Breaking and Healing the Hearts of Our Children

It is an insomnia season. A season when all the elements converge and conspire against the coveted commodity called sleep... deep sleep. And in spite of my fondness for Instagram, I  lay tonight's struggle partially at the feet of that glorious time sucker. (As a friend wisely said, I wouldn't have the extra worries if I didn't go seeking them out on social media!) I met a mom there recently whose struggle looked a lot like mine and when she shared a little piece of her grief, my own heart broke. So here I am... awake. 

The grieving woman on Instagram wanted to know if we moms can entertain a reasonable hope of repairing the damage we do to our households over the years. Tell me we can! she begged. Tell me we can go back and reverse what we have done!  

I whispered a tiny and sad no inside my head and in the following seconds, my racing mind was flooded with a torrent of memories; all personal failures I have owned in the last 21 years of motherhood. Some of them stick to me like fly paper and the guilt is so heavy that if I dwell too long, I go down, down, down into the ugly deep. But I didn't dwell this time, I simply let the projector reel of time run out as I held my breath, as if riding out a labor pain. I answered on Instagram then... and I answer now as I lie awake, preoccupied with the gravity of this question...

No. You can't go back. You can't repair all the damage. The hope lies in the possibility of renewal, repentance, and healing - but the scars will probably stay. Some will stay for a little while and some for a lifetime, heedless of our grief and the gripping, aching guilt of regret.

The children forget our mistakes when they are 12 months old but it doesn't take long before the memories stick. They are formed under our love.... and our sin. My first two children have entered adulthood and I know that when they walk out the front door, they take all the hidden heart wounds with them. Perhaps they’ll over spend the rest of his life healing from and forgiving me the consequences of my sins...

My laziness.
My impatience.
My lack of charity.
My selfishness.
My willful ignorance.
All of those things which fall into those categories in big and small ways.

Countless hours of my motherhood have been spent lying awake, grieving over my words and actions and raising my fist against the injustice of the human condition… 

Why must it be that we are destined to leave these marks on the souls of our children when it is our deepest desire to raise them to be whole and healthy and happy? 

There simply is no answer apart from The Fall and The Cross. Jesus is the Savior. And I am not He. In our journey toward sanctity, we eventually realize that either He will be the answer to the heartache of our homes... or no one will. 

For years, I spent much of my motherly frustration on those outside of my home who hurt my children, dwelling on the difficulty of free will. Why, Lord, do You allow people to choose evil? To choose sin? To hurt my children? And then... the day came when raised my hands and yelled: 

WHY? Why, Lord, have You allowed ME to wound?  

I love my large family and take tremendous delight in watching it grow and thrive; however, the process of sanctification in this vocation can be intense. And perhaps that's putting it mildly. The walls that used to get washed... don't.

The attention I used to have for one... I must somehow divide by seven.

The virtues I thought would blossom in my life... have proven to be remarkably weak under pressure.

My plans for holiness and household peace and perfect... skuttled by the reality of human will.

We love and we wound. They adore us and then feel our weakness pierce their hearts. We make them the center of our vocation, and then they remind us that they are not meant to be bent and molded and pressed... but to be mentored and to fly. In my imagination, I saw that I would become better and more competent over time. I never would have believed that I would feel that the opposite was happening.

Motherhood will not be planned. Children will not be controlled. And against every prayer and supplication, God will always allow more struggle than the person can handle. Would we ever turn to Him if He didn't?

For years, I thought it was just me. I thought that I was the lone failure among my friends and my community. I knew others were struggling, but in my self-centered anxiety, I thought that I must be at the bottom of the barrel of incompetent mothers.

Over the years, this belief (coupled with a heavy dose of postpartum hormonal imbalances) brought a period of depression which led into a lingering sorrow and a companion anger that comes with a feeling of cosmic injustice…

If large families are a blessing, then WHY am I suffering under the burden of my inadequacy? If this is the right equation, then I must be the wrong answer. Why would God allow my beautiful children to be placed in the care of such a weak, wounded, and ridiculous mother? 

I couldn't find an answer because I did not understand that His perfection only comes in our weakness. In the cloud of my monumental pride, the grace of God was obscured. All that was visible to me was my failure.

This harsh and deep sorrow softened over time and was eventually companioned by a deep and strengthening faith. I acknowledged my constant failure and recognized that I would always fail. I read adult versions of the lives of the saints and recognized their humanity; their allergies, their tempers, their errors, their conflicts. I began to know them a little better and to forgive in myself what I had previously seen as unforgivable.

At the beginning of my motherhood, I grew in confidence as I led my little army. That great confidence faded as I saw my failures mirrored to me in the lives of my growing kids. My pride lay stretched out and broken on the living room rug every single day. There didn't seem to be a way out of that. Mary, Mother of Sorrows became an ally for the first time. And the Cross of motherhood, once a lovely but distant mystery, became nestled deeply in my heart. My greatest consolation was the abiding love of God. He made Himself very present to me, even as my broken heart bled out into every area of my life.

Why did He allow this kind of stripping of soul? Perhaps because once I knew that I was absolutely nothing without Him, I might finally learn how to pray and truly seek Him.  

