It has been quite a month here in our little part of Vermont. Our family has been grieving and stepping forward ever so gingerly since my father-in-laws unexpected passing on New Year’s Day. This is not my story to share, but I can say that I love my father-in-law very much and miss him dearly.
I have been trying so hard this month to love the people closest to me well. Sometimes that means to pray and give space to heal and process in their own way or to do small things for them.
One small thing I did for the boys was to print the Periodic Table on fabric and sew it together to hang in our living room. The older boys have really been interested in chemistry lately, and there has been lots and lots of talk about the Periodic Table, so I thought they would get a kick out of seeing it up on our wall. Hearing them talk so excitedly about the elements makes me smile.
I haven’t thought about the Periodic Table much at all since I memorized it (briefly) in 8th grade, but lately it seems to be a regular part of our lives in conversation. It brings such order to the universe doesn’t it? Thinking about the peace that order can bring has reminded me of my faith and the peace that it also brings.
A couple of days ago I came across the text for a talk I gave last September for a Catholic mothers group called Alo that I am helping lead this year. I wrote it on my mom’s birthday. It is about my life and how I came to faith, the faith I am clinging to fiercely right now. And because it is my story, this is a story I can share. I have included the text from that talk below…
This has been a crazy week! Anyone else?
Well, to top it off, my husband walks in last night calmly apologizing for his ripped pants. With my husband, you know to start to panic when he is calm because his go to is to remain calm in any storm… He goes on to tell me that he jumped a white picket fence and didn’t quite make it over it while leaving to come home from one of the boys cross country meets…
So I have him turn around so I can look at the rip and there is a big tear in his pants and it is covered in blood. I whisked him upstairs so I could take a look at the damage, and I’ll tell you there is a very good reason I never became a nurse! I do not like blood. The cut was high up on the back of his thigh and after taking a quick look I was pretty sure he needed stitches. So I took some deep breathes and bandaged it up for him.
Then he dropped two of the boys off at their boy scout meeting and headed over to Fanny Allen to get his leg checked out. He wandered back in by 9:30 with 4 stitches, my oldest son was sitting at the table finishing homework and thankfully the other 6 boys were asleep by then. I stayed up for a little while to hear about how it all went and then made it off to bed, just thinking of his gash makes me cringe…
Well someone who could have handled my husbands’ injury perfectly would have been my mother. She was an OR Nurse for twenty years and then a school nurse for 10 and this past Tuesday was her birthday. I spent the morning of her birthday cleaning and being with kids as usual and didn’t remember what day it was till about 2 in the afternoon when I turned on my computer to start writing this talk and noticed the date splashed across my home screen. My mom would have turned 74 this year, she died at 55, only ten years older than I am now. Next year it will be 20 years that she has been gone and to me that is just incomprehensible.
She was a great mother.
My beautiful, vibrant, funny, down to earth mum made the most of her days here on earth, smiling with mischief in her eyes and lifting up and loving those who needed it.
And I knew after she died, that somehow I would try to live like that too.
I was 27 then. Old enough to be called an adult, yet young enough to still need my mom. I didn’t know how I could keep going in this world without her. I had hobbled along after my teens, “finding myself” in college by letting go of any glimmers of faith in God I may have had and instead deciding to have faith in “me”. I grew up Catholic, but never really understood having a relationship with Jesus, least of all his mother Mary, and those Saints I had seen statues of and heard people ask to help them when they needed to find their car keys or sell a house, well I breezily wrote them off as “perfect people” and nothing like me, at best, or superstitious folk tales at worst.
I had absorbed notions about sin growing up Catholic in the 70’s and early 80’s during a time where the echoing refrain I heard in my catechism classes (or ccd as we called them in Massachusetts) was that God is love (but what it meant for God to be love either flew over my head or was never explained). I thought sin sounded depressing and the thought of myself as a sinner or something negative just really didn’t appeal to me or seem to fit with the messages of the culture I was growing up in. I knew I wasn’t perfect, but thinking about my imperfections seemed futile, what was I gonna do about it? So I opted instead for an inner dialogue that boosted me up and talked myself out of the mistakes I made or personal flaws I might have had.
So that is where I was at 27 when my mother died after 4 years with cancer, and I was still there at 28 when I got engaged to my husband and at 29 when we got married and by the time I hit 30 when we had our first son my methods began to really break down…
Basically through this inner dialogue of boosting up my self worth, I had talked myself into believing for all intents and purposes that I was always right and that my opinions needed to be voiced always because they were MY opinions and MY feelings about things were the MOST important issue in any argument.
