Homebody

When my oldest son was a baby (and by definition, I had only one child), a friend with three kids talked to me about viewing her home as a cloister. Being at home with her children was her calling, similar to that of women religious who entered a convent, and she had even posted St. Benedict’s words Ora et Labora (Pray and Work) above her sink. I remember thinking at the time, “Cloister, hmm, sounds nice… now get me outta my house stat, I’m feeling smothered.”

Four kids in, I am now beginning to understand what my friend meant all those years ago. In fact, I’m even a little proud to call myself a homebody. When I made the decision to stay home most of the time (with all of my children… we are crazy homeschoolers and all), it gradually became easier to do. We started to develop a rhythm to our days and we actually enjoy being around each other! Our home is our cloister, our safe place where we attempt to grow in virtue by interacting with each other. We spend our days with the same people who see our faults and our flaws and love us anyways. We challenge each other and lift each other up. We are working toward the same goal, Heaven.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there is any problem with feeling the need to get out of the house. In fact, it’s absolutely necessary at times to keep our sanity, especially as young mothers. But I do feel that we tend to put far too much energy into what happens outside the home. Family dinners are skipped for basketball practice, parents put their children into school as early as possible. We’ve been tricked into thinking that our kids can’t get what they need from their families, so they have to be away in order to learn anything. I’m not calling anyone out here, I’m not blaming parents who lead busy lives. I simply feel sad that it is so counter-cultural to believe that kids can, by and large, get what they need from their families.

Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Centesimus Annus, defined the family as “the sanctuary of life.” He said, “The family is indeed sacred: It is the place in which life—the gift of God—can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks to which it is exposed, and can develop in accordance with what constitutes authentic human growth. In the face of the so-called culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life.”

I don’t think it’s a problem to say that I want my children to develop my value system. I believe what I believe for a reason, and while I want to give my kids the tools to search and learn on their own, I am going to tell them exactly what I think is true. A mother of several kids once told me, “Eating vegetables is not optional in our home, my kids don’t have the tools necessary to make good nutritional choices yet. In the same way, Mass is not optional. Family prayer is not optional.”  Yes, children need exposure to the wider world, but shouldn’t we allow parents to be their primary role models without using words like “sheltered” and “indoctrinated”?

Pope John Paul II wrote a lot about the “Domestic Church”, the family. I plan to read more of what he wrote to better understand how to stand against the tide that is currently pulling families away from one another. How can my family be a “sanctuary of life” if we don’t stand together and strengthen one another?

Out of Silence

Happy New Year

How have you been?

Busy.  Busy, busy, busy.

Haven’t we all been busy? How did we get halfway through January already? Where does the time go?

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to slow down for the weekend. By choice, not by the flu or some accident. I went on a silent retreat in Fort Ransom, ND. There’s been a lot on these pages about silence, so when I was invited to the retreat, I jumped at the opportunity. Our days consisted of spiritual direction and/or confession, morning prayer and a conference, many hours of silence, followed by Mass and Lunch and many more hours, followed by evening prayer and a conference and supper.

In some ways, as our retreat master said, a silent retreat seems like you’re doing nothing while you’re really doing everything. I was able to go deep into the silence and receive grace where the Lord revealed Himself to me in a way I had never be open to precisely because I’m usually too busy. 

Silence allows you to hear better. Supper back at home on Sunday night was like culture shock to me, and it was LOUD. So while I may have been resensitized to the sounds around me at home, in the silence of the prairie, I was able to hear the Lord louder and clearer than I have in recent memory. But you don’t stop there in passive contemplation or reception. Prayer leads you to action, to go forth, as this week’s Collect at Mass says, “to see what must be done and gain strength to do what we see.”

When I explained to my kids what a silent retreat was, my daughter looked at me and said, “Daddy, are you sure you’re going to be alright with the ‘no talking’ part of it?” When it was done, I was eager to return to my wife and kids, but sad to be leaving the silence. Granted, you can find it in your Church at a Holy Hour, or in the woods or even in the home. But there’s something refreshing about getting away and having no choice but to leave all the distractions (good and bad) of daily life behind.

