Inspiration, Listening to the Heart, saints

Accidental Parenting

I came to parenting a little backwards. I’d had not much intention of getting married, much less starting a family (“not my vocation,” as I’d often said), but I was enjoying getting to know Paul when in a phone conversation after our second date, he mentioned, almost in passing, that he had two children. Two. Children.

Okay, that pretty much was that. I remember pacing up and down the corridor in the apartment building where I lived (not much room for pacing in my studio!), and thinking, no, no, no.

God had other plans. Three months later I met said children—Jacob was five and Anastasia almost four—and a year later Paul and I were married. And I learned first-hand why parenting is not, but not, for the faint of heart.

Becoming a stepmother means walking into a house of grief. No matter whether the children’s mother has been lost through death or divorce, the loss is real and constant and the kids are not thrilled about someone being there in her place. Boundaries are tested. Decisions are second-guessed. Tears are shed. I felt that if God was calling me to do this thing, then I was going to do it the best I could—but he was going to have to help!

And he did. Those early years were tough years, I won’t pretend they weren’t. Later years were tough, too, though for different reasons. Jacob is now twenty-eight, Anastasia twenty-seven, and frankly these days I cannot imagine my life without them in it. Our marriage didn’t survive, but my parenting did, and in retrospect I am so grateful to have had the honor of helping raise these two beautiful young people.

I suspect many parents feel that same honor at the end of the day. And grandparents, too. It’s just what one does before that’s… tricky. There are hundreds of parenting manuals out there, and none of them offers a magic formula, a secret method for getting it right. Maybe there really is no one “right” way to parent. Are you too strict? Not strict enough? Should you allow them to read anything they want? Should you censor who they hang out with?

I know how difficult it was to parent my stepchildren through what might euphemistically be called a “normal” time; I cannot imagine it in the time of coronavirus, where the decisions you’re making are, quite literally, life-and-death decisions. What children crave as much as love is certainty: they like a routine, a schedule. They need to know what will happen next week. They have to be sure the blocks of their world will stay the same for the foreseeable future. And how can anyone promise them that—now? We don’t know what the next few weeks, or months, or years will bring; how can we communicate reassurance to our kids and grandkids?

When I’m feeling a little lost, I turn to the Church, because in the thousands of years of our existence, you can be sure there’s someone, somewhere, who has something to teach us. And in looking for parenting models, the most obvious choice are the parents of Our Lady: Anna and Joachim, the earthly grandparents of Jesus.

Like me, they were a little surprised by their foray into parenting. I had never wanted to have children; they were unable to have children; and yet by God’s design we all ended up doing his will. Joachim and Anna are not mentioned in the Bible, but other documents outside of the Biblical canon do provide some details. These documents outline some of the Church’s traditional beliefs about Joachim, Anne and their daughter.

One story says that, rebuked in the Temple for his fifty years of childless marriage, Joachim took his flocks and went to a high mountain, refusing to return home in shame. Meanwhile, Anna prayed in her garden. God sent the Archangel Gabriel to each of them, who gave them tidings of the birth of “a daughter most blessed, by whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed, and through whom will come the salvation of the world.” Each promised to have their child raised in the Temple as a holy vessel of God. The archangel told Joachim to return home, where he would find his wife waiting for him in the city gate. Anna he told to wait at the gate. When they saw one another, they embraced, and this image is the traditional icon of their feast.

This may or may not be exactly what happened. But what did happen, and this we know, is that they raised a young woman to fulfill her role in a story far bigger than their lives, to become the handmaid of the Lord and the mother of longed for Messiah. And while I expect they had as many bumps in their parenting journey as I did—it cannot be easy, bringing up a child when one is well into one’s grandparenting years!—they still kept faith. They still prepared her for what the future would bring. They had no way of knowing what that would be—just as we, today, really don’t know what the future holds.

But, trite as it is to say, we do know who holds the future. We know that God guided Anna and Joachim, just as he guided me, just as he is guiding mothers and fathers and stepparents and grandparents today.

The world is as uncertain now as it’s ever been. Our children crave stability, and we can give it to them. Not necessarily in the way we’d like to, but in a way that’s better, more profound, longer-lasting. We can give them the stability of a life in Christ, the certainty of the love of God, the protection of the Holy Spirit. That’s the best gift we can give our children, and the only certainty any of us ever really has, now or ever.

