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Dearest Little One,

It has been a month and a day since that moment that my heart must have stopped beating for what then seemed like an eternity.  I had been happily recounting to the lady in the room about your siblings and how crazy-happy it is at home with all eight of them.  I really think I might have gone on and on telling her about the family if I hadn’t noticed the heavy silence that seemed to grow in weight by the second.  I closed my eyes then in a vain and half-hearted effort to close out what I could sense was happening.

You see, sweet one, this lady in the room could not seem to find a heartbeat.  For you.  It should have been there, quite obvious for her to see.  But it wasn’t.  Neither was it there two and a half weeks later.  In between these two times, I must have cried enough tears to tire me out completely.  But there were always tears just at the surface, ready to fall almost without missing a beat.  A heartbeat.  I missed your heartbeat.

Little tiddlywink, I want you to know that in the short time you were safely alive in my womb, I loved you.  I still do.  And your daddy loved you.  And so did your three sisters and five brothers.  They could not stop talking about how excited they were about you!  (Personally, I think they would have eventually taken bets on whether you would be a boy or a girl, to be honest with you….)  They’re a crazy bunch, your siblings.  I am so happy that you were a part of the family for that time you were here on earth with me.  And of course you still are a part of the family — just apart from us for now. A Crazy Bunch

Sweetness, I want you to know that if you had continued to live and had been born, you would have been welcomed with open arms into a family that loved you from the first moment we knew you were there.  You are not the first that has gone before us.  There are two older siblings of yours that went the same way — early on in their lives in my womb.  They too were anticipated, mourned, prayed for and are still loved.  And your siblings all pray for them still.  They still pray for you.  We all do.

I do not know where you are, wee one, but wherever it is, I know you are in good hands.  I cannot pretend to be happy that you are not with me, but I am happy that God blessed us with you.  And because I trust in His mercy and in His love, I know you are in good hands.  I know that you are not alone, nor are you lonely.  Before I met you, before I loved you, God already did.  A friend told me recently that crying can be good because it empties the tear ducts and allows us to smile even better.  I believe that.  In this my sorrow, I have found a deeper joy because of you.

My dear baby, you have allowed me to share the good news of your anticipated coming to family and friends.  Your presence gave me a chance to be in awe of how wonderfully made the human body is.  The knowledge of your presence has helped to reinforce my commitment to be generous with our Father God.  I faced the temptation of feeling embarrassed that I was expecting again and fought it because I knew that you were a blessing and not a burden.  How could you have ever been a problem to a family whose faith has been tested over and over again in so very many ways?  You were a gift — a sure and real sign of hope! — and we were grateful.

Because of you, my little treasure, I cherish each of your siblings even more.  I look at each of them and am thankful for each little one that has come into our family.  You accomplished and inspired so much good in your short life — thank you!  I look forward to the moment that I can finally hold you in my arms for the first time.  For now, I hold you in each prayer I say.  My heart will skip a beat at the thought of you and you will remind me to be happy.  You remind me of why I am grateful to be a mother.

We won’t say good-bye, small fry.  Until we can be together, we will for now just say good night.

I love you always.

Mom

For hope to be real, it has to go deeper than the wound and be more substantial than the pain that has caused you to be in that position you are in.  Hope has to be that much broader and that more powerful to be real, because otherwise it is just like a band-aid.”
— Jon Foreman (Switchfoot), interview regarding film “Bella”, DVD (2008).

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The truth is NEVER above anyone’s pay grade.

Barrack Obama says he will not yield on this fundamental issue — that is, what is supposed to be a woman’s right to choose.  I am not an American, but am very concerned about this struggle between a culture of life and a culture of death in the United States of America.  I am concerned as a woman and a mother — as a human being.

The sanctity of life is profoundly fundamental.  This obvious disregard for the life of those who are helpless and most vulnerable can only lead to a slippery slope of others who would be considered useless and disposable.  We — whether American or otherwise — should be concerned about what is happening in the U.S.  It is human life that is at stake — and those that are the future, not only the United States but, of the world itself.