If you get the opportunity to do so this year, especially during Lent, resolve to seek out a silent retreat and make it. You may hear things in the silence you’ve never heard before.

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A Blessed Christmas

One hundred years ago the World was in the midst of one of the worst wars ever known. Had it not been for the horrors to proceed from the Second World War, the “War to End all Wars” would have gone down as the bloodiest.

On December 7, 1914 Pope Benedict XV appealed for peace on Christmas, asking the warring parties to lay down their arms. The German brass, believing themselves to be close winning the war, refused to call a truce while the French refused to stand down until the Germans were off French soil.  Despite the Pope’s plea for peace, the war would go on.

Except that, for a few hours late on Christmas Eve and into Christmas Day, at certain parts along the front lines, the war stopped. Without any directive from their superiors, the soldiers took it upon themselves to bring peace (even if for a day) to their fellow man. French, British and German sang carols, shared cigarettes and chocolates, and participated in Mass and soccer matches.

The British supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s, commemorated the one-hundredth anniversary of this remarkable humanitarian event with a simple and touching Christmas advert for 2014.

At this Christmas time in 2014, let us remember those suffering hardship, both across the world and in in our own towns and perhaps our own homes. Let us open the doors for peace in our lives brought by the Prince of Peace who came in darkness to a troubled world.  And if you can find it in your local movie rental store, pick up Joyeaux Noel  for a beautiful telling of the Christmas Truce of 1914.

A very blessed Christmas to you all.

“Christmas, we think, is supposed to be different – but in a sense it was always like this…The darkness need not overcome the light.”

As we prepare for Christmas, I’d like to share with you the profound homily preached by Archbishop Anthony Fisher, OP, of Sydney, Australia after this week’s terrible siege on the Lindt Cafe in Sydney. The truth and the hope contained in them is universal and beautiful. (Emboldened emphases are mine.)

We are not used to hearing words like ‘siege’, ‘terrorist’, ‘hostages’ and ‘security forces’ associated with our city. Yet for the past day and night we were subjected to pictures and sounds we tend to associate with alien lands. In a café only two blocks away from St Mary’s Cathedral, only one block away from the Supreme Court, even closer to the New South Wales Parliament, the Reserve Bank and the Channel 7 studio, hostages were pinned for hours against the windows and forced to hold up a flag which blasphemously used the name of God as a threat. The distress was visible on their faces, as was the relief of the first five to escape. We went to bed hoping to wake to good news. But despite patient efforts to maintain calm and negotiate there were, in the early hours of this morning, flashes of gunfire, intervention by our police to save lives, merciful escapes, but finally death. Hell had touched us.

Only history will tell how much 16 December 2014 will affect our attitudes, behaviour, life-style. But today the heart of our city is broken by the deaths of two innocent ‘hostages’ along with their tormentor, the injuries of four others and trauma to many more, the paralysis our city has experienced this day past. One of the deceased was Katrina Dawson, a mother of three young children and gifted barrister, presumably on her way to chambers for another day’s service of her clients. The other, Tori Johnson, was the young manager of the café, likewise intent on serving his customers. And the third was Sheik Man Haron Monis the perpetrator of this nightmare. Much is still unclear about him, his motivations and affiliations, and we must avoid too quickly jumping to conclusions and pointing fingers.

We are used to living in a peaceful, tolerant, secure society in which people may enter a café and order a hot chocolate without fear: I’ve been a customer at the Lindt Chocolat Café myself more than once. For such ease of living, such assumptions of safety, to be so radically challenged can be disorienting and harden our hearts. The risk is that we become cautious, cynical, suspicious of our neighbours, or worse, that we turn on them. In the process we undermine what we most love about our Australian way of life.

