Wednesday, March 3, 2010

This Job Called Parenting

My friend Maria called me the other night as I was walking my grandmother to her bedroom. Mawmaw fell recently and broke her shoulder so she's like a one-winged bird, she's can't fly and she's a bit wobbly. For fear that she will fall and break the other arm and/or a hip, she cannot be left alone. The night-shift was mine.

Upon pulling my cell phone out of my pocket and seeing it was Maria, I took the call quickly. It had been months since she had called so, naturally, I knew the call was a necessary one.

It was. I knew from the anxiety in Maria's voice that prayers were needed, and I assured her of them and asked if I could get my grandmother settled then call her back. But there was no time for any more late night calls. Her daughter Adrienne, who survived cancer so many yesterdays ago was going to the hospital in the early morning hours for a series of tests which would show if the toxic level of chemo pumped into her all those yesterdays ago had drenched and damaged the vibrant blossom of a youthful heart.

Was there damage to her body? That was Maria's fear. That was this heart-stopping question that kept Maria awake that night. This hospital visit was a necessary canticle. She needed assurance of prayers to keep her out of the Slough of Despair.

As I settled my grandmother in her bed, straightened her nightgown, raised her legs evenly in the bed, and tucked her into warm sheets; I balanced a tiny cell phone on my shoulder and tried with all my might to do justice to two needs at once. I'm not very good at multi-tasking. Just ask my husband. Neither need was perfectly done. I couldn't escape either scenerio. And I wanted to make each sacred. I wanted to serve these parts of Christ's body with warmth and attention. But, mere mortal that I am, I failed.  God, through one of His precious saints, assured me that I did not:

"God doesn't require us to succeed; he only requires that you try." ~ Mother Teresa

Such is the pain and frustration we find here on earth. We realize how weak and incomplete we are. We realize how insuffient are ourselves and our plans. We realize there is no perfection here outside of Heaven.

But God takes our pathetic little offerings and makes them something holy and beautiful. That is part of my faith, to believe that God is bigger than anything I might try to be.

Maria has updated us here and it is good news...for the most part.

"What we learned today: Adrienne is growing well, has no heart damage at this point,..." ~ M.R.

"With regard to the future, it's not quite what I thought. Some of the chemos she was on for so long cause negative long-term side effects which is why she will have to have annual physicals all her life, regular echo-cardiograms, EKG's, and various tests to check for secondary cancers on a regular basis. That was in some ways a surprise to me. I knew certain things were a lifelong question. I did not know they all were." ~ M.R.

It is not perfect news but it is news that teaches us to trust in God's lives for us and for our children. It is news that teaches us once again that nothing is perfect on this side of Heaven. It is news that teaches us that God is control, that He has a plan...if only we trust in His almighty plan. Nothing happens outside of His will for us.

It was something Maria wrote in 2003-04 while she was in the depths of chemo with her daughter and hoping this nasty stuff would save their little girl and prolong her life that caught my heartstrings today. It is the voice of all parents and how much we love, how much we pray, how much we care...and how little we trust...weak, sinful creatures that we are:

"My mistake was to cling to my hope for these children, to forget that they are more God's than ours and to be so arrogant as to imagine that my plans for them were better than His. I didn't express it to myself that way, or even think of it that way. I lived that way, thoughtlessly. I suffered needlessly for it, and made my life more difficult than it was meant to be. As a result, I became disheartened and sad. Time with our children felt like water in my hands, relentlessly dripping away despite my every effort to hold it in my grasp. It was never meant to be held in my grasp. I worked to deflect the weight of this cross from the shoulders of our children. Cancer seemed less ugly if I could cage it and keep it from touching anything other than what it must. In my pride, I imagined I could take on every cross. I was motivated by love, but not by Love. I wanted to limit our children's suffering, forgetting that suffering teaches us, transforms us, and Christ "makes all things new". Even crosses become so beautiful I know no words to describe that. They ought to be embraced as lovingly as they were fashioned. We ought to trust that God has greater care for these children than we do." ~ M.R.

So here's to all of us and our children, the sinners (each and every one of us) who are called to be saints, all the sinners who learned that God's plan was larger than their own, all the prodigal sons and daughters who return to God with grateful and contrite hearts, having learned the hard way, via the cross, how to trust in God more completely and know that but for the grace of God go any of us.

My greatest prayer is that no parent should miss out on the joy of parenting and the incredible beauty of this vocation found amidst the everyday toil that whispers to us to doubt ourselves, doubt our spouse, doubt our parenting, doubt our children.

Once again, Maria wisely writes: "Parenting is no problem...It's a joy" while knowingly admitting "Getting all the academics done amidst childhood cancer and chemo...well,...I'm sad at what has been missed. ...It occurred to me that this cross, which Adrienne bears so very well, is being shared by her family in so many ways. God is asking different things of her siblings than of her, but each of us is growing in love as we die to ourselves in so many little ways. I'm reminded to trust our Father whose plan works for good in all things."

This extends to families who suffer the cross of addiction and death. I wrote not that long ago about our nephew's cross and death. He was a good kid. He was also weak. Who isn't weak? Let that person step forward and cast the first stone. His addiction was probably no worse than my addiction to Dr. Pepper, it was just more destructive.

It saddens me to think that my brother-in-law and sister-in-law should live their lives feeling they failed as parents, more so, failed their son. He made choices that were long lasting and dangerous but the choices were his. We all have free will. If you saw their other two children you would see what a fine job they have done and what an awesome job they are doing in raising the grandchild left in their care because of their son's death. In a weak, sinful, fallen world they have done the best they knew how to do at the time. In the process they have learned much via the cross and they have taught others what they have learned. I trust that the greatest lesson they have learned, a lesson they have taught others, is to trust in his mercy and forgiveness and, most of all, His love.