A child is entitled to human rights from the moment of conception.  That is the truth.

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This is the third installment of “Putting Family First”, posted here for easier access.  The first part of the article can be found on a separate page on this blog.

Leading By Example

In taking care of ourselves, we thus become an example to our children of how one should treat oneself and others and why; how to manage our work and handle stress; and how to be a good friend.  We are our best examples to our children of the kind of adults which we are trying to raise them to be.  We can, after all, admonish our children all we want but it is that which they see us do that they will emulate.  This leads us to the third priority of a good parent:  the children.  We must, however, see this order of priorities not so much in place value but in the light of the fact that the children come because of husband and wife.

It is the children that really benefit from the strength and soundness of their parents’ loving marriage.  The family, thus, becomes the child’s refuge of learning, nurturing, education and loving.

In the World, Not Worldly

Our goal, as parents, is to love, nurture and teach our children to become responsible and loving men and women of character in the middle of the world.  We don’t want them holed up in some bubble, ignorant and clueless.  They are members of the human race and should be part of the rest of the world.  The only difference is that our family and our home is within which they are taught about life, people and the world, and where they can find solace and a true sense of what it means to love and be loved.  We should not coddle them or hide them from the world.

We need to get to know each one of them as individuals, with unique personalities and characters.  To be genuinely interested in them does not mean being obsessive or stifling in our attention.  We, as mothers, should remember not to smother.  They do not have to and should not be stuck to our side as if they were super-glued on.  They are separate persons and certainly not our clones.

We pass onto them those things, which are important to us – our values, wisdom and faith – through our traditions, customs and rituals within the family.  We should make the effort to share our life with them and not just “manage” or order them around.  They will get to know us on a deeper level when they learn of our childhood memories, our joys and sorrows, hopes and dreams and how we have overcome adversities.  In allowing them to get to know us, they realize that their parents are not just these people they call “mom” and “dad”.  They see our struggles and what we do in order to overcome challenges.

We need to spend time with them, doing both ordinary and special things:  to pray together, celebrate together, to share good and bad times together.  We cannot put off time with them as if we will always have tomorrow.  When the opportunities we let pass by go the way of yesterday’s what-ifs, we would have foregone chances to get to know and to love these most special people who have been entrusted to us as our children.  Our children need material things much, much less than they need our time and love.  We must make every effort to take this to heart because the world is full of propaganda aimed at convincing us of the need to get more money to buy more and more things and indulge in pleasures.

Our children need to hear us say that we will love them no matter what – that there is nothing that they could ever do that would make us stop loving them.  This is a powerful statement that speaks to them about the kind of love that does not impose conditions or sanctions.  It will act as a beacon to them in those moments when they find they have fallen, made mistakes and feel helpless.  They know they can always turn to us, their parents, for our love.

Life Lessons Worth Learning

It is very easy to feel lacking as a parent when it seems like every kid on the block (and their cousin) is enrolled in this or that after-school class or activity.  I know it because I have struggled with it many times.  Are our children really any worse for not having been able to take piano, singing, soccer, hockey, swimming, ballet or art lessons?  Are we much less for not going on vacations or to the cottage every summer?  I can assure you that while these extra-curricular activities and trips may very well be educational and beneficial, they are not the be-all and end-all of character formation.  In fact, if we stop to consider the really important things we need to teach our children, we will soon realize that the ordinary circumstances of life already provide us with ample opportunities for these lessons worth learning.