Christmas is around the corner and we have had a Christmas crib with well-lit Christmas trees, and a very beautiful laser light show projected upon the façade of the cathedral every night. But last night it was in darkness. That is true to reality, as it is often is, true to the Gospel. In the middle of all the romance of Christmas, the astonishing Good News of God-made-man for us, the angels, shepherds and wise men adoring, the Gospel report that all was not quite as it ought to be. There’s suspicion about the pregnancy; the husband considers divorcing his wife; a mother nearing labour is required to travel a great distance; there’s no room at the motel for them; the child is delivered in the squalor of a cowshed; in the Temple the proud parents are warned of trouble ahead; the family must flee as refugees to a strange land; meanwhile the King’s men kill the rest of the little children…

So the backdrop to the Light who will dawn for us at Christmas is in fact darkness. The Way, the Truth and the Life comes to people who often lose their way, to a civilisation sometimes more comfortable with lies than truth, to what is often a culture of death more than of life. The Christ is threatened from the moment of His birth until the violence of this world finally catches up with Him on the cross. And our world today is every bit as mixed up as it was at the first Christmas. There’s plenty of talk of human rights, the dignity of the person, equal respect and care. We are replete with resources, technology and know-how to help people through troubled times. Yet innocent people are threatened the world over and a little bit of what is commonplace in the region of Christ’s birth has even come to Martin Place. Christmas, we think, is supposed to be different – but in a sense it was always like this.

Yet we Christians believe that the Babe of Bethlehem is the Prince of Peace, God-with-us, God-one-of-us, God-saving-us. So why, if the Prince of Peace has come, do these terrible things keep happening? Perhaps the answer is in the first Christmas carol, when the angels sang “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to those of good will.” The God who saves still leaves men free. They choose whether to be of good will or not. The Christ-child proposes peace, again and again; He gives us the wherewithal to be reconciled and live peaceably with our neighbours; but in the end we choose whether to live in His kingdom, by His values.

Is the joy, love and peace of Christmas really possible? Or do we have to adopt a more ‘realistic’ posture, more cynical and self-protective? Do we have to buy into the endless cycles of violence and recrimination? Do we have to take our own hostages? Reports have emerged this morning of the heroism of the male victim of the siege. Apparently seeing an opportunity, Tori grabbed the gun. Tragically it went off killing him, but it triggered the response of the police and eventual freedom for most of the hostages. Reports have also emerged that Katrina Dawson was shielding her pregnant friend from gunfire. These heroes were willing to lay down their lives so others might live, imitating the sacrifice of Christ who said that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for each other (Jn 15:13). Now spontaneous tributes are appearing in Martin Place and on the internet. Leaders of all religious, political and ethnic backgrounds are calling for calm, for prayer, for support for each other. Services are being offered for the victims, their families and friends. The darkness need not overcome the light. Indeed, the Christmas-Easter-Christian message is: it cannot! There is something greater than hatred and violence. There is Love, that humble, self-donative Love that comes in the shape of the Christmas Babe, the Prince of Peace. He can soften the hardest hearts. He can convert the most hardened sinner.

Come Prince of Peace. Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Delivered at St, Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney on December 16, 2014

Land of Confusion, part II

It makes sense, right?

The confusion about the family, about the Church, about the Pope himself.

The Church is the only institution in the western world that is consistently standing to defend marriage.  Christ said the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against His Church, and I’ve never seen a gate attack anyone. Which means the Gates of Hell are on the defensive, so why wouldn’t Hell bring all its fury against the Church?

“Confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image that came across was one of confusion.” That was Archbishop Charles Chaput’s response on October 21, 2014, to a question from a member of the media in regards to the Synod on the Family. The more confusion there is about the Church and it’s “stance” on marriage and the family, the more seeds of unbelief are sewn.  We live in a culture that places an emphasis on politics so we have the terms of “left” and “right,” “conservative” and “liberal,” “traditional” and “progressive.”  None of these approaches are constructive and simply serve to cut out a “faction” from the church.

