Saturday, 22 June 2013

real presence

Tonight, while reading something about the Real Presence, I realized that the hardest thing about praying (for me) is being really. present.

For five years I have been praying for the grace of gentleness. I thought that once I became a consistently gentle mother, I would be pretty much ready for canonization. A half-decade of grace (plus the devouring of a practical "how-to" manual in the form of that Popcak book) and here I am...more gentle than I ever dreamed I could be and still not ready for the Perfect Mom Award. Alas! A few weeks ago I decided that my next half decade is going to have be dedicated to growing in the ability to be "really present". John Paul the Great - a man who knew how to be really, totally, recklessly present to others- talked often about presence as a necessary prerequisite for being able to receive the gift of the person. I have the gift of five beautiful persons under this roof and I'm not receiving those gifts to the full. I'm also not giving the full gift of myself to any of them.

 I can't count the number of times a day that I realize that baby James has been staring adoringly up at me, grinning with rapt attention and love, while I have been oblivious. This is not a problem that stems from having four children. I remember when all the others were babies, being stopped by older women in grocery stores, department stores and libraries so many times, and being told by these total strangers, "Your baby has been staring up at you with the most beautiful love for the past ten minutes. We've just been watching that baby stare at you." But I had not noticed. I might have been talking absently to the baby, perhaps I handed over a toy or disengaged my hair from tiny's even possible that I nursed that baby - all without making direct eye contact or really noticing the tiny person strapped to my chest. Whenever these wonderful old ladies call me out of my stupid stupor, my eyes lock with the baby's eyes and....oh, the smile. The little face lights up with delight, joy! I can't help but feel the same - instantly - love for love, delight for delight, joy for joy. Only, my joy is tainted with a little nagging guilt and regret for being so unaware of all that love and perfect presence directed at me.

I don't work outside the home. I homeschool. So....I'm always "with" my children .... but relatively rarely am I truly with them. I often read books to children cuddled under my arm and pulled close on my lap while my mind stretches far away from them, reminding myself what to do in ten minutes or remembering events from ten years ago. I often listen to their stories with ears that do not hear and admire their artwork with eyes that do not see. I'm so often waiting for them to find something to engage their bodies so that I can slip off into my mind, remaining physically present while my thoughts steal me away.

I never remember why my husband is coming home late because I'm never listening when he tells me. I'm thinking about the fascinating article I just read or the (equally fascinating) one I'm about to write. I don't really always hear what my friends tell me because I'm regretting the stupid thing I said a few minutes back or reselecting the brilliant thing I plan to say next.  And I certainly struggle to hear anything the Lord might want to tell me because there's just so much else going on inside my head. The God of the Universe, King of Glory,  Maker of Heaven and Earth - the One who created me, gave me every good I possess, died for me and will serve as my final judge - THAT PERSON is really present to me and I am distracted. By. Such. Stupid. Nothings.

Did people struggle with this issue as much in ages past - before there was such a daily bombardment of media - all this internet and information and images to fill our heads and rob our souls? I don't know. Did people struggle with this issue as much in ages past - before there was so much busy-ness and rush and scheduling? I don't know. I do know that both of those factor in for me, (along with the problem of having very little practical experience in disciplining the mind). But I also know that "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." That tried-and-proven knowledge gives me perfect confidence that I can and will grow in the ability to be really, fully, soul-fully present to my kids. And my husband. And my God. It's just probably going to take at least five years - or more. In the meantime, what a beautiful thing to practice: looking more often into the eyes of the people I love; shaking off my thoughts - which really means my selfish, self-absorbed little world - to listen to the thoughts of the people I love and enter the wonderful world of "them".

It makes sense to me that the more I practice the habit of being really present to my children, the easier it will become to be fully present to God as well. If I can't practice the presence of Maria, I'll never be able to practice the presence of the Lord (He's a little more subtle than any of my offspring).  I can imagine at the end of my life, the angels coming, nudging me, calling my undivided attention to the KING OF GLORY and saying, "Your God and Savior has been staring at you with the most beautiful love for the past 76 years. We've just been watching Him stare at you." He is just as close as these babes in arms. Nay, closer. And I don't want to wait that long to be shaken out of my stupor. My babies have taught me that.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

the vision

Getting this "Support-A-Mom"/Servants of Dignity project off the ground is taking a little longer than I had expected, so I'm just going to share where I'm hoping that it may be headed.

