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Domestic Church Faith Formation Ink Slingers Motherhood Nicole B Single Parents Vocations

Striving, Growing, Rejoicing: Be Your Own Holy Family

A few weeks ago we celebrated the Solemnity of the Holy Family. It is a beautiful celebration of the Blessed Mother, Joseph, and the Christ Child. Unfortunately, in the past few years since becoming a single mother, it has become a solemnity of bitterness and disdain for me. Deep inside I saw it as nothing but a feast to enhance my shortcomings. A reminder of how he left us and continues to destroy my Catholic vision of family life.

Fortunately, this year there was a change in my thinking, a shift in my heart that encouraged me to celebrate the solemnity as the paramount liturgical celebration that it is meant to be.

In the Gospel for the day, one hears the customs of the time – Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the Temple, as was the tradition – and it may seem like an easily forgettable passage. However in Luke 2:40 it states, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him”.

Growth. From verse 40 it screams to me. I think about the growth I have experienced in the past three years. I think about the growth of my children and how they are thriving. I think about the wisdom I have gained. I think about how we may not have the look of the Holy Family in our living room, yet in our home, we are growing closer to God each day.

Coupled with the Gospel, I heard an exceptional homily on that day as well. It is was one of those moments where the priest was speaking directly to me. He said, “Our own families truly can be holy families. All we need to do is strive. To grow ourselves. One step at a time. And to rejoice when we see growth.”

Striving. Growing. Rejoicing. How beautiful is this message of the Holy Family? How important is it to teach our children that no matter the situation we must continue to strive, grow, and rejoice in the Lord?

No family can compare to the Holy Family. It is laughable for me to think that I can. And, for me to focus on the shortcomings of my own beautiful family is detrimental. Instead, I must continue to strive, grow, and rejoice in our faith-filled life no matter the circumstances.   

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Domestic Church Faith Formation Ink Slingers Motherhood Nicole B Single Parents Vocations

Battle of the Bath

I loathe bath time. It’s always a battle. An argument to get in the bath, an argument to get out of the bath. Moldy toys, bubbles, water everywhere. When I was married I would do anything to get out of monitoring bath time. In my humble mother opinion, bath time is the worst. Give me a poopy diaper any day.

Today, with a three and six-year-old, bath time is not the horrible task I once deemed it to be (my six-year-old will even take a shower on his own), but it is still on the bottom of my list of favorite things to do. However, just a few weeks ago bath time provided a moment. A moment to stop, a moment to reflect, a moment to ponder God’s grace through the eyes of a child.

It happened at the end of the 20 minutes of dreaded bath time. My three-year-old was told to let the water out so that he could get out of the tub. My three-year-old is strong. My three-year-old is determined. So, when he pulled the plug he yanked it so hard that the knob on top of it came off in his hand. His eyes were large and his lip quivered as he squeaked, “I broke the bath”.

“It’s okay, we’ll fix it,” I assured him as I hurriedly lifted him from the tub and rushed him to his room. It was at this point that my six-year-old got involved. As I am helping my youngest get his pjs on, I hear my oldest in the bathroom splashing in the water trying to pry the metal stopper free.

“Just leave it, I will fix it later,” I shouted to my oldest.

“No, mommy. I can help. I need to take a shower.”

I could hear him struggling with the plug with all his might. After I had my youngest fully clothed, I returned to the bathroom to find a discouraged and disheartened six-year-old. He left the bathroom and I was left with the plug.

It had been a long stressful day, we only have one bathroom, and my oldest needed to take a shower as he had just returned from swimming lessons. I took a deep breath. It was just me and the plug.

After a few minutes, I realized I wouldn’t be able to pry the plug on my own, so I had to get the tools. In my single mother mind, this is the ultimate frustration. My bath time schedule is now prolonged with this hiccup, and I have to try to fix this on my own. I can feel my frustration level rising. I think of my ex-husband in these type of situations because this isn’t how it is “supposed to be.”

