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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.  

Categories
Anni Ink Slingers Marriage Motherhood Prayer Spiritual Growth Vocations

By Faith, With Hope, To Love

Recently, I found myself confronted by some fairly powerful, negative emotions centering on an incident which I felt to be a betrayal from someone I knew. Part of the emotional response was easily identified – it rested in my wounded pride. The other part of my emotional response was driven by a broken friendship – admittedly, one that had failed long before the knowledge of the perceived betrayal. The more I rationalized the deep hurt I felt, and crafted my plan to move through the pain and into a more centered place, one phrase kept coming back to me…

 


As I processed the situation, I recognized the need to heed advice that I have often given to others – I needed to have faith, hope, and love.

Life doesn’t often go according to our own plans. When those plans go awry and we begin to spin our wheels, we are often times left to ask God why – why our plans must change, why they fell through, why they did not come to fruition as envisioned.

One of my favorite devotions is that of the Divine Mercy. The five word prayer, “Jesus, I trust in You,” has become my mantra, building my strength in the face of altered plans. It also has come to remind me of the strength Our Lord provides when I trust in Him, accepting His plans are greater than mine.

God asks us to have faith in Him… even when we don’t understand.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit” (CCC, 1817). As I spent time reflecting on the situation which caused me so much hurt, I recognized that my faith grants me the opportunity to shift my focus from hurt and sadness, to hope.

You see, there is a reason for what transpired. This incident solidified in my heart how my primary focus should be my vocation as a wife, and my avocation as a mother. My focus should not be externally driven, and instead, should center on those closest to me. I was reminded of the quote attributed to St. John Bosco,


My hope must center on doing for my family the best job I am able to do, since I know I will be held to account for my actions toward them when I seek to enter eternal life.

As I hope for the reward of everlasting life, my actions for my family are the ones which will be the weightiest in the decision.

The lost friendship I mourned reminded me of the final instruction by St. Paul to the Corinthians – love. We must love without hesitation, without reservation, and without  condition. Sometimes though, I admit that can be a tall order, especially when we examine situations where we feel betrayed.

However, as I thought of betrayal and love, and how they blend so seamlessly at times, I recalled the betrayal of Christ. Perhaps it is because of the time I recently spent participating in the Stations of the Cross during Lent, but my thoughts immediately turned toward how my actions, as a friend to Christ, have at times betrayed Him.

And yet, He loves me. Without reservation, without hesitation, and without condition.

I want to live like Christ. I want to model myself after His example. I want to be joined with Him for all eternity. He does not promise us that following in His footsteps will be an easy path. But, He does ask for us to live as He lived.

Which means through the pain, the hurt, the disappointment, the challenges and the difficult moments, I am called to love like Christ.

We are all called to love like Christ.

So, my pride is still a little bruised, and I expect that it will take a little time to heal.

But, my perspective has changed, and I am finding clarity and strength in knowing that I am choosing to live 
                                                                                      by faith…
                                                                                                         …with hope…
                                                                                                                                …to love.

Anni Harry

 

Categories
Faith Formation Ink Slingers Mary S. Parenting Special Needs Connection Vocations

Grieving for my special needs child

For a while, it has bugged me when a pregnant woman, when asked if she wanted a boy or girl, responded “I don’t care, as long as it’s healthy.” Because I had seen couples welcome babies who were definitely not “healthy”, but of course they still loved their child with all their hearts. So in my self-righteousness, I looked down on those who answered “as long as it’s healthy”. Until I had been a mother myself for several years. My first two children had both been born healthy and “perfect”, and were even relatively easy babies. But then as my son grew, we saw signs of problems. He had a speech delay, which we found was due to a hearing issue (later corrected with ear tubes), but there were other issues which seemed to point towards something more. Over time, it became clear that he is on the Autism spectrum. He’s pretty high-functioning, so while it is sometimes difficult, our lives are still pretty normal. And for a while, this actually increased my self-righteousness, since I had a child who while physically healthy, was not your typically “perfect, healthy child,” yet of course I loved him! I must be so much better than those people who replied that they only wanted a healthy child.

But then I realized that I was not all sunshine and happiness when thinking about my son. I frequently felt sad, stressed, guilty, worried, frustrated, overwhelmed, and so much more. And somehow humility struck me, because I found myself grieving for the loss of some of what I had imagined for my child. I realized I was sad that he was already having great difficulty learning to read and having trouble with his classmates because of his difficulty in social interactions. And I was sad because I knew those difficulties would continue, and others would come. And I realized without even being aware of it that I had imagined my children would be healthy, normal kids and grow into healthy, normal adults. While I was feeling superior to those who voiced the hope for a healthy child, without realizing it I had simply assumed that my own children would be healthy. And it hurt to give up that assumption, to change my image of what my kids would be as teens and young adults and parents themselves. I had to realize that not only would they all face the typical challenges of life, but my son would also face special challenges. And my husband and I would face special challenges in raising him.

And that kinda sucks.

