Lessons in Love: Cupcakes and Mercy

I’ve been trying to live my vocation as a mother more purposefully. This morning I was praying, “Lord, show me how to be a better mother to my children. Help me to listen to you when you present us with opportunities for growth. Help me to be present with them in the way they need me to be. Let me be like a reed in the wind, moving the way in which you want me to move, bowing to your touch.”

As I drank my coffee, I thought about my day and the things I needed to accomplish. I had it all planned out. My list was long but I thought I might be able to get through most of the items on my list if I really managed my time well.

Or not.

Because as I was reviewing the things that I needed to get done, my son, who is really pumped up about the fact that I told him he’s now old enough to cook whatever he wants, decided he was going to make cupcakes.

Everyone knows what delightful little bites cupcakes are, but boy, are they a mess to make…and, it takes time to make them…time that I hadn’t factored into the schedule for the day.

My mind returned to my morning prayer, “Let me be like a reed in the wind…” Flexibility is not always my strong suit. I have to constantly wrap my head around things that don’t fit my plan and remind myself that it’s God’s plan – not mine. So, I wrangled with the fact that cupcake making was not on my list and helping him make them would mean that I certainly would not finish my list today.

We had a great time making the cupcakes and whipping up the frosting.

Then, without a moment’s notice, the blissful cooking bubble popped. My son disappeared for a moment and started yelling that his brother ate all of the candy from his bag. They had divided up a bag of candy yesterday and his brother had eaten both bags. He stomped back into the kitchen yelling that his brother would not be getting any cupcakes because he had already had enough sugar.

“OK. Calm down,” I said. The word “mercy” popped into my head.

“I know your brother doesn’t deserve cupcakes because what he did was wrong. He knew he shouldn’t have eaten your candy but he did anyway. But, you love him right? Have you learned about mercy in school?” I said.

“Yes,” he grumbled, under his breath.

“Giving him a cupcake even when he doesn’t deserve it is actually showing him mercy,” I said. “It’s kind of like when we sin. We know we shouldn’t do it and we do it anyway. Then we feel really bad. Then we go to confession and feel better because God forgives us – even though we don’t really deserve it. He forgives us because he really loves us, right?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. Still not totally convinced.

“If you share a cupcake with him, you get to show mercy,” I said. “You are showing him that you love him and forgive him even though he did something wrong.”

He perked up and started frosting the cupcakes. He started by putting one aside for his brother and then another and another. When his brother came in, he pointed to the plate full of cupcakes and said, “look at all of the cupcakes I made for you!”

His brother was both humbled and grateful.

It was a “teachable moment” that I could not have planned. The kids learned about God’s mercy, and had the opportunity to demonstrate and receive mercy.

I also learned, yet again, that God is ready and willing to answer our prayers, but that we’ve got to give Him room to move – we’ve gotta wrangle the will (lists included!) and hand it all over to Him.  I’m reminded, time and time again, that it’s in those moments when we give it to Him, that we are given more than we could ever plan. As Blessed Mother Teresa used to put it, “He will fulfill it if I don’t put any obstacles in His way!”

 

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The school of Christ is the school of love. In the last day, when the general examination takes place…Love will be the whole syllabus.”  – St. Robert Bellarmine, SJ

A Letter to all the Moms and Dads, Caregivers, and Listeners

I was reading a great blog post this morning and it infuriated me. (www.patheos.com/blogs/publiccatholic/2015/06/im-triaging-my-life-for-thriving-not-just-surviving/ ). It left me in a tizzy  – the same state that I have been left in after countless conversations in the supermarket and on the sidewalk.

The conversation is almost formulaic and it goes like this: “I am caring for my (insert name of child, parent, loved one here). I feel so bad. I have no time to pray. I only get to Mass once a week. I’m such a bad (mother, father, son, daughter, loved one). I’m such a bad Catholic.”

Every time I hear this formula, I want to launch into a tirade about why this logic is completely, and utterly faulty. But, the grocery store and sidewalk are rarely ever good times to launch into such tirades.

So, here goes. Here is what I want to say to every person who thinks they are a bad person, a bad Catholic because they are busy caring for others.

To the parents – the stay-at-home parents, the working parents, all the parents who devote countless hours to keeping children safe, fed, clean and raise them to make a better world and build the Kingdom:

You are priceless. Your work may be unremunerated but it is no less important than someone who brings home a six-figure salary. In fact, many times it is more important. You are forming future generations. You are building the Kingdom each time you rise to feed your child in the night, with each cup of juice you wipe up and each cheerio you sweep up. You are building the Kingdom with each fight you break up, each time-out that teaches peace. You are building the Kingdom every time you listen patiently to your teen’s tirade and offer love when it’s the least thing you feel like doing. You are living the Works of Mercy.