Amid confusion and division, some people have taken to even further name-calling, even puling our the h-word: Heretic. Bishops, even the Pope. Heretics.  An old professor of mine (a Dominican) once said that the Franciscans and Jesuits have both, at times, flirted with heresy, but on opposite sides. Today we have a Jesuit pope whose taken the name, Francis… maybe he’s just teasing us.

On Wednesday this week, Pope Francis began a new catecheses on the family following this fall’s Synod on the same and preceding next year’s assembly of the Synod. However before starting the catecheses, Pope Francis felt the need to clear the air surrounding the Synod and, while thanking the media for its coverage of the synod, pointed out the Church is not a parliament with “liberals” and “conservatives”, rather “the Synod is a protected space so that the Holy Spirit can operate; there was no clash between factions, as in a Parliament where this is licit.”  This followed an interview which the Holy Father granted to an Argentine daily last weekend where he divulged a little more on the inner workings of the synod (bonus quote from Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI in that one).

While the bishops prepare for the next assembly of the synod and Pope Francis prepares his catecheses on the family, let us prepare ourselves. First by prayer, and making space for the Christ-child who we remember came to us in history only two weeks from now; let us prepare for his second coming, fostering hope (and not despair) for when we will see Him in the fullness of His Glory; let us pray for our Pope and our bishops. And, if you have time, I’d highly encourage you to check out the 68-page booklet, Getting the Marriage Conversation Right. It offers a clear, concise defense of the Church’s teaching on marriage and in doing so reaffirms what a marriage is… and it’d make a great stocking stuffer…

Happy Advent.

Thanksgiving and Gratitude

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States of America.

Earlier this month I had an opportunity to experience the beauty and wonder of our created world and that of our nation when my family and I headed west to Billings, Montana for work. I had a two-day conference to be part of and when it was done we had decided we would drive 3 hours south to the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park to visit a high school friend of Maggie’s who works as a park ranger in Yellowstone.

The two days in the hotel with 5 people, three of whom were aged 6 and under, in one room were rough. But thankfully, Billings has plenty of city parks for the kids to enjoy while I was “at work.” On the morning of the last day of the conference, my boss told me to leave as soon as my presentation was done around 10am and “get your kids out into the mountains!” We were grateful for the permission to leave early, and burned more of the kids’ pent-up energy at Billings’ spacious zoo before the road trip to East Entrance.  We got to East Entrance late on Thursday afternoon, in time to witness the night settling over the mountains and our accommodations.

Our hosts weren’t in due to vehicle troubles, so we had all of Halloween Day to enjoy and explore the park. Thankfully, the weather was absolutely beautiful. Though a little bit of snow was on the ground, the sun was plentiful, the wind soft and air just right…And we had the park practically to ourselves.

yellowstone lake

We hung out behind the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center at Lake Yellowstone for an hour. We drove to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and hiked to the Lower Falls and back, meeting only half a dozen people. We made it to Old Faithful and counted over 50 Bison along the way (we quit counting at 85 on our way back to our apartment). Thankfully, we got a front row spot and watched Old Faithful erupt within minutes of showing up. We walked the geyser area, accompanied by a lone wolf who trotted about the boardwalk and tourists like the stray neighborhood dog. We watched Old Faithful erupt again before heading to Upper Geyser Basin, Gibbon Falls and back “home” for the night

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Our friends had returned home and we enjoyed fresh elk steak and bison burgers and, of course, rekindling friendship and conversation.  The kids enjoyed buckets of Halloween candy courtesy of our hosts and the neighbor, a bachelor park ranger, specially requested our kids knock and “trick or treat” at his apartment, which made their night, and his too.

On Saturday we all enjoyed a low-key morning in the sun on the shore of the Lake again, shedding coats and sweatshirts and requiring sunscreen to avoid being sunburned..on All Saint’s Day. We built a snowman at Sylvan Pass and  took an afternoon hike along the old East Entrance road. That night the weather turned back to November in the Rockies and we woke up to snow and slippery roads, just to remind us of what we needed to be thankful for the past few days: a job with flexibility that allowed us to enjoy the last few days of October, friends who welcomed us and gave us a place to stay, the beauty of the created world, perfect weather for a relaxing trip to this unique place, and a healthy family to enjoy creation in all its splendor.