I don’t want to spend time searching for ways to help him navigate a world that sometimes doesn’t make sense to him. I don’t want to deal with Special Ed providers at his school, or with the additional parent-teacher meetings needed to keep track of where he needs extra help, or with the extra time at home helping him. I don’t like having conversations with him where I have to explain basic social reactions when he just doesn’t understand why his classmates react a certain way. I don’t want to be a “special needs mom,” but I am. I wouldn’t choose any of those things, but I do them because I know he needs them, and I’m his mother. I have friends who deal with much greater issues with their children, and I’m willing to bet they don’t want to be a “special needs mom” either. I think any mother would prefer that her child not have to face the big or small challenges that come with having special needs. A mother naturally wants to make the road smooth and easy for her children, to watch them grow and succeed rather than stumble and struggle.

So I’m sad sometimes. I grieve the loss of the image of a normal, healthy life for my son, and I grieve the fact that his extra needs make my job harder. While I certainly love him no less, part of my mind says “I wish he were healthy,” “I wish we didn’t have to fight to get closer to normal,” “this stuff is a pain in the….uh….rear.” And that’s okay. While I still don’t like it, I don’t judge them so harshly when new parents say “as long as the baby is healthy.” And I don’t come down so hard on myself when I am sad that we have to deal with this. It is a loss. A loss of some of my hopes for my child and myself, a loss of our time and effort and energy, a loss of the ability to share my time and attention more evenly among my children. I’m allowed to grieve for the difficulties my son will face. And so are you.

I’d love to hear how having a child with special needs has impacted your family. Have you grieved the loss it includes, as I have found myself doing? Have you felt guilty about that sadness, as I frequently do? Share your stories in the comments section.

Categories
Fatherhood Ink Slingers Loss Michelle Motherhood Pro-Life Issues Respect Life Respect Life Month Vocations

To Say Their Names

To Say Their Names

Our names are important. Even if we share the same name as someone else, our names are still uniquely our own. If someone said, “Tell me about Michelle Fritz”, I’m sure that there would be all kinds of stories-both good and bad- that people could tell you simply by hearing my name. Just as yours does, the mere mention of my name invokes memories and emotions.

michelle-name

We don’t have names simply so that others know what to call us; our names are a part of our identity. They are important because they signify that we belong to someone- a family, a clan, a tribe. They are important because they tell us a little about ourselves. Sometimes our names can tell where we are from, who our ancestors were, when we were born, or perhaps what religion our family calls their own.

Our names, when said by others, can bring us joy or deep pain. When one speaks our name with malice or hate, we hurt. When one speaks our name with love or affection, we rejoice. Our name, spoken aloud, is powerful.

Many years ago a dear friend of mine asked me if I would share the names of my children whom I had lost over the years. I was taken aback. No one had ever asked to hear their names. With deep regret I told her that some of the babies I had lost in very early pregnancy did not have names. I had once been chided about naming babies lost early and so I felt like I was being silly for giving them names when they were lost so soon. She encouraged me to name the babies who did not have names. She said that it would bring healing. She was right.

By giving my babies names I was recognizing that they were a part of our family regardless of how long they were with us. In a world that refuses to acknowledge the importance of the tiniest human beings, naming our children helped us to show that we recognized their humanity and their importance even if the world didn’t.

The world fails to understand the preciousness of each life and this often makes it hard for parents to talk about their children they have lost to miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death. Most often it is not because it hurts to remember our children- we want to talk about them and remember them! Instead, it is because mentioning the names of our lost babies makes others uncomfortable. They may not know what is right and what is wrong to say. They may just even hate the thought of talking about death, especially of a child. Or, they may not be able to understand because they have never <thankfully> lost a child. It seems as if there is an unspoken rule that when someone loses a baby they should grieve and then get on with their lives never to talk of this life-changing event ever again. But it’s not that easy.

williams-graveShortly after I lost William, another dear friend of mine asked me if I would share the names of my babies with her. Once again I was taken aback. Typing up their names was overwhelming. I wasn’t sure I wanted to send them to my friend. They were a part of me and I didn’t know that I was ready to share them with anyone else. Still, I sent the list to her. The love and the deep pain she felt regarding our losses was something I had never expected. Her words meant so much to me as I grieved the loss of my children. Soon afterward she had a necklace made for me that included all my beloved lost babies’ names neatly written in a gem. I was once again moved to tears. In one single act of love and kindness she has brought humanity and dignity to my children simply by writing their names. While we have lost more children since then, it is still one of my most treasured possessions.

This month is pregnancy and infant loss awareness month. I am participating in a photo journal challenge to capture the grief that comes with losing a child. On the second day of the challenge the topic was “Who They Are”. We were instructed to share as little or as much about our children as we wanted. I first shared William’s picture but then I decided that it was time to share all my children’s names. I wanted others to know them too, but to be honest, I was scared to death.

You see, many people know that I have lost many, many children; but most had no clue just how many I have lost. They see that I have 11 living children and many believe that getting pregnant and maintaining a pregnancy comes easily for me. But being open to life means we open ourselves up to loss as well and we have experienced more loss than most will ever experience. Sharing the names of the babies I have lost meant that I was going to share just how much we have gone through. I knew it would bring not only words of comfort but also words of condemnation and chastisement as well.