Despite my slight frustration, it actually didn’t take much to pry the plug loose. I got the tools, used the pliers and had it free within minutes. As I jumped up and gave a little shout of glee over my bathtub prowess, my six-year-old came zooming back into the bath.

“It worked, Mommy, it worked,” he shouted!

“Yes! Mommy got it free,” I replied, still feeling quite accomplished.

“I knew it would work. I knew my prayers would work! I prayed to God that you could fix it.”

With that delightful and innocent comment, I stopped cleaning up the tools and took my oldest in my arms. The pure joy and wonder he had in God’s grace was astonishing. Stressful days, bath schedules, and broken plugs were forgotten with his words. A lesson on “not praying for things” could come another day. Instead, we embraced in the bathroom over his excitement and experience with God’s goodness. A perfect reminder to find His goodness every day, even in the dreaded bath time.

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Faith Formation Ink Slingers Motherhood Nicole B Single Parents Vocations

The Rains of Change

“Yes, I’ve changed. Pain does that to a person.” I saw those words on a friend’s Facebook page just this week. The quote was not credited, but I traced it back to a chronic pain support website. However, when I read it, I did not think of the changing effects of physical pain, which I can only imagine are awful, instead I immediately thought of emotional pain.

In the past three years I have changed. It was a necessity. There is no way I could enter my situation and leave as the same person. My husband dropped me off at work one morning and didn’t return for over 24 hours. That’s life-changing pain. When he did return, a web of well-calculated lies started to unravel – a fake abduction, payday loans, eviction, and such chaos and deceit that it is best-suited for a Lifetime movie. The emotional roller coaster that my children, my family, and I have endured has shaken me to the core. It forever changed me as a woman, mother, daughter, sister, teacher, and friend.

Some of the changes have been gradual and are subtle only to me: greater compassion toward my students who are from difficult circumstances, the ability to brush off as inconsequential petty things that once seemed major, the feeling of pure joy when something wonderful happens to a friend, the confidence I have gained in sharing my opinion. However, other changes are more notable. They are so notable that I know the exact moment when the old me was gone and the new me had emerged.   

Last night there was rain, a storm warning, lightning, rain, rain, and more rain. This was on top of an already saturated ground. Our local meteorologist said we received the amount of two months of rain in about 24 hours. Therefore, like many, many others in my area my basement flooded. A seeping slow flood that saturated every nook and cranny of my partially finished basement. Ugh. It is a situation that can test anyone’s patience, and as a single mother I’ve found that these types of situations can be even more excruciating.  

I bought my home in November. All. By. Myself. I was terrified, not only to be a sole mortgage holder, but to take on all of the minute responsibilities of homeownership on my own (yard work, snow removal, yard work, plumbing problems, yard work, painting, etc.). Yuck. Two years ago, I would have never even thought I could do these things on my own. I had a fantastic partner. He was an involved father, a natural parent, and an attentive spouse. With him I could tackle anything. Without him, I wasn’t so sure.

As I stood in my basement, feet covered in water for the fifteenth time, I looked around. I was able to successfully move all of the children’s toys and the small furniture upstairs by myself at midnight the night the flood began. I was using a shop vac to vacuum the never-ending water and pump it outside. I had help, my wonderful parents and my grandfather came as soon as I knew I had a problem outside of my control, but here I was essentially keeping my cool in a situation that even a year ago would test my patience. The water, the rain, expected the “new me.”

Thomas Merton, Trappist monk and theologian, called rain, “wonderful, unintelligible, perfectly innocent speech…” and as I worked to clean it up for the umpteenth time that day, I let my mind reflect on the years of intrinsic changes I have endured. I am stronger, more confident, I make every decision on my own. From how to clean up a flooded basement, to what to make for dinner, to what school my children should attend. There is no co-parenting, no discussions, no compromise with another. It is sometimes lonely, stressful, agonizing, and still unbelievable to me that this is where I am, but I have to believe that I can do it. The most difficult part has been to set precedence and boundaries. To believe that I am making the correct decisions for myself and my children even when others might believe I am flat out wrong.