After contacting a lot of agencies that I thought might be somehow involved in the life of women and children who are in a stage of life that comes a few years after the crisis pregnancy has been "resolved" (at least in the eyes of the pro-life movement), I was not really any closer to finding a way to connect with said women. I got the furthest with a shelter for victims of domestic violence. We even had a great face-to-face meeting and bounced ideas back and forth. Although ultimately it came to nothing (more on that in a moment), the conversation was actually really fruitful for me in refining this vision and setting both scope and boundaries for it. I learned that some women will not take their children and leave an abusive man because pets are not welcome at domestic violence shelters and many women are afraid of how a violent partner might visit his rage upon their pet. Although I found that astounding, I was intrigued by the need the shelter coordinators had for temporary pet foster homes. Another very simple need they have is for someone to meet the children of an abused woman for a few hours in a public place (let's say a park or a children's museum) and supervise them while mom goes to court to sort out restraining orders, etc... I was also surprised by how emphatically the shelter coordinators did NOT want regular free childcare offered to the women they help. They had many good and persuasive reasons for this stipulation and I was fully convinced of their wisdom. However, in a practical sense, it all came to nothing for this reason: any involvement in this particular ministry meant real potential danger to the children of any women helpers involved. The shelter directors were concerned about my children and the children of any who might join me in this ministry. They themselves live in real and constant threat of danger from violent men who seek retaliation. By the end of the meeting, it was apparent that this might not be the best angle to pursue.

I felt frustrated and at a loss of where to go from there. Having no other ideas at all, I did the least imaginative thing I could think of: I called the local crisis pregnancy center. Afterwards, I could not recall why that had not been the very first thing I thought of doing. I delivered my spiel to the woman who answered the phone. She was really receptive. She promised to have someone higher up in the pecking order call me soon, but told me it might take a week or more. After I'd nearly given up on hearing back, I did get a phone call. This woman was even more excited than the first woman, but said that the director would have to be involved in something this huge. Naturally, the director was not going to be in the office for some time. So I'm waiting. In the meantime, I'm praying a lot and trying to get a more concrete idea of what it is that I even want to try to communicate.

At this point, my (still foggy) goal is to match up ONE woman interested in the ministry with ONE mother in need of support. To keep things clear, I will refer to the supporting woman as the "Servant" (of Dignity) and the mother in need as the "Mom". So my hope is that the Servant will make a real and long-term commitment in her heart to the persons in this relationship: the Mom and her child/children. Since I'd like this "Adopt a Mom" project to foster long term and authentic friendships, I'd like the pairing up process to be as natural and attractive as possible for both the Servant and the Mom (thereby increasing the chance that the relationship "works" and thrives in the long-term). I'm wondering if we could do sort of a little soiree where potential Servants and potential Moms mingle freely for an hour or two, getting to know each other. At the end, the Moms could possibly indicate on a slip of paper the Servant(s) with whom they felt most comfortable. From there, one Servant and one Mom would be connected. Prior to the "Pairing Up Soiree", there would need to be some kind of presentation made to the interested Moms, sharing about what this project is about and what the scope and boundaries of the relationship would be. I've heard no end of warnings about the essential importance of setting clear and firm boundaries right from the start. The Servants would also attend gatherings (more than one) for formation and direction in this new kind of ministry.  Once the pair was arranged, the possibilities are wide and varied. Because the goal is a real friendship, I think the Mom and the Servant would aim to check in via internet/text/phone once or twice a month and get together for a face-to-face hang out maybe once a month. Perhaps the Servant could accompany Mom and her young ones to a park and the adults could chat while the kids play. If Mom just has a young baby, perhaps Mom and the Servant could go for coffee. As the Servant gets to know Mom and what her unique needs are, the Servant could find small practical ways to be of genuine help: Pray for and/or with Mom. Be a listening ear. Give her an occasional child-free break. Pass on some clothing, books or toys (either gently used or out of the superabundance of brand-new stock many kids receive regularly for birthdays and Christmas). Maybe give a special annual birthday gift to the baby bravely borne. I can't really make a great list of possibilities because each Mom's needs will be different and each Servant's abilities and circumstances will vary greatly. I do see the Servant needing ongoing support and formation in this ministry (because it could get really messy or confusing!), but I really feel hope that there is tremendous potential here as well.

Most crisis pregnancy centers only help out with the practical things (like clothes and diapers) for the first 2 years of the baby's life. In my parenting experience, age 2 is just where the need for practical help begins in earnest! So I'm hoping that this idea can step in to a woman's life just when the pregnancy centers are stepping out. I mean no criticism of the pregnancy centers - they aim to meet a woman's needs for a specific period (the pregnancy and infancy years) and they do so very well!!!  Many babies and women have been dramatically blessed by these ministries. I bet so many more could be if there were other ministries that specifically existed for the post-pregnancy/infancy stages.

I keep praying about this - and praying that if the whole idea is stupid that the Lord will just smash it to bits. But the idea isn't "going away" despite the agonizingly slow pace at which the process drags along. I appreciate prayers - and, if any feel so moved to attempt to contact their own local crisis pregnancy centers with a similar pitch - my desire is for this to be a widespread movement and I'd love to hear from others!