Still, I decided the time was right and that God was asking me to trust Him. I prayed that the Holy Spirit would give me the courage I needed as I typed each of their names and shared them for the first time to everyone.

Today I share my children with you. I pray that seeing their names will help you have the courage you need to share your child or children’s names as well. Saying their names out loud helps the world to see that even though they did not make it to our arms, or were taken too soon after coming into the world, that their lives have value.

Fritz Babies' Names

If you have not named your child, I encourage you to do so. Naming your baby will bring you peace. It will tie your child to you in a very powerful and meaningful way. It brings recognition to the dignity of his/her life and helps others to understand that this was a child… a child who was loved, a child who was wanted, and a child who will forever be a part of you.

I pray for each and every one of you who has lost a child. It is a pain that no parent should ever have to feel.

I invite you to share with us the names of your children lost to miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death. Allow us to pray with you and for you and honor your children as we honor our own.

pregnancy-loss

Categories
Ink Slingers Liz The Crossroads - Where Faith Meets Mental Health

Eternal Rest Unto Dreams

Eternal Rest Unto Dreams

photo source

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”-Proverbs 19:21

A bride kneels next to her husband as they receive Holy Communion for the first time as a married couple.

A novice, covered in flowers, professes her vows.

A giggling toddler runs across the playground, her strong, happy mama close behind.

A confident, compassionate doctor saves the life of a child.

A starry-eyed mystic travels the globe, immersing herself in the best of the Faith in every corner of the world.

These are the dreams of Catholic womanhood. They are healthy and happy and holy goals for life. One or more of them, or some version of them, rests in the hearts of all of us from the time we’re old enough to scribble them in a journal or share them with a friend. They are dreams worthy to be worked toward and attained. But dreams, like all other created things, are subject to both the will of God and the distortion of original sin.  No matter how pretty or holy our dreams might be, sometimes they just cannot be sustained or achieved. Chance, physical or mental illness, or even death come crashing in on the beautiful pictures we’ve created of our futures. These thwarted dreams can be small, or they can shake the very core of our identity. For example …

“The physical side effects of my fibromyalgia have recently become disabling. My plan to homeschool my children is now out of the question.”

“I always thought God was calling me to religious life. But, due to my serious bipolar disorder, I can’t find an order that will accept me.”

“I have severe PMDD. Hormonal fluctuations make it very difficult for me to get pregnant. My husband and I dreamed of a large family, and we are open to life, but we are quickly getting older, and we’ll be lucky to have even a second child.”

“My spouse was just diagnosed with early-onset dementia. I imagined us spending our old age traveling and praying together. Now I know soon the only place we’ll travel is to the doctor.”

So, what happens to a dream deferred? What should we do about the pain we feel when we lose a piece of ourselves we have long envisioned is central to our path to God? Accepting the death of these dreams in a holy manner is somewhat similar to grieving the death of a loved one. Deep down we know that we must acknowledge “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” But coming to this acknowledgement is painful, difficult and often lifelong. Here are four suggestions for grieving an important dream. Repeat as often as necessary:

  • Let it out. You can’t hide from the Lord how upset, betrayed or confused you are. There is no way to extinguish your feelings, and to try simply putting them aside is unhealthy. So tell Jesus, since he already knows. Pour out your heart again and again at Mass, at Adoration, at home. Yell your prayer, if necessary, or cry your prayer. Whatever you’re feeling, just tell him.
  • Pray the Rosary. Praying the Rosary for the dead is an important tradition of our faith. It is just as important, in a different way, to pray for a lost future. As you move through each decade, ask the Blessed Mother’s intercession for discernment, for strength and healing, for acceptance, for a miraculous change in your circumstances, but above all, for grace. You absolutely don’t have to pick just one outcome. As long as you pray sincerely for his will to be done and open yourself to his answer, you’re praying for the right thing.
  • Attend Mass. It’s not possible to have a funeral Mass for a life goal, of course, but it is very good to formally offer your grief to the Lord. Our outward actions often help our inward dispositions, so if you find it helpful, make this a special, extra trip. Wear somber clothing, light a candle before church begins, asking the intercession of your favorite saint, and afterward, ask the priest to give you a blessing. Explain that you are seeking God’s will for your life.
  • Bury it. Put your earthly hopes and dreams to rest in your own heart and soul by hiding them in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Get on our knees and give up all your idealistic pictures of life and your broken visions of the future. Give him your word that you will continue to do this again and again—dead dreams don’t stay always stay buried–and give him your promise that you will not, as J.K. Rowling famously wrote, “dwell on dreams, and forget to live.”

After you have done all these at least once, perhaps many times, ready yourself for your new mission and go forward with the only hope that will never, ever die. In Heaven, all our dreams will be waiting for us, fulfilled through Christ in a way we cannot yet understand.

RESOURCES

DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE

MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}