These are some of those life lessons we should teach our children about:

  • To appreciate the world and be grateful for it, without subscribing to the selfish values promoted within it:  materialism, consumerism, individualism;
  • How to use our freedom well and to make decisions by using critical thinking and a sense of responsibility;
  • To do our work well, to serve others through the work we do and that to serve is a good and honourable thing to do;
  • To foster an attitude of gratitude and a spirit of true generosity;
  • To be sincere in all things;
  • To foster true hope – not just optimism – and to inspire hope in others;
  • To treat every person with dignity:  young and old, rich or poor, male and female;
  • With consideration for the child’s age and experience, we do not shy away from talking about these realities which are a normal and necessary part of life;
  • Love is not just about feelings, hugs and kisses, but more importantly it is an act of the will – a verb, an action word;
  • To know how to forgive, which is an act of the will, and to ask for forgiveness, which is an act of love and humility.

Foundational Framework

It’s fine enough to talk about the things we want our children to learn and what we want them to be when they grow up.  But how do we do it?  Is there some super sophisticated mathematical or scientific formula that we apply to our family situation to make everything happen automatically and perfectly?  The short answer is no.

There is nothing automatic or even perfect about families because we, as human beings, have a free will to decide and act on our decisions.  We are not robots; our lives are not pre-destined.  The beauty of this is that we can do something and not just sit back consigned to our fate.  In getting to know and understanding each and every member of our family, we are able to create a framework of traditions, customs, rituals, routines and rules that are founded on our family’s unique identity, character and dynamics.  It is within this framework that we are able to establish and impart those values, which are important to the family.

Far from being tiresome, boring or dictatorial, this structure will in fact liberate and empower us to do achieve our goals as a family.  It enables us to move forward with purpose and direction, rather than haphazardly and indecisively.  It allows us to say no to those things that take us away or have nothing to do with our family’s overall mission.

These traditions, customs and rituals within the family – whether those from when we were children ourselves, or newly-established ones – have the power to strengthen the ties that bind the family together.  These give each member of the family a sense of what is familiar, thereby providing a sense of security.  We human beings are creatures of habit, after all.  These rituals can be as simple as the making and serving of coffee in the morning, or spending some time with each child by their side at bedtime.

This framework of family life provides many chances to be together as a family while helping and being with each other.  A history is constantly being created on which the family builds a stronghold of loving support and nurturing to draw upon in moments of adversity.  Loving traditions and customs create good memories on which to look back to with fondness and encourage us to hope for the future.  Birthdays become a time to recognize and appreciate a unique member of the family.  Anniversaries mark important milestones in the family’s life.  Special occasions, such as Christmas and Thanksgiving, family trips and vacations are cherished moments to celebrate together.

Even the family meal — in which the preparation of the meal, the setting of the table, the consideration for preferences and manners at table, and the conversations that many times will seem to almost flow into each other — all make up what has become an important family ritual.  By doing all these things as a family, we create an atmosphere for our children and ourselves that is alive and vibrant, considerate of each member of the family and the family as a whole.  In teaching our children about unconditional love, we don’t just tell them we love them – we are showing them so.

Postscript:  Reality Check

Having said all this, we must be aware that in life there are no real guarantees.  The story of our lives is still being written – by us – and lived out day by day.  We must learn how to live one day at a time.  We have enough cares for one day without having to worry about tomorrow and the day after.  And although there are no guarantees, the ending has not been determined or set.  It is still to come in due time.

In the meantime, we must learn to live our lives to the fullest, living in the moment and doing our best.  Now is the only moment we can really do anything about, for the past if over and done, and the future is yet to come.  When you are with your husband and children, be with them completely and unreservedly.

Mistakes happen and we must not be surprised at all when they do.  It is not wasted time or useless effort on our part.  These are the learning moments from which we pick up ourselves and simply begin again.  We are human beings, and therefore imperfect.  We cannot do everything, but we can do a lot.  And what we can do, we must do well.  As St. Josemaria Escriva said, “A lot depends on what you and I must do.” (The Way)

In July of 2006, our family suffered a second miscarriage, which made my next pregnancy (in November 2006) that much more special.  When I shared the special news of the baby-to-come with our seven-year old son and asked him to just keep it within the family for the moment, he looked at me with a clearly concerned expression on his face and said, “But shouldn’t we be telling people so that they can pray for the baby not to die?” Right there and then, I knew this young son of ours loved his family and every single member, young and old, seen and unseen.  He knew what mattered, what was important and the power of coming together as a family.

