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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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”→
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.
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.
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.
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:
Suzy 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!
My 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!
Here’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!
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:
The day ended quietly and once home,
I indulged in my favorite Christmas present this year,
sent 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:
A lovely tabletop tree highlights the manger scene:
Magical, yes. And blessed. Merry Christmas!
How was your Christmas? What were your favorite toys from Santa?
What feelings come up when you read the following two words:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Click to Tweet & Share: Toy Story friends Woody and Buzz Lightyear inspire unexpected acts of kindness. Decency lives! http://wp.me/p2D9hg-7T