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Devon Wattam Domestic Church Ink Slingers Marriage Motherhood Offering your suffering Vocations

Working Through Work-Ups

“Tell me again why we’re doing this.” is what I wanted to say as my husband grabbed his last bag before giving me a kiss and heading out the door. Instead, I said something along the lines of, “Fly safe. We’ll miss you!” Here we are again, deep in the middle of a nine-month set of work-ups where Ben is home for a month, gone for a month of training, all leading up to a seven-month around-the-world deployment. I didn’t need reminding for why we were doing this, but it would have been nice in the moment to hear someone else give me a good reason for putting our young family through this tortuous up and down schedule of inconsistency. Daddy’s home one minute, gone the next, and Mommy’s left to pretend like everything is normal.

We have done this before with one baby, now we’re doing it again with a baby and a toddler. The days can be long, yet ironically every night at bedtime I ask myself, “How has another one passed by so quickly?” Still, each day is filled with trying moments where I find myself wishing away time. Lately my prayers have sounded something like, “Just get me to bedtime, Lord” or “If we can just make it through this next month of work-ups…” or “Everything will be easier once this deployment is over.” The little things we tell ourselves to not focus on the painfulness of the present.

But no matter how many times I try to pray the day away, there are still two little people who depend on me to be their rock and demand I give them my best effort. I’ve learned that there is beauty and grace to be found in this moment, no matter how dreadful it might seem. When my two-year-old is testing my patience, not making sense, and pushing boundaries, I look at him and try to take him all in. “This is how I want to remember you forever,” I think. Messy hair, arms covered in bug tattoos, knees skinned up, peanut butter on his cheeks… perfection. Or when our newborn has spat his pacifier out yet again and wants to be rocked to sleep one too many times, I try to soak in the weight of his little body in my arms, swaying back and forth with the exhaustion only a mother could know. Yes, this is grace-filled life being lived.

There is a family picture that hangs in our living room of the four of us just a week after our second baby, George, was born. In some ways I remember that day so clearly, but in others it is just a blur. Walt got up at 4:00 AM, confused, sick, and refusing to go back to sleep. Exhausted and frustrated, we all ended up in the den by 5:00. I was tempted to cancel the photographer, but not knowing what another day might bring, decided to push through. When she got here, I wished I hadn’t. Our house was disheveled, Ben and I had circles under our eyes, Walt was hyper and not listening to anything I said, and the dog was all over the place. I felt sorry for her having to make this circus look decent! Somehow, she did.

Now, months later, I look at that picture and only recognize the good. You can’t tell that Walt didn’t feel well, the circles under our eyes aren’t as apparent as I thought, and George is alert and beautiful. I almost have to try to remember how painful it was at the time. The grace is all that shines through.

I suppose I’ve always looked forward to the next best thing in the midst of struggle. “Oh, once this semester is over…” or “once I graduate college or get married…” or “once we move from this awful duty station…” and so on and so on. But now that I have children, these thoughts make me pause. When this deployment is over, our baby will be over a year old. Do I really want to wish away his entire first year of life because I’m overwhelmed? Of course not. It’s precisely in the moments of stress and chaos and loneliness and exhaustion that grace-filled life is being lived. These are the days that one day I will reminisce about with Ben and describe to our children with a vivid rosy hue, circus and all.

Seasoned Navy wives will tell you that work-ups are harder than deployments, and in many ways I think that’s true. Stress is high, plenty of alone time at home, little communication between you and your spouse, schedules are a mess… All of this is exacerbated, of course, when kids are thrown into the mix. It’s easy to feel like a martyr or single parent when your partner is gone so frequently and can’t do much for the family from afar. Parenting alone is lonely, but I strive to push through and see the grace that’s painted all over the bigger picture of our circumstances.

When I’m ping-ponging back and forth between the bedrooms of a squirmy two-year-old who can’t help but crawl out of bed for just one more minute of attention and a fussy baby who’s still getting used to his nursery, I think of how fleeting this season of life is. It will be gone before I’m ready for it to be. And when I’m sitting in a dark hallway, burying my face in the fur of our golden retriever, listening to make sure those boys stay asleep, I imagine Ben on an aircraft carrier, somewhere in the middle of the ocean, sacrificing for our country, who would probably love to be sitting right where I am. And somehow, the grace shines through.

 

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Alison W Faith Formation Ink Slingers Motherhood Parenting Single Parents Vocations

God Will Give You More Than You Can Handle

I hate the cliché “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” I’ve spent a decade as a single mom and I’ll assure you this isn’t true. God has given me, or at least allowed, more than I could handle. Some days were soul crushingly more than I could handle.