Of course, we didn’t need to go all the way to Yellowstone to be thankful for what God has given us. Nor do we need Thanksgiving to remind us of what we ought to be thankful for. But it helps to take a step back and look upon the blessings we take for granted.

grand canyon yellowstone

The Yellowstone trip seems like eons ago already and even before that – way back in September – I attended a men’s conference in Bismarck. One of the speakers, a diocesan priest from Williston, encouraged us to do something I’d never heard of: Pray a Rosary of Gratitude, to foster a spirit of thanksgiving within ourselves. This isn’t 50 Hail Marys in thanksgiving for your blessings. Beginning with the crucifix, and moving on to each bead, Father said to think of a blessing you have been given and thank the Lord for it. Its funny because, you start quick enough – 5 blessings are easy to find: family, friends, health, job, home. But then it gets hard: weather…good food…siblings, parents… talents… but  can you come up with ten more? How about ten more than that? Father Kovash pointed out how blessed we are in our lives, but how hard it is to recognize it. “When was the last time you thanked God for oppose-able thumbs,” he asked. The crowd laughed, but he quickly pointed to a very well known, well-liked and well-respected priest in our diocese and said, “Monsignor Tom Richter would probably thank God every day if he was able to get his left thumb back.” The laughter died quickly. Msgr. Richter often jokes about his “hi-fours” and lack of a left thumb, but it dawned on us we all know  someone who goes through life every day without a thumb. “Do you thank God for your hands, your arms, your legs? It seems like a crazy thing to be thankful for. But imagine living without it.”

This Thanksgiving, maybe try and take time to work your way around every bead on your rosary, naming something you are thankful for. Shoot for ten or twenty blessings, maybe more. But don’t take the blessings around you for granted. Just as the weather did on our last night in Yellowstone, life changes and quickly sometimes.

God bless you all on Thanksgiving.

Radical Availability

A few years back, I remember talking to a Focus missionary friend of mine about her call to “radical availability” in her ministry. It was essential to her work to leave her door open as much as possible, take those late-night phone calls, eat at the cafeteria even when the food was disgusting. When she said it, it sounded glamorous in that mission-work-sounds-glamorous-from-afar kind of way. Radical availability, what a cool concept. What a powerful way to explain your missionary duties!

I filed it away until, just recently, it occurred to me again in the context of motherhood. Not nearly so glamorous in the trenches, I have four children trying to fit on my lap at once, four children in the bathroom with me, and four children climbing into my bed in the morning. Personal space, gone. And I’m a person who needs my space. I have often struggled with resentment in the day-to-day tasks of motherhood, wishing for more quiet, less kids piled on my lap, hot (instead of lukewarm) coffee, a solo trip to the bathroom. I start resenting my kids for wanting to be with me every waking moment… and every waking moment times four often feels like more than I can give.

It took me awhile to accept it, but radical availability is exactly what I’m called to as a mother. I’m not ministering to college students, but I am ministering to vulnerable young people who need to know I’m there. They need to know they can always find me (whether I want them to or not) and get what they need.  They are the souls that have been entrusted to my care. My mission field is my living room, my kitchen, my bathroom. My mission is to lead these little souls to Heaven, and it takes every second that I have to give!

 

A Land of Confusion

Now did you read the news today
They say the danger’s gone away
But I can see the fire’s still alight
There burning into the night.

– From the classic 80’s band, Genesis

Have you been reading the news? What a few weeks its been.

