfort. I take pleasure in silence. And silence isn’t a bad thing, unless the quest for the comfort it brings leads me to offend love. Apparently, sometimes I want quiet so badly, I’m willing to sin to obtain it.


On an otherwise calm afternoon, three reminders pop up in my inbox for soccer and dance fees just as a child texts to tell me that he’s lost his retainer. I think that wealth is not my vice, but I feel the shadow hovering as I worry about meeting each “request” for money. And then I snap at the next person who comes along and asks for something—anything, it doesn’t matter who or what. Sin lurks in disordered attachments.


Finally, there’s honor. Nothing accelerates Crabby Mommy Syndrome faster than a disrespectful child.  When our children are rude to us or when they disobey, it’s easy to forget that they aren’t put into our lives to make us feel good about ourselves. No doubt, they are commanded to honor us. No doubt, they must learn to obey. But they are to do so for their spiritual health, not for the health of our egos. Occasions of disrespect on the part of our children are occasions for us to control our passions and to correct with patience so that both parties grow in virtue. In the face of stinging disrespect, though, it’s easy to fall prey to bitter crankiness. 


So, how to remedy Crabby Mommy Syndrome? How to grow in grace and respond with charity when I’m truly ready to tear my hair out in exhausted frustration? Get close to Jesus. Rely on His grace. Stay firmly fixed on His Word. Make haste to confession, receive His forgiveness, and begin again. Get to Mass (alone if I can manage it). Pour out to God himself the struggles of my heart.  Tell Him about the hurt and the frustration and the weight of things of the world. Empty it all before the throne of mercy and beg to be filled with Him. It’s not a quick fix. It’s not a magic bullet. It’s not easy. But it is the only light that truly dispels the shadow.



The Pharisee in Us

I sat at the kitchen counter in silence this morning, raw honey poised over bitter tea, Bible open to this morning's Gospel, and it hit me in a way that it never has before today. Late last night, I read an email from a reader that began, "I stopped reading your blog because it always made me feel bad about myself. Everything in your life is perfect and if it isn't, you spritualize it until it is." 

Stirred the honey into the tea, grateful for the sweet that chases the bitter.

I get some variation of that email pretty often. Usually, my reaction is to be sure that I write something very soon after that makes it clear that I'm not perfect, my kids aren't perfect, my life isn't perfect, and none of us are under the delusion that any of it is. Perfect. This time, though, it didn't hit me that way. This time, I sort of understood what she was getting at.

I read places and come away feeling less than, too. It's not so much about perfection, it's more about something seeming being better ::  more peaceful or more beautiful or more hopeful or holier. My favorite social media is Instagram. I love a picture. I really, really do. I love the way a picture can tell a whole story. Instagram (and all its sisters) is a slippery slope towards filling in all the blanks outside the frame and making a false idol of one's neighbor. 

Yep. False idol. 

Them are fighting words. I have to tell myself that fighting false idols is critical to my spiritual health. This morning, reading today's Gospel, I thought about that email.


Mark 2:23-28

As Jesus was passing through a field of grain on the sabbath,
his disciples began to make a path while picking the heads of grain.
At this the Pharisees said to him,
“Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?”
He said to them,
“Have you never read what David did
when he was in need and he and his companions were hungry?
How he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest
and ate the bread of offering that only the priests could lawfully eat,
and shared it with his companions?”
Then he said to them,
“The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.
That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”


 In my early internet days, it was easy to see the Pharisaical Danger. That is, I could spot what looked like pharasaical behavior in the women who read other women's words and judged those women's lives "not holy enough." It seemed cut and dried. I'd been hurt by those women, and maybe that's why that kind of pharasaical behavior really wasn't a temptation for me.  I learned to avoid those places and, to a great degree, those people, on the web and in my day-to-day life. Those were the esay to recognize Pharisees, so concerned with the letter of of law that they missed the Love of the Lord. But there's something else here about that Pharisee.
And this Pharisee:
Luke 18:11-14

The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector.I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

There is the obvious puffed up chest-beating, but there's also a more subtle, more insidious, and simpler warning. The Pharisee compares and in his comparison, he makes two mistakes. He wrongly judges his neighbor and he wrongly judges himself. This pharasaical behavior is the one where we think we are one thing, when in the eyes of God, we are something else entirely and the one where we think our neighbor is one thing, but she's another altogether. We aren't the Pharisee who thinks he's holy enough, we are the one who thinks she's not good enough. Or just plain not enough. Further, we might even have a false understanding of the person to whom we are comparing ourselves. The take away? Don't compare. Pharisees compare. It can't be good.
Jesus did a lot of talking about the Pharisees. He really, really wanted to leave us with words which would help us to avoid false images of ourselves and our neighbors. The Pharisees were all about false images of both self and neighbor. 
My reality is that regardless of what my blog looks like and regardless of what the graph on my site meter page portrays, I am God's. I belong to Him. He suffered and died for me. It doesn't matter where else I click on the interwebs, I am of infinite worth to Jesus, no more or less valuable than my neighbor. And so is the woman who wrote to me last night. We have value. We are loved just as we are, in all our brokenness. In all the places that would make for ugly or boring or uninspiring blogging. In all the places that blogs don't accurately reveal. And in all the places that look beautiful. He is there. Loving the real us. 
It is true that I can click along and take suggestions and gain insight from people who walk with me. And that can be a very good thing. It is also true that I can make false idols of each and every stop on my blog reader. I fix my gaze on my own icon of my neighbor and on the distorted vision of myself reflected in my perception of her.
And then. We have a mess.
Then, I have just surrendered myself on the doorstep of someone else's life and not at the foot of the cross.
Then, I begin to live on my own power and I am destined to sputter to a stop.
Why do we compare? We toss about restless on a sea of images and words that could be used to encourage our hearts and instead, we compare. We become the Pharisee that Jesus was so careful to warn us not to be. 
God created me uniquely. Everything in my life--my husband, my particular children, my location, my gifts, my struggles, my infirmities--all of it is God's to use to shape me into His vision for me. His vision for me is different than His vision for my neighbor. He calls me uniquely. There is a life He intends for me and me alone.  And so, my life will look different from hers.
We can learn from one another. We should encourage one another. But comparing? Finding ourselves lacking in the light of someone else's life as it is portryed on the internet? That's not what He wants for us. He wants a community that encourages and builds up. He wants us to link arms and look together towards Him. He wants us to look to the community for support in living vocation. Unique vocation. 
The Pharisee compared himself to his neighbor. The simple lesson of this Pharisee: don't compare.
I understand why she stopped reading here. I've done the same thing elsewhere. And truly, my heart breaks for her. It breaks for the terrible feeling of clicking away from the beauty in someone else's life, the witness of what God is doing in another family, and feeling lost and forgotten, and not good enough. My heart has hurt in the just the same way. The Pharisees didn't carry iPhones. I wish they had. It would all be so much simpler if it were spelled out: "Don't be like that foolish woman who clicks there and thinks that. Isn't it obvious that's the near occasion of sin?"
But no. It doesn't work that way. We have to discern. 
The keys at our fingertips, the windows into another woman's heart, can be among the tools in God's hands to use for our good, to shape us into the person He created us to be. Can we do that without creating idols of the tools; can we look instead to the Master Craftsman to see how He would have us use them?
We have to. We have to leave the bitterness of comparison to be able to taste and see the sweetness of encouragement.