To all those who care for parents and aging or ill loved ones:

You are priceless. God sees you every time you listen compassionately to the same story for the hundredth time. God sees you when you clean up the messes that happen. God sees you when your eyes cloud with tears because your parent doesn’t know your name. God sees you when you get up bleary-eyed to investigate that thump in the night. You are living the Works of Mercy.

To all those who listen compassionately to those who are caring for loved ones of all ages:

You are priceless. You hold up those who are wading through the muck. You are building the Kingdom here and now. You are the torchbearers to those whose lights are flickering. You are living the Works of Mercy.

And one last note – that thing about if “I could only get to Mass more than once a week…or pray more, I wouldn’t be a bad Catholic.” Your every effort can be a prayer if you offer it all to God. Your every breath, your entire life is your prayer, your song. Offer it to Him.

And, about Mass – the Church says we must go to Mass once a week, not to be a burden, but because it is refreshment for the weary. At each Mass, we are called to the table. It is there that we are offered peace, fellowship, and the sustenance to go on. It is there that we drink from the living waters that sustain us. It is a place to lay all of our burdens down, a place where we can dwell – if only for an hour a week – in peace. The Mass is a gift, not a measure by which to judge our achievement of faithfulness.

When I sit there at Mass, in that sacred hour, remembering all of my friends who give so much, who work so hard to build up the Body of Christ by offering themselves in service to loved ones every single day, who are living the Works of Mercy, I can only imagine what the Jesus I know might say to them:

“You are precious to me.

Every effort you make is a prayer.

I see all of your sacrifices, your tears, your lost sleep.

I hear your worries and frustrations.

Do not be afraid.

I am with you.

I support you.

I hear your song.

You are beautiful to me and I love you.”

 

The Faith of Abraham

I used to think Abraham was really crazy.  I would read the story of Abraham and Isaac and think, “What a crazy guy! Who would do that?”

I was totally missing the point.

My 12 year-old son was recently diagnosed with a heart problem.  The doctor said that a heart procedure would be required as soon as possible because if the problem was not addressed, he could die from it at any moment of his life.  He explained that the problem with my son’s heart was related to a developmental process that should have happened in utero but didn’t.

On the day of the surgery, the surgical team strapped him to the operating table.  They strapped every part of him down: his legs, his torso, his chest, his arms, his hands.  He was completely bound to this long, thin table.

I couldn’t help but think of Abraham tying his only, beloved son to the altar of sacrifice.  As I looked at my own beloved son, bound to the operating table, I bemoaned the fact that I didn’t have the faith of Abraham.

At that moment, with the clarity of a “Eureka!” moment, I finally understood the story of Abraham and Isaac.  I understood why the figure of Abraham is connected with deep, grace-filled faith.

As we walked out of the operating room, leaving our son in the hands of the doctor and his team, I also realized that there was no option but to trust God.  I had nurtured and protected my son for twelve-years and now I had absolutely no control over the situation.  At this point, everything was completely up to God.

I thought about the fact that the heart problem stemmed from a problem in utero.  This brought to mind the Psalm of David:

You formed my inmost being;

you knit me in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, because I am wonderfully made;

wonderful are your works!

My very self you know.

My bones are not hidden from you,

When I was being made in secret,

fashioned in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw me unformed;

in your book all are written down;

my days were shaped, before one came to be (Psalm 139).

As the surgery dragged on, twice as long as was anticipated, I thought about these words while the fear welled up in my throat.  I meditated on the fact that I didn’t know what the outcome of the surgery would be.  In fact, it came to mind, that I really don’t know the outcome of anything at all.  In the end, I really am not in control of anything.  In the beginning, in the end, and every moment in the middle, I do not know what the outcome of anything will be.  I must do my part, but the rest is up to God.

And as I reflected on this, I found great comfort in this psalm.  God knew what was going on when my son was in utero.  He knew about this heart condition before anyone did.   I reflected on the passage, Your eyes saw me unformed; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be.”  God knows how many days my son, and each of us, will have.

That is comforting.   It is comforting because it means that we don’t need to control everything.  We can completely melt down and He is still “on top of the situation.”  We can surrender to God because He has us – all the time – from before we are born, He has us. He’s got us covered.

I silently prayed, “Lord, I don’t know what will happen. But I love you. I praise you. I glorify you. I adore you. I trust you.”

And then, the nurse came out and said that my son was ok. The doctor followed. He said that although the surgery took twice as long as he had expected it would, that he believed he had found the spot and addressed the problem and that it should not be a problem going forward.

If the problem had not been addressed, my son could have died any day at any moment from this condition.  If this specific doctor, who specialized in my son’s specific heart problem, had not been in the emergency room at the time that he came in, this problem would not have been detected.  Moreover, this heart problem could only be detected on EKG during the rare intermittent episodes when the heart was beating in the irregular way.  It happened that it was caught on the EKG while my son was in the ER.  Some children who have this condition undetected, require heart transplants.  My sons condition was detected and addressed before any of this occurred.