Most recently there was Cardinal Burke’s exile removal from the Vatican’s Supreme Court Apostolic Signatura and Roman Curia. The secular press is reporting this as demotion – Burke’s second demotion under Francis (having been removed late last year from the body which selects bishops). Of course those same outlets reported Burke’s ascension to Prefect of the Signatura waaaaay back in 2008 as a demotion too. Remember, then-Archbishop Burke of St. Louis in 2004 publicly denounced Catholic Presidential Candidate John Kerry’s pro-abortion stance and famously announced he’d refuse to give Kerry communion in his diocese.  In 2008 as a major election was nearing in this country, with the most pro-abortion candidate in American history about to choose another Catholic politician as his vice presidential running mate, Burke left St. Louis. Secular media and certain partisan Catholic outlets pointed to this as the liberal political operative Pope Benedict XVI removing Burke to Rome so as to not interfere with progress on the American front.  As if.

Back to now. Depending on who you read in Catholic Media, Burke’s transfer is a sign that Francis has moved the Catholic Church into the 21st century and Burke’s purging is sign of victory over the “conservatives.”  A glorious age will dawn and Man will achieve new heights, all because Burke is gone.

Or… This is a sign that Francis has declared war on the Traditionalists in the Church. The Barque of Peter is sinking, we need to not just bail water, but jump ship. Cling to what’s left floating until we gather enough flotsam and driftwood to build not just a new boat, but a freaking battleship. All because Burke is gone.

I’m confused as to how Burke had that much influence on the Rock upon which the Church was built. I’m confused, is this a good thing or bad thing for the Church?

Confused. As many of my fellow North Dakotans were confused regarding a proposed Constitutional Amendment on Election Day a week and a half ago. The language was simple, “the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.” Somehow this was confused a definition of life-beginning-at-conception, a ban on IVF and contraception, a threat of gulags for women who miscarry, a ban on all advance health care directives… I read a legal analysis offered by the opponents of the measure that said the measure would ban oil and gas production in North Dakota; another article that said it would ban kittens in North Dakota. Seriously.  The proponents’ offense turned to defense and the message got confused and, in the wake of confusion, 66% percent of North Dakotans voted against recognizing and protecting the right to life.

Confused. Like Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old woman with terminal brain cancer who, on All Saints Day,  decided the best course of action for her and her family was to take a lethal (and legal in Oregon) prescription to end her life. She didn’t want to lose control of her body, so she took her life.

Confused. Like the public response to Brittany Maynard’s death. “God gave her the tumor to punish her.” “No, but she should have suffered courageously because we all have to suffer, instead of being such a coward.” “No, no one should suffer, and we need to allow people to take their lives in these situations.” “Agreed, and she was so courageous in taking her own life.”

Confused. Like the North Dakota Supreme Court who, half a week before Brittany Maynard’s suicide, opined in a 3-2 decision that there exists a fundamental right for a woman to abort her child…up to viability (not sure how a fundamental right can be conditional, but it can be in North Dakota). One of those justices is a Catholic woman. However, due to a technicality in the North Dakota constitution, even though a majority of justices found a (conditional) fundamental right to abortion, our abortion regulations all  still stand because only three justices agreed whereas four were needed to agree in order for our abortion laws to have been overturned. Thank Heaven for small mercies.

Confused?

How about the Synod on the Family? I am still trying to figure out what happened there. The Secular media is no help and doesn’t really care. And the Catholic media is so split along partisan divides, I don’t know if I’m reading opinions or facts and if facts are reported through the hermeneutic of liberalism, conservatism or continuity… Or of confusion.

Its enough to make one wonder if the end is near.

Early last month I was lamenting an episcopal appointment to a prominent post in the American Catholic hierarchy. My friend Aaron agreed with my pessimism, but quickly pointed out that the appointment which I disapproved of had no impact on his or my daily lives nor on our obligations as husbands and fathers. We have enough to worry about in governing our domestic churches, why should we care who Pope Francis appoints to lead the Archdiocese of Wherever?

Last night a different friend sent me Simcha Fisher’s blog post from Tuesday on the latest about Cardinal Burke. Its great. And heavy with sarcasm and, like my buddy Aaron did over a month ago, it puts the hysteria back in perspective. I wasn’t that worked up about Burke, we all knew it was coming,  so I have been following the hysteria with detachment and a sense of humor. And it really has no impact on my daily life or my vocation.