This parenting job is hard! It is not little or minut. It is so incredibly HARD! Especially when we consider the fact that our vocation as parents is so teach our children "to know God, to love God, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven." ~ Baltimore Cate. Lesson 1

Our to lead our loved ones to Heaven. That is a huge job. It is also a joy, a blessing, a comfort, a canticle.

It is also one which the devil hates and tries to distract us from.

Do we live it in fear and dread? The devil wants us to. We shouldn't. Afterall, God's in control. Thank goodness He is in the driver's seat. According to my husband and sons, I'm not that great a driver. :-)

We should neither fall victim to pride, that our parenting methods or superior or holier than our neighbor's nor should we fall victim to despair that our parenting style is less than our neighbor's. Yet the devil tempts us towards all these human emotions.

Despair is one of the seven deadly sins. The devil delights in the lukewarm water which we drown ourselves in when we fall victim to despair. He thrills in it! He loves it! Do we give him this satisfaction? Because of Christ's Resurrection, we should never give the devil such pleasure.

Still, don't we question our decisions and our reactions time and time again? I don't know about you but I most certainly do. That's human nature. There's no getting away from that weakness. Thank God that over two-thousand years ago He walked the earth and knows every weakness, desire, and emotion I have ever felt. I don't have to explain anything to Him. He already knows.

Every day I think of the things I should have done differently. Every day I second guess things I've told my children. Every day I pray that God guides me and leads my children's hearts to me. Broken hearts, all. And every day He puts wonderful family and friends in the paths of my children to make up for all the deficiences their father and I, through our own weakness, lack.

Never for a minute do I pressume that I can single-handedly get my children to Heaven. Without a doubt, primarily it is my duty, and their father's and we will be answerable for their upbringing; and I do so hope (and pray) that when I come face-to-face with Him the Almighty Father will say to me, "Well done! good and faithful servant." But I cannot presume this. One can hope, but never presume. We also need the Body of Christ. Without the Body of Christ, we are simply a noisy gong or clanging cymbal, prideful and depending upon our own strength versus the strength of Gods...the ultimate Father.

And when my children fail and do something wrong (and they will), I remind myself of all the sins of my past and how grateful I am for God's mercy and love in my life. He is the Great Physician. To add humor to the mix (because laughter is such a great natural remedy), I find it ironic that the greatest saints were also the greatest sinners. Ironic, isn't it. And, yet, so awesomely God! showing the miraculous way He works in our lives.

"It's true he was a sinner. But don't pass so final a judgement. Have pity in your heart and don't forget that he may yet be an Augustine, while you remain just another mediocrity." ~ St. Josémaria Escriva

All glory and honor is His...not ours. If our children turn out well, it is more because of God's mercy and graces in their life than anything we have humanly done.

Still, I am anxious about many things, especially when it comes to my children. Every day I see or hear of someone else's child doing greater things than my own, saintlier children than my own. And I slap my hand least I fall victim to the commandments against coveting my neighbor's belongings. That is not what God desires for me. He desires that I embrace my vocation joyfully and do the best that I can with the abilities and resources He has given me.

Not that I don't observe and take home the good things I see, the good things I hear, the good advice given. These worthy tidbits family, friends, and strangers give me are God's blessings in my life and I would be unwise not to put them into practice within my home. My family is blessed because of them. This is how God works through the body of Christ. This is how the body of Christ works in the world.

Sadly, I'm still a raw piece of clay, broken and jagged, hopelessly trying to mold the clay which creates my children. It's almost like the blind leading the blind, huh? I cut myself time and time again on my insuffiencies. I put too much, or too little, water on the wheel and I despair of this job called 'parenting.' But to immerse myself in fear and grief that I have done a lesser job than my neighbor can lead me to despair. And despair is not of God. These are the times I must remember that each child, each parent, and each family, each one of us is made so different; yet we are all made in the image and likeness of God. That is holy in and of itself. That is the beauty and the joy we are called to embrace so that, like St. Monica with her wayward son Augustine and the father of the rebellious Prodigal Son, we trust and pray that God will embrace each one of us when He calls us to our Heavenly home.


  1. Great post, Cay. It is hard for me to keep from looking back and saying, "If only I had done this. . .".

  2. Oh, Wendy, to hear you say that...your children and your parenting skills are often ones which I must slap my hand over and resolve that I shall "not covet" but apply the good that I see in your home and focus on the good that is in my own children and keep focusing and working towards the ultimate goal.

  3. That was a compliment, btw. :-)
    I trust you know me well enough to know it was that.

  4. Phenomenal job, Cay. How often we keep score on things that need no things that need no comparison.

    Thank you for sharing from your heart. It blessed your precious friendship does.


    Please keep in mind that I do not post about the bad stuff, so you are getting an unrealistic picture of my children and my parenting skills. Furthermore, the good stuff I can trace back to my husband's genes more than my extremely inconsistent and often completely flawed parenting.

    I am awed by what you do with and for your children. I could never come close. (Ouch! had to slap my hand.)

  6. Wendy! Facebook and blogs aside...I know you and your children in REAL LIFE! :-)

    You are doing marvelous works with your children and your home.

    Thank you for teaching me. The girls and I soooo need to plan a visit with you and Emma. Maybe Garrett and Nathaniel can go play golf. :-)

    Perhaps before they leave for Rome.

  7. We do need to visit. Let's set a date.


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