I know the sentiment is to reassure people, but I’ll be honest and say it didn’t reassure me. And I won’t boldly say God gave me all of my problems, I know that I created most of them on my own. So this isn’t a blame game, but more of a reality-check.

The problem with the quote is the YOU, more specifically, “YOU can handle.”  

We aren’t expected to handle everything alone. Jesus said his grace is sufficient, so we could know we need his grace. We also need the people around us, and that is really painful for those of us that have been abandoned on some level.

I struggle with the sin of pride and if we start talking honestly, I‘d say many of us do. The pride of thinking we can handle everything on our own, so much that we don’t even want anyone to help. You see I’ve gotten quite good at providing by myself and I’ve gotten quite good at shutting people out. Part of that comes from a place of necessity and part of that comes from a place of pain.

I think this is a huge problem in society. Look at the high levels of people on medication for anxiety and depression. Look at the suicides and broken homes. Look at the fall out of us thinking we could do things all on our own. The pressure is so high and people are cracking under it.

Jesus cried in anguish when the apostles fell asleep. The living God needed people to be there for him.

St. Teresa of Calcutta so boldly set off on her own at the prompting of God. But it wasn’t to be alone. The sick and suffering were what sanctified her soul and led her to sainthood.

We need each other, both to help and to be helpers.

I’d like to re-write the quote to say, “God will provide the grace, strength and help that you need.” He will and he has for me repeatedly. I’ve always known I wasn’t alone in raising my children alone because Jesus was helping me every day. I know without his grace I would have never endured the hardship of so many trials. I know without the people in my circle, I couldn’t have covered all those shifts, practices, dinners, payments, appointments, court dates, homework, etc. We were created to love each other and help each other.

God will absolutely give us more than we can handle. That’s not to say he will leave us abandoned, but it is to say we will have days or seasons that are too much. We aren’t called to walk this life alone.

We were created to be the body of Christ and to help each other and to lean into God’s grace. We have to help build the body of Christ to come together with all of our strength and struggle. We weren’t meant to be self-sufficient, we were meant to need help, both Heavenly and earthly. By God’s design, He will give you more than you can handle, but He will provide the grace, strength and help that you need. May God bless you!

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Ink Slingers Mary Beth

Love, Despite

Love, Despite

I am a word nerd. Always have been. Growing up, I knew how to read before I started school. I wrote funny poems about and for my second-grade friends. And I often stayed in at recess just so I could get a jump on my new spelling words. When I first discovered the existence of a thesaurus, my nerdy word world was rocked! My Creator made me this way, so I choose to run with it. And because he made me this way I have learned that whenever he wants my attention, he likes to send a word for me to ponder. The ponder word can bubble up during my prayer journaling time, while I’m reading a book, while I’m saying the rosary or even while I’m spacing out in the car or the shower. I know the word when I see it and hear it because it usually compels me to pause. The word crackles my brain circuits for the tiniest moment and makes my heart sit up and take notice. I love this special way God and I have of communicating. It always draws me nearer to him. It teaches me something that’s relevant to the particular season of spiritual growth I happen to be in.

despite stands out

The most recent word that has been surfacing on a regular basis in my life is despite. Initially, I thought it was a negative word that implied a struggle, a difficulty, a challenge to overcome. But after stewing on it and wondering how God wants me to apply it in my life, I found it to be a positive, faith-filled word. A turning-point, change-of-perspective word. A word that I need to integrate into my daily life to keep me motivated and help me to become a stronger disciple of Jesus.

One example? Jesus commands us to Love One Another. That wouldn’t be so difficult if we weren’t humans, am I right? As EWTN’s Mother Angelica once said, “If it wasn’t for people, we could all be holy!” We humans have faults and quirks and annoying personality traits that make us tough to love. Ask my husband, who has to bite his tongue every time I bring home another lost cat or dog, forget to put gas in the vehicle or launch into one of my infamous pouting jags after a disagreement. I know I can be tough to love! But that’s where the word despite comes in. We have to love, despite. Jesus did not say to us, “Don’t worry—you only need to love those who are easy to love.” He said to love one another (everyone–even our enemies!) and that means to love one another despite. Despite the character flaws, despite the behaviors, despite the anger or frustration we may feel. By adding the word “despite” to the command, I can acknowledge that it’s not going to be a cake walk to do this loving thing, but I need to do it anyway.

There’s also Follow Me, despite. Again, Jesus does not promise an easy path by obeying this command. There’s a cross we need to take up with this one, after all. But for me, hearing that word in my ears reminds me that when the going gets tough, I need to keep going! Whether the road is uphill, or rocky or fogged in on all sides so I have no clue where it is leading. I need to Follow Him, despite the obstacles.