The grace of God began to rain down upon me and carried me through what I have privately referred to as my adult childhood. I had to learn how to walk again and to relearn what it meant to be alive as a child of God. Formerly, I thought that faith would make me a shiny flawless saint, like the drawings in my children's picture books. The hard lesson was that the pursuit of perfection did not mean that I could be perfect in myself, but only by allowing Christ to fill my soul entirely. The Refiner's Fire was consuming me. Terrifically painful (and ongoing)... but still a place of Life and unparalleled joy. 

How was I to grow in sanctity and perfection? How was I to learn to stand up straight and tall in the midst of my failures? It really boils down to the annihilation of my pride and the pursuit of only one vision: God's.

I am now in a stage I can only refer to as the fighting stage. I see that I am overwhelmed by losses to my own sinful nature, my kids' free will, and the many obligations of life that I do not feel equipped to meet. And yet... I know that I am fighting for souls. I used to want to build the perfect Catholic dominion... and now I am fighting for each step against many enemies and odds, to simply love all my people into heaven.

I do not count the wins as a general would, I tend the soldiers and the wounded, regardless of whether the battle being waged is won or lost. The larger battle will never be mine to fight. My battle is love and love alone.

We were made for greatness. We were made for everything good He ordains for us, be that with a short obscure life or a lengthy stay in the midst of a large community. My fiat is not my yes to success... it is my yes to faithful obedience and an act of faith with the promise of joy. My failures are like stepping stones to grace. Each time I fall, He lifts me up higher than I could have gone without Him. And if I get to heaven at all, it will be because I have simply let Him carry me the whole way. 

This vocation... It doesn't look at all like I thought it would. The sorrow is still there. The crosses seem to multiply at times. The stakes are higher. It used to be about simply keeping the children alive and clean each day and now it's about their immortal souls. It is hard in a startling way and perhaps that is why God gives us the easy stuff first. Pregnancy, labor, and bloody breastfeeding ain’t got nothin' on teenage/young adult growing and stretching pains and the realization that I've screwed up more small and big things than I can count. My pride has been sorely touched by this new stage in motherhood. 

Eventually, all of the days of humiliation and dying give way to days of rising. You will fall hard. And your children will fall hard. It is on those days that you will know without question where your true priorities lie. You will drop everything and run to tend to their skinned knees and hearts (and sometimes even harder, clean up after the wounds they have inflicted on others) and you will question everything that you do and why you do it. 

Our tendency is to run, fast and hard, away from that pain and discomfort and our culture does this with a will. As Christians, we feel the struggle coming on and are tempted to turn and start running with everyone else. It makes sense…

Leave it, medicate it, drink it away, distract, cover, deny, pretend, and shout it down. But we... those moms who know the heart and hurt is all for Christ... we stop mid stream and do an intentional turning. We see our crosses waiting behind us and we turn and take them up with love. 

I'm not going to leave.
I'm never going to leave.
I give myself in love for you.
I will work until I'm old and gray (and beyond) for you.
My talents are yours.
My treasure is yours. 
My time is yours.
My cheerful, joyful, sunny days are yours.

But my anger, resentfulness, selfishness, and crankiness? Those are mine. And I leave them at the foot of the Cross for Jesus to sweep away. Because His name is Mercy.

To the beautiful Instagram lady who came face to face with her priorities, I just want to let you know that it is a day for rejoicing. God has chosen to gift you with holy vision. And now? He will give you the grace to press on. Thanks be to God.

How Motherhood Can Heal the Jaded Woman

New motherhood is a golden moment in a woman's life where the opportunity to be permanently changed is tangible, powerful, and immediate. No, I'm not talking about whether or not YOU feel or see any difference. The change happens regardless; because the child is placed into your arms and instantly, you are loved... by a brand new person who doesn't know anything about your failures. And frankly, doesn't care.

Doesn't care if your hair is all messy from labor.
Doesn't care if you've got dark circles under your eyes.
Doesn't care if you are struggling to find words.
Doesn't care if you aren't sure about this whole motherhood thing. 

His love is yours. Period. 

It is an exquisite moment of renewal. There is no history. No memory of wrongs done. A clean slate. 

Those eyes and tiny fingers... they seek you out as often as possible. To connect with you and to love and be loved. Special talent is not required... simply your presence. 

We tend to think of ourselves as being in a role of power over our little ones, but perhaps the greatest potential power is that of the child over a mother's heart. We think we are the lovers and the healers. But I don't know... seems to me that the greater power lies in the helpless devotion of the child.

I was just 21 years old when I held my firstborn; and those initial moments were not ones in which I felt dominant or in control, but ones in which I felt smaller and more humbled than I ever had in my life.

My arrogance fell away.
My selfishness fell away.
My knowledge fell away.
My self-importance fell away.

I held a tiny human in my arms and felt as though I held the mysteries of the universe all wrapped up in my soft baby. Aware of my complete insignificance, I let the awe and fear wash over me in giant waves as the nurses showed me how to care for my son. Those waves crashed upon me again and again as he cried in hunger and turned toward me for nourishment and comfort. And again as I changed him for the first time. Imperfectly.

