Love–the best ingredient

Dylan used to cook quite a bit when we first married, and when I would compliment what he made, he would tell me that the key ingredient was love. Times have changed. He works an awful lot and now I am the primary cook for our hungry household. But the key ingredient remains love.

Dylan bought me a Kitchen Aid for Mother’s Day this year. It’s the type of gift that I would have felt insulted by little over a decade ago because I would have seen it as him assigning me an unpaid domestic working role. However, after years of struggling with a tight grocery budget in which we couldn’t afford to go buy whatever ingredients suited our fancy, buying groceries without worrying about bouncing a check feels like financial freedom. What used to be a chore has become a liberating form of art, an expression of love from me for my family, and something I really enjoy. It sounds sappy but the babies that I grew in my womb then nursed ex utero continue to be nourished by what I create for them. And that’s meaningful to me during this season of motherhood.

As the stay-at-home mother of six children, it’s good I enjoy creating in the kitchen because I spend a heck-of-a-lot of time preparing meals these days. And the kids love to help me bake/cook. They love to measure, mix and taste. Perhaps that’s why fractions are second nature for them.

This particular morning, my only son, Basil, came into my bedroom and said, “Mom, we need to make be-sert (dessert) like Diane.” Diane is our neighbor from across the alley and she’s become a good friend, the type of person you would CHOOSE to be a family member, if you could choose family. You can’t choose family, but you CAN choose friends. Among other talents (like being a kick-arse attorney), Diane is an amazing cook and has been kind enough to invite the kids over to bake with her many times.

Thanks to her baking with the kids, Basil very clearly has a reference-point for what a Kitchen Aid does. He was so insistent on making “be-sert” this morning that we made brownies before breakfast.

As I sip my coffee on this dreary day, I feel a glint of hope and happiness that my son feels so excited about preparing food. My daughters love to cook and bake, and I am proud of their culinary skills and desire to work in the kitchen too, but so often I think we naturally prepare girls to nurture, cook and do housework. Meanwhile, we send a subliminal message (and sometimes not-so-subliminal) to boys that the kitchen and housework is not for them. As a mother, a wife, and a citizen it is important to me that we raise our son (like my husband was raised) to be a good father and nurturing spouse in case he is called to that vocation.

No matter how liberal or conservative you are, caring for others is non-gendered and apolitical.

I will admit that I share part of the following advice both humbly and hypocritically since my kids all claim to be allergic to dish soap, and the words “sort laundry” has a similar consequence to the warning, “Fire!” screamed in my household . . . Okay, maybe there’s no stop, drop and roll with “sort laundry,” but the kids do flee from the house as if they are in imminent danger.

If you are disinterested in my advice after reading the paragraph above, stop reading. But if you don’t mind my parenting advice, a kind of advice I am documenting partially so I don’t forget it myself, please read on: Please teach your children–girls AND boys—basic skills. Teach them the power of serving others. And don’t be afraid to teach your girls to do outdoor work, especially if they are interested. Our oldest daughter mows our lawn and does a lot of our laborious outdoor work. And I mean A LOT. Our second daughter does a lot of babysitting of her siblings, especially the baby. Both daughters enjoy cooking and have a healthy relationship with food. I could make a list of what each child does to contribute to our household, but I have six kids so I’ll spare you of that. My point is that each child should contribute. Recognize now that they won’t do it perfectly. But hey, I don’t contribute perfectly either. Just look at my porch and you’ll notice I’m an imperfect housekeeper. We are all works in progress.

The important thing is not WHAT children do to contribute to the household, the important things is THAT they contribute to the household.  As humans, we are interdependent. The family is the foundation of humanity; each person has something to contribute to the whole. Regardless of IQ, development, able-bodiedness, we all have something to contribute.

Let’s teach our kids to work in solidarity and let’s teach them that the most important ingredient is love. It’s not what you give but how you give it that makes a difference.

This Mother’s Day, let’s praise and encourage, not blame or shame, single mothers

I am not a single mother, but as a military wife, sometimes I get a little glimpse of what single-mothering is like, and it’s super hard. If we Catholics really want to call ourselves pro-life, we need to do *something* to help single mothers that have chosen to give life and are trying to parent in a culture that excludes them from community support. And by the way, the *something* we do must be helpful, reliable and consistent.