And then there’s Be Not Afraid, despite. Despite the fact that the financial strain is overwhelming or a child’s situation is desperate or the diagnosis is terminal. This is a tall order, Sistas. It’s fraught with doubt, discouragement, and fear. But if and when we can Be Not Afraid despite the circumstances of our situation, we learn to trust Jesus more. And when we trust Jesus more, we can Be Not Afraid even more, despite. See how that works?

And here’s more great news: our Good Shepherd also freely gives us patience, persistence, hope, joy, grace, mercy, strength and peace, despite. Despite the fact that we are ungrateful, grumbling, complaining little sheep; despite the fact that we don’t deserve it and can’t earn it. And despite the fact that we are sinners. He loves us with an all-encompassing, never-ending love, despite everything we do to push him away or ignore him or offend him! He pours out gifts to us, in abundance, despite.

Cool, huh? It’s a perfectly formed Divine strategy. So go forth today, sweet Sista, and know you can love and be loved. Have peace in your heart and be not afraid, despite!

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Celeste

Granting Myself Grace & Resting in God

Can I share with you one of my biggest struggles? It’s patience. Having patience both with my children, but even more so with myself. I see my own faults and inadequacies when I am caring for my children with disabilities, magnified and enhanced. It’s as if I had been watching black and white TV for years. Then someone gave me a color TV. My eyes were opened and I saw colors and details I never noticed before. Perhaps this is a universal struggle for all parents. My kids struggle with Executive Functioning Skills, and require an extra ordinary amount of direction for simple tasks. It requires patience; lots of patience. They can achieve just about anything with patience and direction from me. Where the struggle comes in is most often with myself.

The things that go through my mind at times make me thankful that the interior life is strictly between God and us as individuals. (Unless we feel a need for spiritual direction, which I highly recommend!)

Why can’t you move faster, child?

Why must I tell you time and time again?

We’ve done this same thing everyday, in the same way, since your babyhood, and yet you still can’t do it one single day with out my direction? I am so tired, my child. I just need to rest a bit.

And then I see myself in the mirror of their eyes, in the blank expression, in the tears of frustration. I hear it in their voices when they tell me, “Mom, the alarm went off, it’s time for xyz. You need to come NOW.” I get annoyed with the sameness, the routine, the need for direction. It’s in our nature to expect that at a certain age our child will begin to self direct. But this isn’t the case always, and I know that this patience is a need that may go on for years, and even into adulthood. It becomes a time for me to look back at myself and see where I need to grow in order to love better.

Where is my patience? Is God our Father not infinitely patient with my inadequate self? Surely I can emulate some of his patience towards my sweet children. I rush to the foot of the Cross and beg for Mercy on my own inadequacy. He who gave them to me will lead me, if I rely on His Grace.

The thing that really strikes me in these moments is an experience that I have pretty regularly. Being the sole caregiver can be exhausting at times. About once a month, if I am not caring for myself properly, I will feel my patience start to wane and eventually fly out the window. I become short tempered, and easily irritated. My consideration for a child’s needs turns to feeling that their needs are a burden that I care not to deal with. First I run to the Cross, and then I embrace that child. Literally, embracing that child in the most loving manner I can possibly manage so that they feel loved and cared for, purposefully practicing patience and love in that moment and listening with a heart open to what they need. I call to mind how Mother Teresa would embrace and care for those on the street. She wrote one time about how she often did not feel like she wanted to care for someone, but she was the hands of Jesus in that moment. Sometimes, what I’m feeling is absolute repulsion at having to do a certain act once again, but my practice is to do that action with an over abundance of love and compassion, a smile, and gentlest words. I may even feel tears sting my eyes as I reach out to embrace someone in that moment because I am tired and it’s the last thing I want to be doing. “I’m going to embrace You in my child, Jesus,” is my prayer. I turn my frustration and lack of patience into what I would want for myself in that moment, and shower them in acts of love. And something miraculous happens. My irritation, frustration, and lack of patience is transformed. So often, it seems to magically transform into truly feeling love toward my child and being able to embrace those moments with grace.

He gives me a reprieve when I embrace Him in those moments of struggle.

It’s a practice in accepting Grace, for us to allow our brokenness to bring us closer to Jesus. He works mightily in those moments when we allow our weakness and our own inadequacies to become something as an offering to Him to help us grow and change and become for those around us a tool for his mercy.

Prayer
Jesus, work through my weaknesses to help me to serve my children well. Transform my embrace toward my children into the loving kindness that you give to us as our Father so that they may receive from me what you want for them. Help me to be patient both with myself and with them. Amen.

 

 

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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.