You can see where this is going… it did not work out well, it made me ashamed when I would push my husband by saying the worst biting things I could think of and while he is a generally calm person, just like most of us when pushed to our limits he would lash back. I was ashamed by my lack of patience with my young son, and though a devoted friend I was also quite demanding with my friends when things didn’t go my way or bitter when I felt slighted. And I felt a lot of anxiety at this time in my life wanting to control everything. I can see now that part of that was from knowing that if my mother, my beautiful mother could die, well then anything could happen in this world.
But beyond the anxiety, I couldn’t square the good parts of me that were true and beautiful, with the ugly. If I were really so wonderful, why was I also so horrible? and were my poor actions really always someone else’s fault?
At 31 we had our 2nd son and at 33 became pregnant with our third and 5 months before he was born we moved from my home state of Massachusetts, here to Vermont leaving all of my family and friends and moved in with my husbands’ parents till we could get settled.
There are a lot of things that happened in the past 12 years to bring me to where I am today. Too much to put into a twenty minute talk, but I can tell you, that I was brought to my knees and the only way up was to start praying.
And so that is what I did.
Like a runner training for a marathon, I did a little each day, and then a little more each day, and then more. Praying in those early years felt exhausting, it was hard to always turn your mind to God. But bit by bit I got used to turning to prayer even when sock commercials seemed more exciting than taking time to talk with and listen to God.
I knew God was my father at that point, but I had a lot to learn about Jesus his son… the holy spirit, and Jesus’ mother…
I remember sitting in a meeting for parents before my oldest sons’ First Communion. The Director of Religious Education was talking to all us parents about what was coming up that year and she said “And of course you know that we as Catholics believe that Jesus is really and truly present in the Eucharist.” I nearly spit out my coffee. Did we really believe that?! I was shocked. How did that get past me? I had somehow convinced myself that people really didn’t believe that anymore.
Another time we decided to attend a Reconcilliation Service During Lent, I hadn’t been to confession in about 20 years at that point. A few of my sons were old enough to go in to confess and I felt like to be a good parent, I should go in and do it too. I remember Father Lavalle saying if you didn’t know what to say and you hadn’t gone to reconcilliation in a while to just say “Our Lady” sent me. That sounded too silly and embarrassing to me at the time, so I didn’t say it. But I did confess whatever I could think of, and felt awkward.
It was later that I really started to appreciate Reconcilliation and the graces that come from it and how in acknowledging my sins and having them forgiven I could receive the grace to become new. Those new beginnings became a life line as a mother. They drew me closer to Jesus and his mercy. And looking back now I can see that it probably was Mary that sent me after all.
I began imperfectly praying the rosary, as best as I knew, 1 decade a night, 5 decades a night, 3 hail Mary’s a night, and then I added in the mysteries of Jesus’ life to meditate on with each Hail Mary once I learned about that part! There were lots of starts and stops that grew my faith during those years…I read the bible, learned about all sorts of saints and their real and amazing lives, and I kept knocking at God’s door. And he kept opening it to show me around room after room.
I woke up each morning, tended to children, was a wife, a friend. I learned to hear the whispers Jesus placed on my heart while walking out on the little trail around our house while babies slept, or during my morning shower, when I would ask him for help, thank him, and pray for my family and friends.
I cannot even fathom what kind of mom today I would be to my first son, had God not entered the equation, never mind being mom to the other 6 sons I am mother to or if I would have trusted him enough to have had them in the first place. Or where my marriage would be or would not be.
I have more peace in my heart than I have ever had.
I have learned that I do not have to be the best to be loved, that there is so much more to life when you let your you take a rest and let God’s will take the lead.
I have learned that I can trust in God’s plans for my life and let go of control, by simply saying yes, and then moving forward. Like volunteering to help lead Alo this year.
Success is wonderful, we all like it, but I’ve learned that more than accomplishments, what Jesus wants is a willing heart, for us to step out in faith to do the things that scare us or even sometimes things that make us feel overwhelmed.
Jesus is helping me make the most of my days here on earth, and lifting up and loving those who need it.
Happy Birthday Mom!
And I look forward to growing in faith with you all this year!!
Thank you to everyone who got this far and took the time to read this story of the evolution of my faith.
All the elements of our lives matter, the dark and the ugly, the good, and even the holy. Let’s hang them up, learn from them, grow from them, and smile with love as we share our joys with each other.
With love from Vermont,