As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Different Presence

So - I've been a bit busy.  Like, super-busy.  Life since at least when the baby was born (and maybe even a bit before) has been a whirlwind, and I'm getting overwhelmed.  My husband is always very kind to remind me that we just had a baby four months ago and that will change things, but I feel like the baby is the least of it.  It's everything that just seems to be coming at us non-stop that really has me tuckered out.  Just as soon as we crest one mountain we see that there is still more to climb and frankly, I'm running out of steam.  I've been saying for a while that I've lost my groove but now I'm convinced that there just isn't a groove at all.  It's been overwhelming.

Two weeks ago as a rare exception I didn't go out at all.  And it just so happened that the baby was extra fussy and difficult to put down, so I wasn't very productive.  And that was especially hard for me.  When I got to the end of the day and my laundry was still backed up and my house was still a mess and I hadn't been out, I thought, "what's wrong with me?"  I tried to tell myself that nursing my baby and spending extra time with him when he needs me is productive but that's a tough pill to swallow when you are just longing for order and some sense of normalcy.  I have gradually been sinking further into despair - very quick to anger and lose hope.

It also happened that following that week Jeff and I Skyped with some very dear friends who we have not talked to since the summer.  These friends are such an encouragement to us, and we found out that the wife was embarking on a journey to Jordan to interview Syrian refugees about their experience.  In particular she wanted to ask them how they live this way, when they've lost everything: what gives you hope?  And it really affected me profoundly, because I haven't lost everything.  I've just lost a bit of order, a load of laundry, a clean house.  How is it that I lose hope so easily?

This week was the complete opposite - I was out every single day. We had an overloaded social calendar for homeschool activities and spent the week running errands for a big surprise party my husband's family was throwing for his parents.  It was all incredibly joyful, but naturally things on the homefront took a backseat.  As I spent the week watching my home sink further and further into disorder, I felt that same familiar tug back into hopelessness.  A friend once said to me that God is a God of order, and all week I've been thinking, where is He in this?

Even as I type this I can see how small these are.  And that is always what I come back to - how foolish it really is.  And yet, this is reality for me.  As I reached a breaking point late in the week we were in the van listening to praise and worship music, and I got really angry listening to the lyrics.  I had completely melted down earlier in the day, and as I heard songs that sang of how God's love never fails, and how God is always near I felt like they were so cliché.  I began to cry to God and ask Him what that means when life gets ugly?  Not traumatic, not tragic, not desperate (because of course my life is none of these things).  But when the biggest problems in my day are the small things - impatience, selfishness - and when I succumb to these things for the millionth time, how do you really live in a way that, while knowing God is present, actually finds Him there in a way that makes a difference?  These songs are nice Lord, but what do they mean for me when the rubber hits the road?

I have been keeping a copy of our spiritual exercises in the van, and started reading it at the ferry after my angry discourse with God.  I read the following:

A friend writes me, "One evening, some friends invited me to participate in a public conference organized by associations of parents of children affected by rare diseases.  They knew that for 33 years I have had at home children with profound handicaps.  They added that it would be a roundtable discussion with three other people, among them an atheist writer whose son has grave psychological and physical problems.  I decided to accept and asked to have a chance to read a book by this author. I read the book that he wrote about his son.  A first reading showed all the helplessness of this father, as if there were nothing to give him a glimmer of hope.  I was struck by the detachment with which he spoke of his son. He went so far as to say: 'I can't even stand the odor of my son!'  When I finished reading, I was assailed with the doubt that I could face such a desperate situation. Then I thought that the entire book was not just desperation, but behind those pages was a man crying out, needy for everything, and that I had encountered One who could respond to this need.  I decided to go because I , too, am that man: an infinite need.  The evening of the roundtable arrived, with an audience of about a hundred people I didn't know.  The moderator decided to start with me.  I talked about myself, about my handicapped children, the sense of emptiness and betrayal that consumed me in the first years of their lives, the sense of bewilderment that invaded my heart because my desire for happiness would never be fulfilled.  I also talked about the evening when I became aware of the glad eyes of my wife, of the adventure that my life became that from that moment on, of the beauty and the gift that these children of mine are for me now.  When I finished it was the writer's turn.  He said, 'I don't know how to have the hope that I heard from my friend' - we had just met a few moments before and he already called me friend- 'but I desire it, starting this evening I desire it.  I had prepared a talk' -and he showed us the sheets with the text of his talk- ' but I've decided not to go ahead with it' - he folded up the sheets and put them away- 'because from this evening on, I desire only one thing: to go live with my new friend, close to him, to hear how he can live this way. This is all I care about.' He stopped talking, and an emotion-laden silence fell upon the room.  Something great had happened.  Then he asked me, 'The thing that hurts me is the fear that my son is not happy.' From there on, we had a dialogue, as if we had been friends forever.  At the end, the writer simply told me: 'Perhaps for the first time in my life, I have looked at myself and not seen a failure.'  And I wondered, 'What does this man see, that not even I who spoke to him see?' Jesus has given me a new friend for my journey.  We will get together soon for dinner, also with some of the audience members who asked to meet again."
 As we can see, the answer to the situation of difficulty in which we find ourselves is to encounter a different presence.  It is not necessary to go into long explanations.  

In that moment I became profoundly aware of my own disposition, and the fact that I was not encountering Christ present in my life. Regardless of the circumstances, which are inherent to my vocation and in fact the only reality I can live in, the only thing that can make a difference for me is to encounter a presence - to encounter Christ.  And I became very grateful for these crazy months I've had, that pushed me to the point where I needed to cry out to God, in a way I hadn't in a long time. Because without fail when I cry out to the Lord, He answers.  And I am given a new reason for hope.

I went about the rest of my weekend, which was full of amazing and beautiful and delightful things, but still just as busy as we are gradually becoming accustomed to.  And as I sat at Mass this evening, for the first time in a long time I felt peace.  I felt home.  I looked at the stained glass window at the front (I don't even remember what the image was) and I felt the presence of the Lord envelop me and soothe my weary heart.  I caught a glimpse of a man across the room who reminded me of another friend Jeff and I have encountered who I know loves us (and who we love very dearly as well), and this helped to remind me that we have friends on the journey.  This journey is so very difficult and all consuming, but it is absolutely relevant to every day life.  Christ is relevant to every moment, because He is what gives our life meaning.  It might be easy to think (and I'd be lying if I said I didn't) that getting mass at the end of a very busy weekend is hectic, one more thing to add to the chaos.  Yet for me this is where the Lord answered my deepest cry.  I was desperate and hopeless, and He gave me peace.  He gave me hope.  He showed me that this is not for nothing, that Catholicism is not just "something I do" it is everything, because it leads me to Christ, who is the true source of my joy.

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