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.

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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?

Click to Tweet & Share: Favorite toys, family memories, blessings remembered … what did you get for Christmas? http://wp.me/p2D9hg-kF

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Detachment: a “dirty word” that promises freedom

What feelings come up when you read the following two words:

  • Obedience
  • Detachment

Are your feelings positive or negative?

Are these words to be avoided at all costs or embraced?

Do these words hinder your freedom or enhance it?

In a later post I will deal with obedience, one of the most freeing words in the entire English language.

Today I will deal with detachment because I finally found out what it means.

Detachment can strike fear into the hearts of those pursuing an authentic spiritual life. It means walking away and letting go.

What do I have to give up?

Will I have to watch less TV, skip that beer or ice cream, put aside dreams of a tropical winter get-away in order to instead travel to snowbound Buffalo to visit elderly parents?

Will I have to give up something, or someone I dearly love?

What will I have to sacrifice?

Detachment in part means sacrifice and both words have a negative connotation in this age of you-can-have-it-all.

And there’s more to sacrifice than giving up time, money and material items. There are feelings inside of us that need to be sacrificed too.

That sacrifice is known as self-control.

Thud. Another word that stirs up a negative connotations.

In this age of exposing ourselves on Facebook and Twitter, self-control has fallen by the wayside.

When we feel bad, we show it. Why hide it? We not only show it, we indulge in it. We feel entitled to wallow in it. Hell, we feel like crap so why not just let it take over?

At some point you long to escape. Escape, as you know, comes about in many unhealthy, even deadly forms. Just ask Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Anna Nicole Smith.

Oh that’s right. We can’t.

What does all this have to do with detachment? Here’s how.

And I only just learned this in the last few days.

On Saturday we said goodbye to our 26 year-old son. He is moving from his place near our home in central MA to Brooklyn, NY to explore new options in his life. It’s only four hours away but it might as well be on the other side of this planet to this mother’s heart.

I urged him to go.

Heck, I was the main cheerleader. And I was bound and determined not to lose it in front of him.

So just before the big goodbye, I stole away to the bathroom in his house and begged God to help me put a lid on my emotions.

The response was an impulse to pray the Hail Mary.

With that first of many Hail Mary’s I recalled that the Mother of Jesus had to endure such a goodbye too. She would understand and she would listen to me.

I then rifled through my pocketbook and found my rosary ring. I put it in my pocket and fingered it, continuing to pray.

And when it came time to say goodbye, I only cried a little.

We exchanged warm hugs and a few tears flowed but I held it together.

I realized at that moment that asking God to intervene, He stepped in between my son and myself, providing that little bit of detachment that allowed me to keep a lid on my emotions.

Later on in the privacy of my kitchen, I had my cry.

Detachment saved me from embarrassment, not only for myself, but for my son and everyone else that was there when we exchanged goodbyes.

from http://www.physicsoftheuniverse.com/topics_blackholes_blackholes.html

And now I am working on building on that detachment.

The pain of saying goodbye is not unlike grief and it can become a black hole, sucking you in and smothering the life out of you.

The natural inclination is to go towards that black hole.

The smart thing to do is to step back.

I work up this morning filled with pain over the goodbye. But I washed up, went to Sunday mass, did the food shopping and spent the day with my husband.

I clung to God and made a deliberate effort to tell that black hole I wasn’t going to be sucked in.

It wasn’t easy.

A lot of the time I just wanted to lay down on my bed and go to sleep.

The lesson of yesterday’s goodbye and the taste of freedom from that small bit of detachment gave me the impetus to keep pursuing it.

I sacrificed the urge to give in to the pain.

Using self-control, I deliberately turned away from pain of the past and fixed my gaze upon the future.

Little things like a medium Dunkin’ Donuts mocha ice coffee helped in the cause.

God teaches us detachment for a reason.

He wants to set us free. I feel like I have discovered a most precious secret.

And so I bid my son a bittersweet farewell, knowing it’s for the best and wishing him many blessings in his journey.

I have already found mine.

Click to Tweet & Share: Saying goodbye to our son hurt but taught me something new: turning to God, I learned to walk away & not lose it. http://wp.me/p2D9hg-8s

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Acts of kindness are alive and well

This piece was posted on the Facebook page of my son Stephen who is 26. I asked him if I could share it with you.

The next time the world starts to get you down with all the darkness, selfishness and cruelty that seems endless, think of little stories like this and remember that decency, thoughtfulness and childlike purity are all alive and well.

After picking up my girlfriend Nic from her place, I noticed a Buzz Lightyear toy lying in the road while at a stoplight.

In a rush of pity and instinct I jumped out of the car to save it from oncoming traffic. As we were driving away, I noticed a Woody doll lying on the opposite end of the street staring forlornly at us as we drove off.

For the next ten minutes I lamented only being able to save one of them from a miserable fate until Nic finally suggested that maybe I should go back and retrieve him as well.

Feeling kind of silly and stupid, but determined nonetheless, I turned the car around at the Hess station in Watertown to go back. Sure enough, the Woody was still lying in the street.