So, when you find yourself — at any given time of the day, but especially at night — tired, frustrated, anxious, worried or stressed out – take heart and do not lose your peace.  There will be days when you feel as if nothing is going right.  There will be nights when you can hardly sleep for worrying about a problem.  There will be times that you feel so tired and worn out.  Know that if you are doing your best and giving yourself fully to the tasks and moments at hand, then ultimately everything works out for the good.  It may not seem so, but it does.

As successful American businessman Lee Iacoca put it, “The only rock I know that stays steady, the only institution I know that works is the family.” We must not ever lose hope.  Our efforts are worth it.  And there is always hope for those who love.

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On 3 May 2008, I gave a talk entitled, “Mission Possible:  Putting Family First at the Mom, You’re Incredible! event, which was sponsored by the Neeje Association for Women and Family.  I am posting an article based on the outline for that talk on this page.  Because of the length of the article, it will be published on this blog on the page “Putting Family First” in several parts over a period of two weeks.

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October is such a beautiful time of the year, and especially so in North America wherein nature transforms itself right before our very eyes.  It is a very inviting time that follows that period of scurrying around that is September.  October allows us to breathe.

The good thing about being able to breathe easier is that it gives you a chance to think about things better.  Has your life been so rushed lately that you’ve barely had time for anything other than running around “doing” things?  I know mine has.  September passed by in a blur of activities.  Well, my friend, please do not forget to stop every now and then.  You and I are not automatons; we are not negligible.  In order for us to do what needs to be done, we must remember to take care of ourselves as well.

Often, in our effort to give priority to our family, we make the mistake of forgetting about ourselves.  I am not suggesting we should all spend hours in the spa or buy ourselves a whole new wardrobe!  For the most part, we do not consider our needs right away because we either feel guilty for doing so or it just doesn’t occur to us.

Let us remember, though, that we cannot take care of our family effectively without being well ourselves.  What does this entail?  Firstly, we need enough rest and sleep.  In fact, even if it seems a luxury most of us need about 7/5 to 8 hours of sleep every night.  We need to eat right – mind you, not too much but certainly not just whatever is leftover on your kid’s plate or whatever you can grab on the run.  Mealtimes are a natural way for us to stop a moment and take a break.  Do not begrudge yourself this time to replenish your energies.

Neither should you feel guilty for finding a need to buy a new item of clothing or make-up or getting a good haircut when it is needed.  Are you really doing yourself or your family any favours by not taking care of your appearance?  This is not so much for vanity’s sake as it is for your own dignity and self-confidence.

Make time to get together with your friends.  You are still an individual with your own ideas and interests – these should not have gone the way of the dustbin when you got married and started your family.

We also need to fully appreciate that we, as human beings, are composed of body and soul.  If we make the effort to take care of our bodies, we must also take great care of our souls for it is within this very part of us that our very essence is contained.  Some people make every human effort possible to keep to a strict diet, work out at the gym and exercise.  A similar and even stronger fervour should be applied to care for our spiritual needs.

That said, if after all your efforts you still find yourself at the end of the day exhausted, spent and perhaps not just a little frustrated – take heart.  There will be days like this and you mustn’t be discouraged.  At the end of every day, we need to be grateful for what we have in our lives.  As Scarlett O’Hara said, “Tomorrow is another day.” Remember that, breathe and punctuate each breath with a smile.  It helps.

