Yearning for perfection, longing for home

Note: This month’s column for the Catholic Free Press.

A couple of weeks ago our family and friends gathered to give our daughter Meredith a bridal shower. We had the entire first floor of the Asa Waters mansion in Millbury for the event. Tables were set up in the gracious hall, food was served in the elegant dining room, and drinks were offered in an adjoining room. Gifts were displayed on the winding staircase.

The theme of the shower was Harry Potter, brilliantly executed by Meredith’s matron of honor, Roxanne, and her bridesmaids. For our entertainment there were games and a photo booth with a glittery gold backdrop; masks were provided to don for comical photos, many of which were posted on Facebook pages.

Meredith and her finance Jimmy opened the many gifts and were overwhelmed by the generosity and thoughtfulness of their family and friends.

The whole affair was perfection. All I wanted to do when it was over was to relive the day again and again.

Yet I had an odd reaction of sadness after the shower. It felt very similar to the days when both the children moved out of the house for good leaving a void that would never again be filled. As on those days, I went to Meredith’s room and had a good cry.

In reflecting upon those emotions I thought about other momentous occasions in my children’s lives. The day they were born. Their first day in kindergarten. School plays. Graduation from high school, and then college. Meredith’s engagement. Important days to be sure. And yet, none of those days conjured up the sadness and yearning I felt after the bridal shower. Why was that?

Perfection in life is rare, one might even say impossible. You recognize it when you are living in a perfect moment and you know it is something that will never happen again. It is fleeting; it cannot be held onto or possessed. It is to be lived only to slip away out of our grasp. We are left with the shadow of a fading memory.

And it occurred to me that I was mourning the loss of perfection. For three hours I was able to experience it only to have it end. Things of this world are temporary; everything decays and dies.

I began to wonder how Adam and Eve felt after leaving the Garden of Eden—did they mourn their loss of perfection? During His time on earth, did Jesus long for home? Did He too experience times of melancholy and yearning, remembering his existence of perfection?

We were meant for perfection; created in the Garden of Eden we were destined to live in sublime harmony with our Heavenly Father. Somewhere along the way we were misled into thinking perfection meant being God rather than being with God.

And now we are left with the shadow of the memory of perfection. And once in a great while, we taste it, reminding us perhaps of we had lost in our arrogance. We mourn the loss, we hunger for home, we yearn for what we were meant to be.

The words of St. Augustine are true: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

Meredith’s bridal shower was a gift of grace, a moment to remind me of what perfection can be like. And why it is worth enduring life’s trials in faith to reach that final goal of perfection—the reunion with God which will last for all eternity. Only then will our restless hearts be satisfied.

 

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Today’s the day to try “River of Grace”

Ave Maria Press is offering River of Grace Creative Passages Through Difficult Times at a deep discount for a limited time. If you’ve always wanted to read it, now’s the time to take the plunge!

Be sure and purchase it directly from Ave Maria Press — here’s the link.

Still not sure? Here is more information on the book.

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

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Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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From the pen of an empty-nester: The season of comings and goings

NOTE: This is my upcoming column in the Catholic Free Press (for Friday, January 13) and it is currently running on Catholicmom.com.

Before I share my column, a few words.

It’s been a while since I’ve written regularly for this blog and this is because I am involved in a mammoth writing project which you can find out more about here.

from http://nextcenturypublishing.com/
from http://nextcenturypublishing.com/

This is the book I was working on when I was offered the opportunities of River of Grace and Louisa May Alcott Illuminated by The Message; these works (thanks to excellent editors and publishers) taught me how to write professionally, making this new book possible. It is the work of my heart, the book of my life. And it being all consuming, it’s been difficult keeping up with my two blogs.

A new direction for this blog

While prepping for River of Grace, I read a book of essays about the adjustment to an empty nest (I had originally intended to include a chapter on that subject). In writing for Catholicmom I thought I might focus on being an empty-nester as I have many thoughts on this stage of life; I will share those columns here as well.

rpphotos I'm beginning to feel the empty nest syndrome, Flickr Creative Commons
rpphotos I’m beginning to feel the empty nest syndrome, Flickr Creative Commons

My first column, “The Season of Comings and Goings”, was published this week on Catholicmom and I invite you to read it:

Another Christmas has come and gone. The tree is outside on the deck for the birds to enjoy; the wreath, brown and dry, is feeding the soil on the other side of the fence.

All the lights are wrapped up (with their extension cords this time!) and put away.

And the letdown after Christmas begins. Every ornament carefully placed in the box, each stocking taken down reminds me of the family time I still crave and so cherish.

manger

Continue reading …

 

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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Creating room—the conundrum of the empty nest

The long Christmas break is over and the letdown is leaving me a bit melancholy. The stretching of the heart that comes with the empty nest made full, and then made empty again, hurts.

Both of our adult children were home for the holidays. Our daughter spent both Christmas Eve and morning with us despite the fact that she also needed to see her fiancé’s family (she got engaged in November). Our son spent the week with us, having come up from New York.

Each time they come it’s an adjustment, requiring me to make room, not just in my house, but in my heart. Of course I do it without hesitation, but it is still an adjustment. It took me ten years to get to where I enjoy the empty nest.