But the Right-to-Life defeat, the Supreme Court, my friends and coworkers jumping on the “death with dignity” train, the confusion about the Church’s teaching on marriage??? Then I read today’s Gospel, and the moral of the story: Don’t worry. God’s in control and He’s here already. In the Eucharist, in the Church, in our families.  We can look around at signs and worry and fret, but why? “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,” says the Psalmist. Is my help in Cardinal Burke, the electorate, judges, the media, or bishops? Or is it the Lord? Am I making my own problems where they don’t in fact exist? By doing so, do I neglect my own vocation? Or am I getting my hands dirty in tending to my family and work?

Genesis (the band, not the book) captured the paranoia, but also had the prescription:

There’s too many men
Too many people
Making too many problems
And not much love to go round
Can’t you see
This is a land of confusion.

This is the world we live in
And these are the hands we’re given
Use them and let’s start trying
To make it a place worth living in.

 

Prayers for Ali

I’m back, for now…

Ali is “just a worker,” stocking the big freezers in Sam’s Club here in Bismarck. One day this spring or early summer, my kids “discovered” him stocking the freezers and were fascinated by the “man in the freezer.” Ali came out and humored my kids by introducing himself to them. Since that day, my kids love to go to Sam’s and search the coolers for Ali, and Ali loves it too.  I have never met Ali, but whenever I come home from work on a “Sam’s Club Day,” all I hear about for the first few minutes is the kids’ interaction with Ali. Seeing Ali is the highlight of my kids’ trips to Sam’s…and remember, this is a store that routinely has free samples.

What became more obvious over the past few months as my children, my wife and Ali all warmed to each other was how my kids have become the highlight of Ali’s days at work as well. He has told the kids numerous times he missed them, was waiting for them and how happy they make him. For my oldest son’s 4th birthday, Ali presented him with a hand-painted canvas picture.

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This kindness surprised my wife and Ali disclosed to her the fact that he is a widower and a single father of an eleven-year-old son; an Iraqi immigrant from southern Iraq whose wife died a few years ago. Ali was educated at the University of Colorado and left Iraq with his wife and son for a better life. He said that he was an artist, but since his wife has died he doesn’t paint much anymore. He only paints when he sees things that bring him joy and make him happy – like my children.  This revelation touched my wife and I.

More recently, Ali hadn’t been at work – which left some disappointed kids on Sam’s Club days. Earlier this month, Ali returned to work and we learned that Ali’s wife had died of kidney failure and Ali too has a cancerous kidney that will need to be removed – whether in part or entirely – next week. My wife has asked him if there’s anything we can do for him and he said he doesn’t think there is, but we assured him of our prayers, which he said was the best thing we could do.

Ali also remarked to my wife how he’s “just a worker” to so many people, but how our kids make him feel special. Our kids, most kids really, have a unique ability to do that. Gone are shrouds of suspicion, prejudice and pretense.   Yesterday’s saint of the day, Pope John Paul the Great, once said, “the ‘little ones,’ according to the gospel, are those know they are God’s creatures and shun all presumption.”  The way my kids have treated Ali reminded me of Pope Francis’ condemnation of the “throwaway culture” where “often human beings themselves…are discarded as ‘unnecessary.'”  Though a foreigner and a follower of a different faith,  Ali is not “just a worker,” and my kids “shun all presumption” and see the person himself. I can’t take any credit for that, but it has expanded my horizons and reminded me that it is important how you treat those in your own community.

I don’ t know when, or even if, Ali will return to work after his surgery. Maybe he’s unnecessary to Sam’s Club but I hope not, because there are three little kids in Mandan who can’t wait to see their special friend, the man in the freezer every week. And the love they show him is more valuable than the food he stocks.

If you think of it, please say a prayer for the success of Ali’s surgery and his recovery.  And when your kids want to slow you down and say hi to the guy stocking the shelves, let them.