You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know.

My thoughts were of Gratitude. Gratitude tested by fire.

A couple of days ago, Jesuit Fr. James Martin wrote, False religion says that if you believe in God, nothing bad will ever happen, so don’t worry. Real religion says that even if you believe in God, something bad might happen, but there’s no need to worry. In fearful times we tend to forget that God is right there with us, no matter what happens—through our friends, our families, even our doctors—and that God gives us all sorts of resources to deal with our problems and move through them, and if we’re lucky, past them. The key is remembering all this when the fear starts and focusing on the trust instead.”

We all have hardships.  Things arise that shock us and scare us and that we can’t plan for – this is life, but every moment is ripe with invitation to trust God more.

Every moment of our lives, every heartbeat, every breath – is a gift.  Only God knows how many breaths and how many heartbeats we will have in our lifetime.  And, he knows them down to the specific count.

Truly, every moment is an opportunity to surrender to the Love that keeps our hearts beating.

“I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works!”

 

Because He Lives ( Amen ) – Matt Maher

The Scarecrow and The Body of Christ

Going back to school after time off is difficult, even when it’s just been a three day weekend. No matter how hard we try to plan the night before, it’s always a mad scramble to get out the door in the morning. There’s the litany of questions: “Did you feed the bird?”; “Do you have your clarinet?”; “Did you pack a snack?”; “Do you need us to sign anything else?”; “Do you have your potato peeler?  Remember, bring it right to your teacher.  You shouldn’t be walking in the hall with a potato peeler.” (Yes, potato peeler – don’t ask)!

“Oh my gosh!” I thought to myself. “I feel like a scarecrow! A scarecrow with wildly flapping arms – signing papers, tossing snacks, packing bags – and going nowhere fast.”

“We’re late, you’ve gotta get to school and I’ve gotta get to work!” I said.

Then it dawned on me…the Body of Christ!  “Thanks, St. Teresa!”

Unusual connection. I know. Let me explain.

Last night, in preparation for St. Teresa of Avila’s feast day today, I had been reading her poem,“Christ Has No Body.”

Christ Has No Body
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet,
with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands,
with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands,
yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes,
you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

So, while I was contemplating her poem, I asked St. Teresa to teach me more about how this “Body of Christ” thing works.

There are the obvious interpretations of her poem – the Corporal Works of Mercy and social justice interpretations.  I knew there was even more though, I just hadn’t quite been able to wrap my head around it.

As I stood there this morning, feeling like a scarecrow, I had another thought. “Stop. Breathe. Breathe in the Holy Spirit.”

Then it came together.

The Holy Spirit animates the Body of Christ. It oxygenates each cell.

We cannot move anywhere without breath.  When we breathe in the Holy Spirit, we shed our dull lifeless husks, our ragged exterior, and we come to life.  We take on a new life – a more vibrant life.  We begin to see in a new way; we see with the eyes of Christ and love with the heart of Christ.  St. Teresa said, “I hold that love, where present cannot possibly be content with remaining always the same.”  It is the Holy Spirit that instills love in our hearts and the Holy Spirit that will move us forward.

Once we accept the Spirit, we begin to move forward not just as one, but as one body.  Without recognizing that we are part of this whole, just like my little family this morning, we can get stuck.  This is why it is not enough for one to simply be a good person and do one’s own thing. Thomas Merton reminded us that “no man is an island.” Why?  As the Body of Christ, we are so interdependent, we can’t exist without the other. If one part feels pain, the rest feels pain.  If one part is hungry, the rest feels the hunger. If one part is afraid, the rest is afraid.  A cell cannot go off alone – it is dependent on the body to live.

So St. Teresa’s words are not only a call to serve, they are actually a statement of a fact –  the fact that we are part of one body already and, as such, we cannot live but as completely interdependent parts.  Attempts to separate from the body will be fultile. We must live in community with all of the other parts, in constant communication with them, and in constant concern for all the other parts.  At the most fundamental level, this poem is her revelation to us that we just won’t be able to manage life alone.

Blessed Mother Teresa once said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”  As parts of the Body of Christ, we are in more than just a symbiotic relationship. We must, at the nuclear level, hear and respond to the needs of the other parts.  At this fundamental level, the response is automatic and intuitive.  Living in this way presents a special challenge in the modern world since, in most developed countries, independence and individualism are highly prized. While we often hear the term “global community,” it is completely counter-cultural to live as a part of the Body of Christ.

It is our choice. We can choose to remain a lifeless scarecrow, stuck in the mud, or we can choose to breathe in the Holy Spirit and live a life animated by love as a part of The Body of Christ. Which will it be?

St. Teresa of Avila