The room is made and is filled only to be emptied again; it continues to surprise me how much it still hurts when they go away. Eventually this room fades into the background, waiting for the next time it will be needed. Slowly the new life I began when they left the nest filters back in and it soothes my heart.

Robert S. Donovan empty nest,Flickr Creative Commons
Robert S. Donovan empty nest,Flickr Creative Commons

This has been the conundrum for me with regards to the empty nest, this making room. I find it requires a heart that is vulnerable, supple and open. It requires a bit of courage, even for the creation of the smallest of rooms.

I distinctly remember the day I created that first room. All of a sudden the barriers came down and I announced to my husband that I was ready to have children. That moment came after several years of chasing a dream of being a professional musician, an all-consuming passion. I soon found out that motherhood is equally all-consuming; something had to give. I sold off my recording equipment, put the guitar away and immersed myself in my babies. It was not a hard choice. Love facilitates room-building

Gareth Saunders Bedroom in the sunshine, Flickr Creative Commons
Gareth Saunders Bedroom in the sunshine, Flickr Creative Commons

After five years the desire to write and record songs returned and it became a painful tug of war. Creative work requires large blocks of quiet time and as any mother knows, that time is non-existent, especially if you also work outside of the home. There were plenty of moments of guilt and regret and before I knew it, my children were grown.

So many moments of great joy and pride. Moments of heartache and sorrow. My heart was exercised and stretched in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

Would I do it all again in the same way? Probably. Do I miss those childhood years? Very much so. Am I haunted by some leftover regrets? Sometimes. But it’s nice to have found a resting place in this empty nest.

In the meantime, I can enjoy the companionship of my grown children. Watching their burgeoning careers, enjoying pictures of the new apartment, marveling as they learn how to cook and make a home, meeting the significant others and reveling in the engagement and planning for the wedding all make for a rich post-childhood life. We share dreams and hopes for the future. The blossoming of my children into well-adjusted adults is an enormous blessing. As the song goes from The Sound of Music, somewhere along the way, “I must have done something good.”

Sara Björk The heart, Flickr Creative Commons
Sara Björk The heart, Flickr Creative Commons

So, I will continue to make room. The stretching will continue to hurt but it makes for a strong muscle. And while waiting for the grandchildren, I will hug and kiss my cats in anticipation.

Diving deep into River of Grace with Elizabeth Reardon, host of “An Engaging Faith”

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In this in-depth hour-long interview: we dive deep into River of Grace – gratitude in the midst of difficult times – obedience as a joyful “yes” to new adventures, new life after loss and restoring the joy of living, life metaphors for grace … Also, a quick sneak peak at Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message! Elizabeth Reardon really did her homework! Check it out.

Visit An Engaging Faith on Facebook.

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What scares the sh*t out of you? What can you do about it?

What is fear to you?

  • Is it the monster in the closet that looms over you in the middle of the night?
  • Is it those butterflies that won’t stop fluttering in your stomach?
  • Is it that dread you wake up with, morning after morning?

Continue reading “What scares the sh*t out of you? What can you do about it?”

Broken dolls, injured kittens . . . Beth March, Cassidy the miracle kitten, and the message of Pope Francis

Last night as I watched Pope Francis speak with thousands at the Festival of Families in Philadelphia I was amazed at his energy. This 78-year-old man has been at break-neck speed all week, traveling first to Cuba, then to Washington, DC, onto New York and now Philadelphia. His schedule has been non-stop. He has given several long speeches in English which he has admitted, is a difficult language for him. Continue reading “Broken dolls, injured kittens . . . Beth March, Cassidy the miracle kitten, and the message of Pope Francis”

Confession of a timid soul

My latest Catholic Free Press column.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The recent ruling by the Supreme Court on the legal state of marriage has reverberated across the country. People cannot stop talking about it and the conversations are often heated. A seismic shift has taken place in our culture. It caught me unprepared for the personal storm of confusion and fear that I would experience as a result.

Facing the inevitable

Christians are facing a “brave new world.” Confrontation is now inevitable; I cannot avoid it no matter how uncomfortable it makes me feel. I have to be clear as to what I think and how I feel and learn how to express it both firmly and in love, as Jesus would do. Continue reading “Confession of a timid soul”

Traveling a life of transitions: Reflections on the Sunday Gospel John 17:11B-19 by Father Steven LaBaire

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

In preparation for mass this Sunday:

Life is full of transitions. The longer we live, the greater the number of our years, the greater the number of transitions.

Some transitions are rather universal like adolescence and leaving home, marriage and childbirth, illness and aging, or separation through death. Other transitions feel as if they are thrust upon us like the loss of a job or an unwelcome medical diagnosis.

In every case we’re forced to look at life anew in order the rebuild our lives.

Martin LaBar Jesus and His Disciples at the Last Supper
Martin LaBar Jesus and His Disciples at the Last Supper, Flickr Creative Commons

In this week’s gospel Jesus’ disciples are struggling to deal with his departure from this world. They will be forced to let go of their former ways of relating to him. In the future, Christ will be present to them, albeit in a new and different way.