Parenting is isolating, exhausting, and thankless. We live in a culture that supports privileged, PLANNED parenthood, but when people are poor, uneducated, nonwhite, or are blessed with children out of wedlock (or get divorced), we submit messages of blame and shame instead of encouragement and praise. The messages we send through our words, body langauge, action, inaction, inclusion and exclusion matters. The choices we make drive the outcomes we experience. How we treat Moms has an immense impact on the children they parent. Plus, besides the collateral impact of honoring marginalized mothers because it is the right thing to do, when we respect mothers they are more likely to feel energized and nurture children that grow up to be successful, autonomous, caring adults. The future depends on how we treat each other today, so let’s treat each other with love and compassion.

Speak loving words at home

We are all sacred temples of the Holy Spirit. Words, actions and inactions can hurt or they can nourish the spiritual flame. Do not let your children pierce each other with unkind words or hurtful names. Don’t let them try to suffocate or blow out another’s flame. Teach them to kindle the flame and be a light unto each other.

Sibling conflict is natural, especially when you live in close quarters. Therefore, give your children language to resolve conflict through nonviolent communication. Do not be a bystander to a child’s suffering—no matter how big, no matter how small.

In the end, the only thing that matters is love. And we first learn how to communicate love from our experience at home.

Home is where the heart is—Easter reflections

During the genesis of our marriage, Dylan and I moved around a lot. When we closed on our first home, our oldest two daughters were preschoolers. While a short time in retrospect, moving around was an act of trust. It felt as if we had been wandering the desert for forty years, waiting for manna to fall from heaven. When we closed on our first home, it felt like we had finally reached the Promised Land, the land of milk and honey. Stability at last.

Our home was beautiful—shiny hardwood floors, a fireplace, a four season porch, a laundry chute. Big new windows throughout the home and a large sliding door in the back brightened the mood of home. We had great neighbors that cared for us, and we met some of our best friends to this day in that neighborhood and during that time period.

When Dylan was home (and not away with the military), we would often have friends over for last-minute beergaritas after the kids were in bed. Longing to give our kids the gift of family traditions in the comfort of their own home, we tried to host as many holidays as we could. I adopted my mother-in-law’s theme party idea, and she helped me out with the menu on multiple occasions. We had everything from Roman Holidays to International Navidads. We ended up with a hodgepodge of people at Christmas every year—and it was beautiful. Friends became family.

We made a tough decision and bought a different house not long after Dylan came home from a deployment to Kuwait. That was nearly five years ago now. And recently, our “old” house went up for sale again. Same beautiful house but with another bathroom.

I feel like I should mention that we love so much about our current home–the financial stability it gives us, the friends we’ve made, the access we have to get anywhere in the Cities by foot or bus. But in spite of everything we love, eight people, a dog and two cats in a 1300 square foot home with one bathroom can be a real challenge at times. I mean, can you imagine? There are definite upsides. For example, my kids know how to share. They are keen negotiators, and have excellent conflict resolution skills. If your family of eight shares one toilet and just finished your Chinese takeout, trust me, you need tip-top negotiating skills. It’s great and all but to be totally transparent, it’s not always fun parenting while they are “resolving conflict,” even if we stay out of it and let them work it out. A small space is sure to be a loud space, even if they are using their inside voices. Our old house being on sale combined with the first world inconvenience of our current home’s size has prompted a lot of conversations about home and the idea of moving lately.

As we were talking about “home” the other day, our six-year-old, M4, interrupted us during dinner, “I never ‘weally’ feel at home,” she stated matter-of-factly.” She captivated all of our attention. All of us. Even our nine-month-old looked at M4, confused by the sudden silence at the dinner table. In a home like ours, there are often multiple conversations happening at once. Silence never happens. All eyes were on M4 and she grinned as she confidently shared, “Because my weal home is with God in heaven,” and then she repeated, “so I never weally feel at home here or anywhere.” We were so taken aback that for a moment, you could have heard a pin drop. It’s so easy for grown ups to focus on the material, the literal, and what we can control. We have our own ideas about what our children’s basic needs are and what’s best for them. Often we think they need more things than they actually do. In reality, children need less, and they need love more than anyTHING. Children have a closeness to God that has not been corrupted by earthly desires or measures of status.