UPDATE 2:15pm:

I accompanied the kids and Maggie to Sam’s today, the kids bearing homemade get well soon cards for Ali, singing his name through the store and skipping past every aisle to see their friend.  They found him and presented him with their cards and he presented my daughter with a birthday present:

AliMara

He said it will take 6-8 weeks to recover from Tuesday’s surgery and he plans on being back to work in 6 weeks.  Pray all goes well!

UPDATE 12/16/14:

Thanks to all who said a prayer for Ali, he has returned to work and is well. He has decisions to make regarding future care and treatment for his kidney, which will eventually need to be removed entirely (they only took the cancerous part for now). But its good to know he is well.

 

He Can

I am finally back from a very long hiatus which began with the preparation for, and arrival of, our fourth child. We are so blessed to have dear Edith Clare in our lives, and her siblings are overflowing with love for her! They literally cannot control themselves at times; they just want to shower her with affection, kiss her, hug her, smoosh her cheeks (which I totally understand), poke her, rub her head… the list goes on and on. It is a beautiful thing.

But these last few months have not been a breeze. I have come inches from deciding to give up homeschooling, I have lost my temper with my children in a way that I never had before, I have felt like a failure as a homemaker. I know what you are thinking: “Your baby is less than three months old! Cut yourself some slack!” But somewhere deep inside I had the feeling that since I’ve done this so many times before, I should be pretty good at it by now. Fourth time’s a charm. Easy peasy.

Honestly, some things were easier this time. I planned ahead and made freezer meals, and I have children who are old enough to help a little bit. My two-year-old’s favorite things in life right now are fetching diapers and throwing them away. Seriously, there are temper tantrums if someone else performs these tasks for her. Plus my sons have jobs to do, they love to help me out in the kitchen, and they play together for hours!

But it has still been hard.

As I finally come up for air long enough to reflect on the last few months, I’ve realized that God has three definite things he is trying to teach me right now.

1. You can’t do it all. I am lucky if I can fit in twenty minutes of school time with my first grader between baby’s naps and constant snack requests from the toddler. And if everything aligns for a good hour or two of school, there’s no way I’ve even touched the laundry. Dinner? Forget about it. When I finally collapse on the couch during rest time, I usually start mentally listing off the things that need to get done.

And then today I stopped. I realized that it is physically impossible to get everything done right now. God gave me peace when I looked at the mound of unfolded clothing in the middle of the living room as He reminded me that I am currently raising little souls up for him. Laundry’s not at the top of His list.

Yes, things need to get done, and they will get done. But for now I’m at peace with the mess.

2. You can’t do it alone. I am not very good at asking for help, especially when it comes to new babies. It’s as if somewhere deep inside I’m afraid people are thinking, “She got herself into this, and now she wants my help?” It’s a symptom of our culture’s view of children and families- I worry that since we have had more than our “two”, that I am somehow required to show the world that I can go it alone. I can’t, and I shouldn’t have to. So I have asked for help when needed, and I have graciously accepted meals from many, many wonderful people. I have also relied heavily on my husband; he recently stayed home for an hour with a crying baby so I could grocery shop by myself. He’s that kind of man.

We are not meant to raise our children in solitude! Especially in this intense infant stage, help is necessary. I am learning to put my guard down, show my weakness and accept help, even if that help is just a kind word given in a time of difficulty.

3. You can’t do it without Me. Prayer is very difficult for me during pregnancy and post-partum. I fall asleep easily, I get out of my routines, and my desire for prayer greatly decreases. It becomes an act of the will, and since my will is weak my prayer life suffers. When my prayer life suffers, so does every other aspect of my life. I have recently worked my way back into some semblance of a prayer routine and God is so good! My tiny little steps toward him have been met with an outpouring of peace and grace. I have a long way to go, but I finally have my eyes on the prize again.

It would be so easy to wish away all of the ups and downs that come with pregnancy and childbearing, infancy and child-rearing. I sometimes daydream of the time when my life will be consistent, constant, quiet. But in the craziness that is young motherhood, God keeps reminding me that I am weak but He is strong. I am small but He is so big. I can’t do it but He can.