As I reflect through the sound of the falling rain, the slosh of the water, and the hum of the shop vac, I am proud of the change. I am proud of myself. It is definitely not that I am happy with my divorce, I grieve for it everyday, but through this devastation I have become a strong, confident woman who would not have been present in my old life. The pain has changed me into the woman, mother, daughter, sister, teacher, and friend that God meant me to be.  

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Domestic Church Faith Formation Fatherhood Ink Slingers Mass Motherhood Nicole B Prayer Vocations

Father’s Day Liturgy: Cheerios, Tears, and Prayer

Mass with a five year old and a two year old. It’s a beautiful, chaotic, maddening, complicated adventure, isn’t it? The longest hour of the week for sure. How can 60 minutes seem so excruciatingly slow one morning, but the next day, let’s say when I am rushing to get one to school and the other to daycare it whizzes by?

Prior to March 24, 2015, I was never so proud as when we went to church as a family of four. In my mind there was nothing more beautiful than a family worshiping and growing in faith together. Sure it was a challenge with little ones, but always a time that I treasured, honored, and looked forward to each week.  

Fast forward a year and three months, and I am absolutely anxiety ridden about taking my children to mass. It’s ridiculous to think that way, I know. Church is a safe haven, but as I sit there trying to juggle a preschooler and a toddler I am constantly reminded that he left us. That he is so ill that he cannot comprehend that he would have been supported, cared for, and forgiven within the Church. He has left us and it is now just me, the boys, and a bag or two of Cheerios in the fifth pew.

On Father’s Day 2016 I ventured to mass with my own father and two children. Armed with a bag of church appropriate goodies (which I was very much against when we were a family of four) I was determined to have a peaceful, faith filled hour. My soon-to-be Kindergartner got it. He did great, the toddler was a young two, so it was the typical struggle of an inquisitive 27 month old.

But it wasn’t their behavior that caused the anxious pain in my heart that day, they were actually quite well-behaved on the third Sunday of June. Instead it was the message. As I tried to squash my single mother anxiety when I prepared for mass that morning, I didn’t think about the possible homily. I didn’t think about the message that might be shared on our first official Father’s Day without him.

The priest began with statistics. Statistics about children from a fatherless home. The priest spoke words like, “low self-esteem, poverty, addiction…” These words made me uncomfortable, a little angry, somewhat sick. “Those will not be my children,” I thought to myself. However, before I could dwell on his statistics, the priest said (quoting Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), “when human fatherhood has dissolved all statements about God the Father are empty”. This idea played over and over in my mind, as I held back tears. It made perfect sense – if one doesn’t understand what it’s like to have a human father, it is difficult to understand and trust in God the Father. With that statement my purpose became clear. After that statement, my dedication to sharing the faith with my children became renewed. I vowed to live a Catholic vision of family life for my children no matter the circumstances.    

With this in mind, I sought to answer two questions:

  1. How can my children even begin to understand God the Father without their own father as an example of Christ?
  2. How can I help my children to trust in the Lord when they have already experienced so much heartbreak in their young lives?

These are complicated and loaded questions that will most likely take me the next 20 years to answer, yet I have in my heart a simple plan: model and pray.

It’s a great responsibility to model our faith for our children. Our behaviors are what truly reveal our beliefs. It can be frightening when we become aware that our children are listening to us and watching us much more closely than we ever realized. We are the first and the primary teachers of faith to our children. I never expected to carry that responsibility on my own, but my situation only strengthens my commitment. I know that I must model the faith in hopes that they can experience the true love and trust of God the Father.

Along with trying to model the faith for my boys on a daily basis, I pray. I pray so fervently for my children, for my parents who help us everyday, for our supportive friends, for my former in laws, and for him – my ex-husband, their absent father. At first, those prayers were extremely difficult. There was, and still is, so much anger towards him. However, I pray for him. I know that it is a necessity. It’s the greatest modeling of the faith I can do for my children. I pray for him every.single.day. I pray for him at night. I pray for him in the car. I pray for him in moments of sheer single mother panic. I pray for him when it’s just me, the boys, and a bag or two of Cheerios in the fifth pew at Sunday mass.