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As a Catholic adult, I went through the motions of Lent this year. You maybe know how it goes. I fasted a little, prayed a lot, attended Mass regularly, even attended Adoration. I tried to offer up my suffering without complaining. That is hard, by the way! I thought I did pretty well. But my kids were more reverent at practicing Lent and are much better at celebrating the true meaning of Easter—the resurrection, eternal life and the excitement of our eternal home. We always go around the table before every family meal and each person says what they’re thankful for. At our house, it’s a requirement for those that want to eat.

I think I said I was thankful for the beautiful weather yesterday. But my kids each said, “I’m thankful for the resurrection” or “I’m thankful Jesus is risen.” And they said it with deep joy and unprompted sincerity.

If you ask me what I’m thankful for today, I am thankful for them. As their parent, I am their steward and it’s my most important job to teach them about their faith, but it seems they are constantly teaching me about mine. Maybe that’s why Jesus said, “Let the children come unto me” or that “You must be like a little child to enter the kingdom of heaven.” I’m going to work a little harder to see the world through my children’s eyes and live as an authentic Christian.

 

On Good Friday being Good

As we walked out of Church on Holy Thursday, a concerned look came over my nine-year-old’s face and she looked at me, dark curls framing her face, blue eyes wrought with confusion. Carrying the baby with my left arm, I reached out and grabbed my four-year-old’s hand as he rapidly approached the Church parking lot with a bounce in his step and not a worry in his mind. My nine-year-old trodded along, lost in her thoughts. The pitter-patter of her footsteps drew closer and she suddenly blurted out, as if we had been engaged in an argument, “But Mom! I don’t understand. Why is tomorrow called *Good* Friday if that’s when Jesus was crucified?”

In the millisecond before I answered the depth of my mind responded with a response we say aloud during the Stations of the Cross, “(We adore you oh Christ and we praise you.) Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.” And I explained to her as best I could our story, the story of salvation.

It is tough, even for our adult minds, to understand the redemptive value of suffering, to trust the light at the end of the tunnel when we are holding our breaths through the darkness.

My priest, Father Paul, reminded me recently that there is a reason there’s a cross hanging above our altar at Church, not an empty tomb. Because it is through the cross that we get to the empty tomb. Good Friday is good because without the holy cross, there is no Easter, no resurrection or redemption.

I have a really hard time embracing the poverty of injustice in my suffering. It’s really hard to carry my cross and see it as the way to the empty tomb, the resurrection.

As I write, the refrain of an old song I learned from my Protestant father comes to mind, “So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.”

Old Rugged Cross (originally by George Bennard)

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(This painting is my favorite art piece, possibly ever. It was a gift to me from my husband after years of searching for a “black crucifixion.” An anniversary gift. How romantic, right? It hangs in our dining room as a reminder that there is light at the end of the tunnel, salvation for those that suffer pain and oppression. The artist is Tim Ashkar.)

As counterintuitive as it is, Good Friday is good, just like our suffering is good. It is through suffering and death that we experience eternal life, after all.

source and summit

I was twenty-two at my wedding, barely twenty-three at the birth of my first child, twenty-four when I ran for public office . . . I earned my bachelor’s degree while my husband worked multiple jobs and I mothered two children and worked as a political consultant. Those were days in which every hour was a waking hour and sleep felt like a distant memory. I attended my first year of law school full time with four daughters at home and a husband deployed overseas. I completed law school while mothering five children, pregnant with the sixth child, supporting my husband’s two careers through crockpot meals at home. For over a decade, I have been deeply engaged in political activity and invested in serving my neighbors through volunteer work on boards and commissions.

I am now thirty-six, jobless, not in school, and absolutely exhausted. I’m home taking care of the baby, driving the kids to and from school, to and from basketball practice, dance practice, more dance practice, even more dance practice, music lessons, volleyball, the doctor, dentist and orthodontist too. We rush to Mass on the weekend and rush home to get to the next activity. During the school days, while the kids are at school, I clean the house . . . but there’s always more to do. And the cleaning never ends. I make a homemade dinner daily and justify the processed food I send in my kids’ lunchboxes. I put the baby in her jumper and hope she will entertain herself while I sweep the floor, do the dishes, clean the one toilet that all seven of us use daily. I try to offer it up, because it can be easy to be self-centered.