Sorting all this out is something the disciples will have to do together. So Jesus prays that “they may be one.”

It has been said that most people belong to two families:

One family is your biological family. These are the folks with whom you share a common bloodline, genetics, DNA.

The other family is your psychological or spiritual family. These are the people that care for you, love you, stand by you. These are the communities that give you strength and hope when you need it most.

www.GlynLowe.com Family Walk, Flickr Creative Commons
www.GlynLowe.com Family Walk, Flickr Creative Commons

Biological families and spiritual families are sometimes the same.  But frequently, they are not.

The disciples needed a community of faith to get through the transition.

We, modern-day disciples need spiritual families to navigate and find strength through the changes and upheavals of life. The big transitions of life are not meant to be travelled alone…

Who are the people that make up your “spiritual family?”  Who are you a “spiritual family” to?

How are you traveling life as the years (and the transitions) add up?   Traveling alone?  Or, with companions?

We pray for the grace to have and to be, faith-filled, hope-filled and loving travel companions.

Copyright 2015 by Steven Michael LaBaire

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Favorite toys, family memories, blessings remembered … what did you get for Christmas?

I loved Christmas as a kid.

Like all kids I’d be up half the night, listening to the activity down in the living room where my dad would be putting together a bicycle or building some other contraption. He’d sometimes ring the jingle bells that hung on our front door because he knew my sister, brother and I were listening; we swore Santa was on our roof with his sleigh full of toys! My older sister would peak down the stairs to spy.

It was such a long wait until 6am when we would run downstairs to open our gifts.

I have fond memories of toys from Christmas past. Among my favorites:

doll and dollhouseSuzy Smart, a talking schoolgirl doll

A magnetic dollhouse – the magnets were on wands and I used to love whipping the family members through the house!

bike and clothesMy first 26 inch bicycle

Barbie clothes, especially the ones my cousin Janie made for me. The white levis were the coolest!

All the cute nature-related stocking stuffers – they were the best!

christmas morningHere’s what we looked like on Christmas morning – my dad could never resist taking a picture and as you can see, we were just thrilled:

When we were a little older, we were required to wait until our grandparents came over before gifts could be opened. Sometimes they wouldn’t arrive until two in the afternoon; that’s a long wait for a kid! I managed to take satisfaction in the fact we still had gifts to open while the rest of the kids in the neighborhood had long ago opened theirs.

Christmas becomes quieter as we grow older  …

although sharing it with small children keeps the magic alive. My husband bought and put together a huge Brio train set for our then one year old son; he ended up playing with the box!

brio trains

But now at 27, he keeps that box of wooden tracks and trains under his old bed at our home to keep for future generations.

Christmas these days is tinged with a bit of melancholy,

remembering parents and other beloved family members who have passed on. This year’s holiday was especially poignant with the thought of my older sister Christine and her husband Tom soon moving down south for their retirement.

We enjoyed a lovely last get-together at their home sharing mementos and memories.

The gathering was intimate: just Christine and Tom, our own family of four and older brother Tommy. Christine set the table with the silver, delicate white tablecloth, cloth napkins and embroidered place mats belonging to our maternal grandmother. Dinners in their Tudor dining room, complete with leaded windows, and a curved entrance with a wrought-iron gate, were formal; this dinner was warm as we each shared something we were grateful for before eating.

Upon opening presents we each received a precious remembrance of past loved ones.

Christine and Tom had recently cleaned out their attic and decided to distribute family mementos. I received my mother’s diploma from Wellesley College along with a special poem and remembrance from her retirement in 1984 from the Botany Department at the college.

Tommy received plans, drawings and photos of miniature ships that our paternal grandfather, known as Pom Pom, had built. We all marveled at the incredible precision and accuracy of the drawings and models; I knew that talent had passed down from grandfather to father to son and felt proud. Here’s a sample drawing from our “Pom Pom” of his 1912 car:

pom pom's car

The day ended quietly and once home,
I indulged in my favorite Christmas present this year,

daktarisent by my brother-in-law and his wife who live an hour outside of Los Angeles. They gave me a DVD of the complete first season of Daktari, a children’s TV show that I loved as a kid (from Wikipedia: The show follows the work of Dr. Tracy, his daughter Paula and his staff, who frequently protected animals from poachers and local officials. Tracy’s pets, a cross-eyed lion named Clarence and a chimpanzee named Judy, were also popular characters.).

It was particularly special that it came from Tim for he loves old TV shows and collects autographs and memorabilia. We had visited them over the summer and Tim and I had talked about favorite TV shows. It touched my heart that he remembered and I literally squealed when I tore off the paper and saw his gift.

So for a little while I became 10 years again, pretending I was Daktari’s daughter, living in Africa taking care of and communing with the animals (especially the big cats!).

Christmas Day was magical again.

But most importantly, thoughts of the baby Jesus and His birth into my life and so many others was never far from my mind. I was pleased to light all four of my advent candles for dinner with our son just before Christmas:

advent wreath with votives

A lovely tabletop tree highlights the manger scene:

manger

Magical, yes. And blessed. Merry Christmas!

How was your Christmas? What were your favorite toys from Santa?

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