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My children have recently discovered the game of badminton. Thanks to a sale at Canadian Tire, we are now the owners of a badminton/volleyball set that originally came with four rackets. The set is now down to three sound ones and a fourth that is – sadly – quite broken. (This broken racket found itself accidentally whacked against the unsuspecting face of a seven year-old girl during a particularly exciting game.) Such is the way of the world in this big family of ours.I am typing out this entry on a picnic table in the shade of tree and the light of a sun that is not yet ready to set. The fifth boy (a.k.a. the baby & 8th kid) is sitting in his stroller behind me, entertaining himself with the toes on his very chubby foot.

There is a son sitting on the grass a few feet away from me, laying a claim to sheer boredom as he concentrates on trying to dig a hole in the ground with a stubby stick. The four oldest are playing badminton – three with proper rackets while one is — as far as I can tell — like a court jester of sorts. Don’t ask me how that works because I honestly don’t know. It must be working for them somehow because they are keeping score and there is a certain air of competitiveness about them. The two other girls are kind of walking about here and there, not trying too hard to stay out of trouble.

(The game in front of me is evolving. The court jester is now playing at being referee, picker-up of the birdie and the human badminton net. I have to say it looks far more exciting than a regular game and perhaps this should be further explored as a possible alternative to playing this game……….or not.)

How else could I have spent this afternoon of good weather better, I wonder? I sit here breathing in the good, clean air as a breeze makes the tree branches sway gently. I have seen countless number of airplanes in the sky off to some far off place. Would I have a more fulfilling afternoon in Europe or Africa? Would I have more exciting adventures in Asia or the Carribean? Would I have more important things to do if I were working in an office, rushing to meet deadlines, meeting with important people and making way more money than I do now which is – well…..nothing really?

Today is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (or the Jesuits). My alma mater is the Ateneo de Manila University which the Jesuits founded and run to this day. The Jesuits live out their vocation “for the greater glory of God” – ad majorem Dei gloriam. These are words that call to me, not only because of my Jesuit education but, because of the very clarity of its purpose and the love it professes for my Father in heaven.

What does my most spectacularly ordinary afternoon have to do with all this? At first glance, it would seem as if we spent a day of lazy pleasure outdoors for wont of something better to do. The truth could not be farther from this. This is an afternoon spent doing the kind of “work” I as a mother am so privileged to be doing — and it is for the greater glory of God. Humanly speaking, what do I stand to gain by this afternoon: a nice pile of dirty clothes, most of which will likely have grass stains; a passel of sun-kissed and breathless children who all very badly need a bath; a whole lot of “stuff” that need to be loaded in the tan van and then unloaded by a very tired and unenthusiastic crew at home.

Kid #8, Boy #5

Kid #8, Boy #5

In fact, all I have to do is to look at each child and see the very real proof of divine Providence at work. This is important work, indeed! Learning about each other and about life without even realizing it is a tremendous gift. This afternoon, my children and I spent several glorious hours of being together as a family of unique individuals. We looked around at the beauty of the garden we were in a wished that my husband was with us. The children played volleyball, badminton and soccer with great enthusiasm and – sometimes – one or two bruised egos. I asked each child to take a turn in pushing their baby brother’s stroller around the garden path and the requests were not always met with a smile. But walk around the garden path they did, pushing their baby brother’s stroller dutifully. In this short afternoon, we’ve dealt with happy shouts of victory and not so happy shouts of protests; badminton birdies stuck in a tree and a soccer ball gone AWOL for a brief moment in a dense cluster of trees; sullen looks of disappointment at not getting what one wanted — and a quiet realization that being the grump of the group just isn’t fun.

Whether you are a stay-at-home mom or one who is working full time and then having to rush home to get dinner on the table, know that you are where you are because what you do and who you are makes every bit of difference to those who are around you. You are where you are for a reason – not because of fate or destiny or random luck.
Do you ever wish you were off somewhere else doing something more exciting than whatever it is you’re doing? Don’t. Be where you are because it is where you are needed and where you belong. Do what you do for love and for the greater glory of God.