Through the lens of American culture, I am judged by so-called feminists for not having a career outside of the home, and yet, I am doing the hardest and the most femenistic job I have ever done. Because there is nothing more femininistic than bearing human life and caring for that life, educating and leading the next generation of humans. As I am caring for my husband, home and family, and yet, I feel exhausted. Frequently, I even feel defeated. But it is not the cleaning or cooking or caring that is exhausting. That part might actually be empowering. What is exhausting is socializing children into a culture that rewards superior athleticism, academia, musical talent, coordination. We no longer have a culture that allows kids to be kids, games to be pure fun, but the pressure is on to be good at every activity they do. And much like we have a culture that defines adults by their paid careers, we have a culture that defines children by their special talents, not by their senses of wonder and play, not by their unscathed spirituality.

Being so busy as a family is completely draining . . . Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Perhaps that is why I feel most at peace at Mass or at my Eucharistic Adoration Hours. My children ask to go to adoration with me. My oldest begs me to wake her up for my 2 a.m. Eucharistic Adoration hour.

Vatican II called the Holy Eucharist the “source and the summit of Christian life” (Lumen gentium, no. 11; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1324). A source is defined on dictionary.com as “anything or place from which something comes, arises, or is obtained; origin.” A summit, on the other hand, is the high point of a hill or a mountain, but it is also a meeting between heads of government. The Holy Eucharist, therefore, is the origin and the high point–the source and the summit–of our spiritual lives. It is through the Holy Eucharist that we encounter God and are nourished by Him.

The word Eucharist means “thanksgiving” and we praise God because we need it to be ordered within ourselves. We need the spiritual nourishment. Literally. After receiving God in the Eucharist, we are commanded to go forth in peace to share God’s love, a love which has to be so powerful that through our love is inspiring enough to establish such wonder, curiosity and inspiration that we are able to make God known and loved. We are the temples of the living God and when people watch us, if we are truly good Christians, they are able to encounter God through us, just as we are able to encounter Him through them.

And so I hope to shift to a simpler life that allows my family to make Sunday a holiday, as the Holy Father has encouraged us to do, and to encounter God in our interactions with others. This blog is part of my effort to hold myself accountable.

My end-of-the-busy-season prayer is this:

Dear God,
Help us to put you first in all things,
Teach us Your will and nourish us with your loving grace.
Have mercy on us and give us the grace we need to forgive those that hurt us and to love them.
Do not tempt us with worldly ways, but provide us with the means to live simple lives that honor You above all else. . . our Source and our Summit . . .
Amen

P.S. This was originally published on my other blog which is now hidden. I’m republishing it here.

Holy cow

Traffic jam. India. Holy cow! Cars and shuttles honk and halt for a crossing cow, while motorcycles and mopeds fearlessly wiggle through the mass of bigger vehicles. The sweet smells of overripe mangoes and sandalwood mates with the pungent smells of body odor and sewage. Meanwhile brawny, brown bodies crowd under market canopies, attempting to shade themselves from the blistering July sun. As my senses overload en route from the airport to my Uncle’s home, I sit pondering in the back seat of Uncle’s Mercedes Benz, while he speaks Hindi to his driver and my soul cries tears for the visible lack of upward social mobility here.

I ponder fate. Then out of thousands of windows in the traffic jam, a young boy of five or six years approaches mine. He knocks on it. I look up; our eyes meet. The boy points to a dead fly- swarmed baby in his arms. A real human baby, breathlessly limp in his arms. My universe stops, and I hear nothing. Silence crushes me for moments that feel like an eternity. Then my senses awaken. An infiltration of noise overwhelms me: horns honk; music blares. I open my purse. And Uncle yells, “No!” Uncle screams at me not to give anything to the slum dog. The car moves forward. Nearly two decades later, I still cannot erase this vivid nightmarish image from my mind. The memory still calls me to take responsibility for my unearned privileges.

Share the Light

“Brothers and sisters,
You were once darkness but now you are light in the Lord.
Live as children of light,
For light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.
Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.
Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness;
Rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention
The things done by them in secret;
But everything exposed by the light becomes visible,
For everything that becomes visible is light.
Therefore, it says:
“Awake, O sleeper,
And arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”
Eph 5:8-14

“Let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine worlds and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Matthew 5:16

“No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick that they which come in may see light.
Luke 11:33

“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it give the light unto all that are in the house.”
Matthew 5:14-15

“Every family is always a light, no matter how faint it might be, amid the darkness of this world.”
Pope Francis (Homily at vigil celebration of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, St. Peter’s Square, October 2, 2016)

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