And still he loved me. 

As those waves of emotion rolled over me, I felt the sharp edges of my womanhood softening, smoothed by the tiny majestic moments. My memories now forever included this child and were filled by him. And no pain or bitterness that I had felt in my life would ever again be felt as sharply simply because he was there. No wound that I had received could hurt as much as the love of this child could heal. 

When I tell people that I've had 8 children, they often stare in astonishment. You must be crazy! Life must be very hard! But I have a secret that they don't know...

The births and the love and the precious lives of my children have continuously washed over me for the last twenty years... and my bitterness doesn't stand a chance. My heart hardens and then it softens; washed over time and again by the smiles and tears of the most precious people on earth.

I am sometimes envious of the beautiful professional women I see around town with their pretty shoes and manicures. I wonder if I will ever be without a little one on my hip or a baby nursing at my breast. And then I remember...

I am happy. I am softened. I am loved. 

As the children have grown, that hard edge sometimes threatens to creep back into my soul again alongside the sufferings and sorrows of life. Shut the door! It cries. You can't be hurt if you keep it closed. And I shout back...

It is a lie.

Let your love wash over me, Jesus... let your love wash me soft. That even when the bitterness rises in my memory, it can never stand against the rolling power of your merciful love. 

A Mother's Secret Moment {surrendering to life}

bird in hand.jpg

I sit in the darkness and count my blessings. Over and over I count them... and then add one more. It is that profound moment in a mother's life. That isolated, heavy, light, surreal moment when no one in the whole world knows except mother of the biggest thing that really ever happens. A new soul... a new soul. The whole world swirls around me in the dark. And I sway and count rhythmically and slowly. Buying a little time, catching  my breath. Measuring time so that I won't miss the breathtaking moment when the soul chooses surrender... and joy.

It takes two days to find that surrender. It isn't that I'm not willing or that I don't know it will come... but that the world is noisy and fast and I need time - time to be alone with this seedling - and to allow the unfolding to occur. 

It never feels like a yesat first but rather a moment of sheer stark terror when mortality and heaven collide with tremendous force. And the first and only thing I want to do in that moment... is to set down my cross. May I, Lord? May I set it down? Just for a moment?

Just for a moment, He says. I will take it. Lean in, Melody... lean in. I will carry your cross until you are ready to pick it up.

Am I ever really ready to pick it up again? From the very first moment two decades ago when I learned I was a mother, I was ready to run. That first time I only feared the unknown. After that, I knew very well why I was afraid; and it is for that reason that I need this precious moment in the silent isolated darkness... to face it and surrender over and over again. Nine times now I have done it. And nine times I have watched my capacity for life expand beyond reasonable bounds. I know the truth about joy. But I just need a moment.

I used to have to wait for the little plus sign... but now I just know the signs of my body. I've done this enough to know the drill. My body changes. My emotions change. My cravings change. My very soul begins to change. Another weak fiat is clasped in my nervous hands - two pink lines -and I slowly uncurl those stubborn fingers. 

What will the world think, Lord?
What do youthink, daughter?

I am overwhelmed by the injustice of the dampening of pure joy by the hardness of worldly hearts... and my temper flares. This child is too beautiful for the world! Too glorious for their eyes and judgments! But I am tainted like the world... and I am tired. And... I just need a moment.

So the darkness remains and my eyes are squeezed shut, wishing the cross to be lighter. But I will my hands to rise up with my fiat. My fingers splay outward and surrender rolls off the tips and also off my tongue and out of my very soul...

Yes. I surrender. With joy.

A tremendous wave of grace crashes upon me, reminding me that He is powerful. That love is not a sentiment but a wild sea. It is a raging storm that draws in the heart and raises it higher... higher... higher. But it takes crazy courage to invite it in and let it reign. 

This child is more than my fear. An immortal soul. Imago Dei.I surrender to awe. I surrender to love. I speak my fears one more time but it is only a ceremonial act. I throw them out fiercely one by one and watch my mighty God strike them down...

Sickness.
Weakness.
Failure.
Discomfort.
Loss of control.
Ridicule.
Miscarriage.
Loss of freedom.
The pains of birth.
Loss of time.

I shout them out and He slays them as dragons and binds the lies which grip my heart. And He replaces them with a song...

You are enough. Your baby is enough. You are free to love. You are free to know joy. Dance in the Presence of your heavenly Father and make an offering of your very life. It is beautiful and good and you know it is. You look into the eyes of your children and you know that you have already embraced this little one... that this moment is the beginning of surrender to joy. Let the blossoming begin. 

It used to be that I was eager to share our news immediately. As the years have gone by and our numbers increased, I am less and less eager. It seems the moment the word is spoken, the mystery is diminished under blithe speech and gossip. The sacred treasure is exposed to harsh light. The talk turns to names and dates and nausea and numbers. And really... all I want to do is breathe in the unspeakable beauty of the sacred dignity of the newly created soul. Eventually, I will get to those other details... but for now, I just rest in the moment. Thanks be to God.