And… they do notice. On her 23rd birthday, Anastasia wrote me a letter, thanking me for giving her, among other things, the Mass, and a trust in God. But I knew that already, because I have the privilege now of watching how she lives. And that makes it all worthwhile.

by Jeannette de Beauvoir

Image: Dimitris Vetsikas for Pixabay 

saints

Complaining Saints

Saints are human, and, as we all know, humans complain. A lot! Despite the often one-dimensional portraits of sanctity we find in some devotional materials, every saint struggled. And it wasn’t always easy for them to handle their struggles gracefully.

Complaints of the Saints by Sr. Mary Lea Hill, FSP, shares some of the saints’ responses to suffering. The witty anecdotes and wisdom she conveys are both consoling and relatable, teaching us that many saints experienced the same emotions we do in the face of hardship. 

And did they ever complain! Complaints of the Saints argues that complaining is a natural human reaction to life’s difficulties. Saints used their human nature, faults, and even complaints as a means for growing closer to God, seeing every part of their lives as part of a continuum that leads to eternity. We can learn from them: how we perceive and react to our trials can be a means for drawing us closer to God. Scripture and the lives of the saints together reaffirm the truth that God can handle (and welcomes!) our feelings and complaints.

In 61 short chapters, Sr. Lea relays the stories of a diverse range of holy men and women who reached out to God in times of need—sometimes with an acerbic tongue (St. Jerome); sometimes with patience (St. Thérèse of Lisieux); sometimes with a gruff demeanor (St. Damien of Molokai). All these saints enjoyed a close relationship with the Lord, and they weren’t afraid to reach out to him in their own voice, with their own raw feelings. Sr. Lea’s sense of humor—and affection for the saints—shines through her writing. After reading this book, you’re sure to feel closer to them as well.

You can pre-order Sr. Lea’s new book, out on August 6th, here.

Inspiration, saints

What does St. Paul have to say to YOU?

St. Paul is one of those saints who speaks to people throughout the ages. His love for Jesus Christ, and his journeys to bring the message of Jesus to others, tell us of Paul’s commitment to him. What is remarkable is that Saul—his name before he became Christian—began his life as a very committed Jew. He was born into an observant Jewish family and was very well educated in both secular subjects and the Jewish law. He was so passionate about his religion that he searched high and low for Christians, arrested them, persecuted them, and threw them into jail.

But Jesus Christ powerfully intervened in his life when Saul was on his way to Damascus to arrest more Christians. Suddenly, a light from heaven flashed around him. He heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” What an eye-opening response!

As we reflect on the encounter between Jesus and Saul, we realize that Saul not only “encountered” Jesus in the sense that he met Jesus. St. Paul actually experienced Jesus. Jesus and Paul opened themselves to each other, deeply revealing themselves to the other. Paul’s mind and heart, therefore, experienced Jesus, he knew Jesus as a Person. This encounter changed his life. He became a believer, a Christian, and was baptized by Ananias. 

After Paul’s conversion, he went into the desert for three years, spending his time in prayer and being instructed by the Holy Spirit. He emerged filled with love for Jesus and his heart burned to bring the Good News of Jesus throughout the known world.

For about 20 years he traveled throughout much of the known world preaching about Jesus and founding Christian communities in Asia and Europe. Paul’s passionate love for and commitment to Jesus are evident in letters that he wrote to these communities. It is also clear that Paul’s love has reached the pinnacle of uniting him completely to Jesus. This is especially poignant and clear in his Letter to the Philippians 1:21 when he writes that “for me to live is Christ” and when from his experience he exhorts them to “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5).

St. Paul writes these words to us. We, too, are to be united with Jesus, so that gradually we are transformed into him. Then our thoughts resemble those of Jesus, our choices, and our love—for God, for ourselves, and for others—become those of Jesus Christ. This is a lifelong journey in which we continually seek to know Jesus, by prayerfully reading Scripture, especially the New Testament, and by spending time with Jesus in prayer. He speaks and we listen—and we speak and he listens.

St. Paul will accompany us in our spiritual journey toward transformation into Christ so that we too will one day be able to say, “For me to live is Christ.”

by Sr. Patricia Shaules, FSP
Image: Dimitris Vetsikas for Pixabay