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Ink Slingers Nicole B

Devoted, Devastated, Divine

Devoted

In retrospect, there were most likely clues in the mundane. I am certain there were small iniquities that I was overlooking due to the fact that I was devoted to making a life with my best friend, raising two beautiful children, teaching full time, and trying to live a Catholic vision of marriage and family life. It wasn’t picture perfect, I am a realist in that respect, and now looking back, I see the fog in the distance. I see the abyss moving slowly, inching itself around my life like I am the tip of a mountain.

Devastated

It was a gray day – ominous and wet. Had we lived in San Francisco, Grand Banks, or London there surely would have been fog. We were in Columbus, Ohio. My husband should have been at work as the Director of Admissions at a small Catholic University. I had just finished a day of teaching fifth and sixth graders at a Diocesan elementary school. He was supposed to pick me up from school around 3:30 because of car troubles.

At 3:09 I received a text:

With that text the fog quickly enveloped me. Choking me. I had never experienced such a blanket of anxiety, pressure, and feeling of absolute sickness in my life. I knew something was wrong. I was shaking as I held the phone in my hands. The sixth grade essays that I had been grading slid to the floor. There was a small statue of the Blessed Mother on my desk. I turned to it and began to pray quiet and quick Hail Marys . The familiar prayer able to calm my soul.

I can’t recall all that occurred next. I went to my principal, the police were called, I made arrangements for my children, I was driven home, and my family eventually arrived from out of state. The fog thickened, tightening its hold.

Throughout the night I recall prayers, confusion, and embracing my one-year-old. We sat in his room. The dim light of the hall illuminating as I again prayed to the Blessed Mother. I felt nothing but the fog. My husband was missing.

Around noon the next day I received a call. He had been found! Everyone around me was citing a miracle. He had been carjacked, abducted, taken out-of-state, but he survived. He was coming home!

I wanted to believe it. I wanted to feel such joy in my heart. My best friend had been found. My devoted husband and the boys’ fantastic father was alive, but I knew that something wasn’t right. I could feel it. The copious fog did not lift with the miraculous call. The weight instead intensified.

In the coming days there were interviews with the police and continued chaos.The fog lingered stifling me with a yearning for the truth. It was a truth, I would later find out, that I couldn’t even begin to fathom, imagine, or dream in my worst nightmares. I wanted to scream and shout. I wanted to sound the horn and warn everyone about the shroud of dangerous fog.

For 34 days I lived in a world that was strangled by the haze. My most vivid memories of those days are of my beautiful children and intense moments of praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. I clung to the simple repetitions of that prayer and to the simple repetitions of my children’s lives. Together these repetitions were beacons in my fog-filled life.

During one conversation with my husband, he and I discussed the need for normalcy after such a horrific experience. I vowed to support him in anyway possible despite the warnings of the suffocating cloud.

Amidst this continued chaos came Holy Week. I attended Holy Thursday alone – just me and the fog. As I sat in the church, one pew behind a beautiful family of one of my dear friends, I wept. I knew something wasn’t right. I couldn’t rejoice that my husband was home. I couldn’t. The betrayal that Jesus foresees at the Last Supper lingered in my mind. Never had I experienced such suffocating pain. Such confusion in my life. Such devastation.

Divine

By the end of April, I couldn’t navigate the treacherous haze on my own. We needed help, and he insisted it was best for me to take the children and go to my parents. He would stay there for work – 445 miles away. He would finish the recruitment cycle for the university and then join us in Illinois. It would be a new start after this horrific carjacking experience. Through the repetitions of the Divine Mercy, I was told to go. It seemed reckless and crazy to others, but I knew it was absolutely the right thing to do.

I now know that my husband created the fog. He needed the fog. He was empowered by the fog. In it he could hide, relinquish his responsibility, and continue to fabricate a normal life. As things began to clear and I began unearthing excessive deceit, addiction, and betrayal, I clung to the Faith. Today, two years after my beautiful world came crashing down, I continue to seek a new sense of the Catholic vision of family life. I continue to seek the Divine.