As I pulled over to park, I noticed a tall biker gently reach down and pluck Woody off street and walk to a parked car nearby. Woody and Buzz Lightyear, sidekicks from the Toy Story series,  usually come in a set and figuring if he was rescuing one he’d want the set, I got out of the car and walked over to hand over Buzz Lightyear to him.

Friends forever: Woody and Buzz Lightyear

As it turned out, the Biker was handing the toy to its original owner, a small kid who had accidentally dropped both toys out of the car as he and his mother had driven down the street some time earlier.

“Woody!” he excitedly yelled as he was reunited with his lost toy.

The mother smiled as the Biker and his girlfriend joked that she should drive with the windows up from now on.

The boy’s eyes lit up even more as I handed over Buzz Lightyear and explained that I had found it earlier and felt bad splitting the two famous friends up.

“Buzz!” he exclaimed, and hugged the two toys to him.

There was a quiet moment between the four adults as we all chuckled a little and smiled at each other.

Thinking about it as I drove away, I realized that had I come at any other time, this moment would never have taken place.

I guess it just goes to show that it’s never the wrong time to try and do something nice, even if you’re not sure why you’re doing it in the first place.

Stephen Bailey

Click to Tweet & Share: Toy Story friends Woody and Buzz Lightyear inspire unexpected acts of kindness. Decency lives! http://wp.me/p2D9hg-7T

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Seven Kittens show us what an ideal world can look like

at 2 months – Hank is looking up while the others sleep

What began as a romp watching cute kittens on a live cam morphed into something
much bigger.

It was something the UStream chat community, the foster family and the eventual new owners of the kittens could have hardly anticipated.

Seven kittens and their mother taught us showed us what a perfect world could look like.

The story behind “sevenkittens”

According to the information on the Ustream site known as “sevenkittens,” the kittens were born on June 7. The mother cat, Noodles, under a year old, was a hungry, pregnant stray taken in and fostered by a kind Pittsburgh, PA family.

Here is a video of the litter, one day old:

All are spoken for

As the family already has four cats of their own, Noodles and her litter were put up for adoption. I am happy to report that each kitten and Noodles too, have been adopted (in fact, Noodles will be going to her new home with one of her ginger sons).

3 weeks, after feeding at the “milk bar”

Breakdown of the family

There are five male gingers: three are orange, one is buff-colored and the fifth is nearly white. This kitten, dubbed “Runty” by the chat community, was, in fact, the runt of the litter.

The two females are tortis, one black and the other gray.

The best of care

The foster family has lavished great care on this litter, producing beautiful, healthy and socially adjusted kittens ready for their forever homes.

Gone viral

LiveCams of baby animals are popping up all over the place, from birds’ nests to litters of puppies and kittens.

Yet “sevenkittens” has managed an astonishing three million-plus views! This weekend those of us who have been following the litter with great interest will bid a fond farewell and shed more than few tears.

What was it about this litter of kittens that attracted over three million views?

  • Loki (Runty) at 8 weeks with the lucky lady he would soon go home with

    A compelling storyline. “Runty” (now known as Loki) stole the hearts of everyone who visited. We all rooted for him as he grew from an alarmingly small newborn to a sweet, healthy and magnificent looking boy-cat.

  • Supermom! Noodles’ care of seven rambunctious kittens, especially considering her youth, was extraordinary. When she wasn’t with her kittens, she was calling to them. She’d even play with them.
  • Variety. There was something for everyone in this litter from gingers to tortis, from sweet-tempered to rambunctious, glamorous girls and handsome boys.
  • at 2 months – Ramon (left) and the lovely Venus (right)

    Beautiful, peaceful images. The pictures of Noodles nursing her kittens soothed many a viewer who would check in during a stressful work day.

  • A viable, and international, community. Kittens are universal. Members of the chat community literally came from all over the world, chatting in many foreign languages. We had a common interest in mind – love for this cat family – and we got to know each other in the process.
  • A happy ending. Animal lovers know how many strays suffer and die prematurely. We’ve seen those disturbing ads from the Humane Society. This foster family lavished their attention and resources on Noodles and her kittens, sacrificing time, money and a bedroom in their home for them. It was a generous gesture very much appreciated by the whole community. And every kitten (plus the mother) are going to forever homes.

The kindness of strangers. A community pulling together around a common purpose. Scenes of perfect bliss with a mother and her children. And lots of love.

Sounds like a glimpse of a perfect world.

Thank you to the foster family for your generosity, for opening your home and sharing your story, for capturing the best highlights for us to look at again and again, and for Noodles and her children: Taco, Cosmo, Ramon, Hank, Spooky, Venus and most especially Loki.

The live Ustream will be up at least through this Friday, August 17. Highlights are available at the site. There are also videos available on YouTube at kittensseven.

I leave you with a slideshow chronicling the lives of this extraordinary litter. Enjoy!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you are a member of the chat community or are just interested, email me and I’ll send you all the pictures I’ve collected in a zip file.

Click to Tweet & Share: Seven Kittens show us what an ideal world can look like http://wp.me/p2D9hg-2Q

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