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Perfectly Imperfect Moments

Every now and then, for the past 34 days, I’ve been trying to figure out what to write about next on this blog. I hemmed and hawed and sat on my mental fence…..and waited. I waited for that elusive and unpredictable friend that is Inspiration to come and sweep me away to flights of creative expression. It hasn’t happened. Yet. And since it hasn’t happened (yet), I feel compelled to make myself write.

Yup, that’s right: I am plunging into the icy cold waters of writing without waiting for warmer, more inviting temperatures in which to wallow. I will not wait for that bright flash of inspiration because it may come when I happen to blink or am otherwise occupied with other things. Life goes on, whether I am googly-eyed and rapturous about this and that or I am mentally kicking myself in the head for managing to snag a spot in traffic behind the slowest driver on the road. Life does not stop to consider my lack of wonderment or awe. It moves along at the pace of ordinary time; neither slower nor faster.

I realized this morning that in waiting for what I would deem a “perfect moment”, I was missing out on the “now moments” that where always taking place. The truth is that my life (and I suspect most people’s lives) consists in way more imperfect “now moments” than THE “perfect moment”. We have twenty-four hours in a day, 60 minutes in each hour. There is only so much a person can do within this time frame of life. I stand to lose a great deal of opportunities for conversation and friendship and love if I do nothing while I wait for the ideal moment – if there is even one.

When I left for Spain to go to Torreciudad more than a month ago, I did not know what to expect. Were there going to be fireworks going off in my soul, transporting me to another spiritual dimension? Was I going to feel time stop as if the world was suspended in motion? Were copious tears going to flow from my eyes, rendering me a sobbing mess of saltiness and pathos? Well, I was moved to tears during the first benediction at the shrine, but thankfully I was not this way for long. But how can one help but be moved, after all, at the genuine beauty of this place of prayer and faith that is Torreciudad?

And the world did not stop revolving. Each day that passed seemed to stretch at first, but quickly filled up with many, many moments I am so grateful for now: quick, stolen moments to greet our Lord at the tabernacle; small, fervent kisses on a cross as I told my Father in heaven that I was putting my life in His hands; precious time spent in conversation with my God. What a luxury! I reveled in the richness of these extraordinarily ordinary moments with God, Our Lady of Torreciudad and those who were with me.

What does Torreciudad have to do with the “perfect moment”? The chance to go came at – humanly speaking – the wrong time. I was still a nursing mom with eight children and our family budget did not include any money set aside for “extraordinary travel to places of interest”. Should I have waited, then, for a better time to go? Perhaps another chance would come my way when I had more money, extra money, more time, extra time……I really don’t know. In my heart, my instantaneous and heartfelt response to the invitation was, “Yes, please!!!” So I went, and I am richer for it in so many ways I cannot even begin to tell you.

At Torreciudad, I realized that as beautiful the whole place is, my own place was with my family back home. I often thought of and brought to my prayers my very generous husband and each of our eight children. I recalled with a slight pang the two souls that would have been born into our family had they not gone straight to heaven after just several weeks in my womb. I remembered with fondness and affection each friend (or at least as many friends as my poor memory could recall….) and his or her particular intention or need. In this beautiful home of Our Lady of Torreciudad, I was strongly drawn home to where God had placed me. I could see that my ordinary life, filled with ordinary and less-than-perfect moments was part of the greater and whole picture of Life. My life means something; what I do matters.

Which brings me back to the past 34 days I’ve spent trying to find the perfect moment to post an “awesome” entry on this blog. It’s never going to happen – the “perfect moment” I mean for that “awesome blog”. There is this time I spend writing, which I must consider important enough so as not to brush off as unnecessary. I do not know exactly who will read what I write, but if it helps even that one person who may or may not have meant to land on my blog – then it will have been worth it. If I write with the conviction that I am communicating with other souls, then my ordinary post becomes something extraordinary in its purpose.

And that is definitely something worth spending time my time on.

The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is. (C.S. Lewis)

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