Tag Archives: dying to self

And a Little Child will Lead Them

Everyday, I continue to be amazed by what I learn from my children.

A few days ago, one of my girls told me, rather matter of factly, that for over a few weeks now, she’s been “sitting alone” at lunch. From that, I understand sitting with other kids, yet relatively invisible to them. Apparently, she moved to the other end of the table from the girl she once felt her BFF to see if the girl would notice she was gone. The girl apparently, without even noticing herself, had stopped talking to my daughter at lunch sometime ago, in favor of talking to someone else.

Big deal right? Right. Don’t feel sorry for her. My child, strangely, doesn’t seem to have an issue with this at all. When I asked her who she sat with now, she calmly laughed and said, “no one.” I could feel the tears stinging my eyes. Most mothers probably would, too. After all, what’s worse than being a tween with no true triends? Not much – I’d been there done that. She wanted to know why I cared so much when she really didn’t.

My daughter is something of a rare bird. Unlike nearly everyone I know, at 11 years old she knows who she is. Other kids aren’t interested in what she’s interested in. But she doesn’t care. Her thoughts, ideas and activities may not be “cool” with the other kids, but she keeps at them. She doesn’t need to engage in “attention getting” antics. She’s moving out of what’s supposed to be “cool” to doing stuff she’s good at. To a point where she is becoming amazingly talented. 

I’m in my mid-forties, and only now am I learning to live without caring what others think. I’m trying to do this by basing my life on my Catholic faith. I suck at it. But I keep trying, using my 20 years of Catholic education and a recent return to the study of my religion, to keep me going.  Ironically, I feel outcast among the very Catholics and faith community I grew up in. I’ve been labeled judgemental for reminding people what our religion says and requires of us. At the same time, I’m being terribly honest about my own sinfulness. (Want to know something? Just ask.) NOT a good mix. 

My 11-year-old daughter is my role model. It seems she was able to hear what I was telling her when we talked about not fitting in. She heard “Do what makes you happy.” “Know what you won’t accept.” Yet I never heard myself telling her. My other child, who has taken more than her turn in the barrel of bullies, gets what the older one has done. Now, she’s healing.

It’s mom who is struggling to put her faith in God and trust him. It’s all part of that dying to self thing I blog about so often. I made a life out of pleasing people – being an apologetic for corporations and organizations and anyone with a public relations “issue.” It’s funny to think that back in college when I started that career path, I promised God I would use my powers of persuasion to do his work. Be careful what you promise! It seems these days, the only one less popular than me is God himself.

So I’m turning my eyes again to my daughter – the one I prayed for when God didn’t see fit to bless me with a child. The one I begged for over five long years. The one who showed me anything is possible with God. Is it any wonder she’s named “Sara?” It’ll be hard, and I’ll likely keep losing friends as he uses me, and I’ll continue to cry, and pray for those who reject me and him. 

But as my beautiful Sara reminds me, who else do I truly need approval from but him?

Advertisements

It’s Not About Me

There’s a scene at the end of Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade where Indy is attempting to save his way-too-skinny-Nazi girlfriend from certain death, holding her by one sweaty hand as she dangles above a seemingly bottomless crevice that has opened in the floor of the tomb from where they have discovered Chirst’s Holy Grail. The fabled cup is sitting on a ledge within her grasp. As she fearlessly reaches for it – and the immortality it’s told to bring – our hero can, alas, no longer hold on.

She falls to her death, kicking and screaming as her dreams die with her. The movie almost instantly forgets her.

I think of her sometimes as I struggle to live a truly Catholic life. Her story, albeit sans the blonde-hair-blue-eyes and romance with Harrison Ford, seems familiar to me. 

I grew up on the ’70s and ’80s, when the women’s movement was at its peak (IMHO), giving us the “see, we told you you could have it all!” Few women had climbed high enough to fall yet. I still remember my favorite advertising for Enjoili perfume. “I can bring home the bacon, ba-da-da, fry it up n a pan…..” And so forth.

In so many ways, my friends and I were the promise of the future. The young ladies who would finally have the great education, the great job, the perfect husband, family. The life every woman wanted to live, complete with the availability of abortion should we find ourselves slowed on the path to greatness as CEOs, entrepreneurs, presidents, heads of state, etc.

It was discovered that I was smarter than the average bear somehow, and I was encouraged to be anything I wanted career wise. I spent grade school and high school thinking I was going to be a psychiatrist. Now, I need one. You see, the world led me on. Not one specific person; my parents pushed only gently. Teachers gave me grades I earned. Friends achieved and achieved alongside of me. It was how you did things.

There were awards. I found writing was my talent, and I pushed out of pre-med and never looked back. There was the college newspaper, a free-ride to grad school I earned on my own. Internships, accolades, and the job that would lead me anywhere I wanted to go. It should have, according to some.

I fell in love, got married. I had worked hard, stayed out of trouble for the most part. I earned the privlege to have children, earn a lucrative living and grab the golden ring. “You’ve come a long way, baby!” Right? 

I didn’t land where I expected to. And I wasn’t the person I wanted to be. The cheerleaders had been quieted. Life had become more like a trapeze act, where the artist accidentally looked down, saw everyone gaping at her feats, and realized she was scared. Maybe I really wasn’t as great as people told me I was going to be someday.

I should have started “dying to self” as Jesus asks us to a long time ago. Nothing comes easy in this life, but when your on a roll, with so little in your way, nothing comes too hard either. Sometimes, you start to believe your own hype. And then, if you’re lucky,  God steps in and starts working in your life.

I got that great little family I wanted. I also got post-partum depression, lots of therapy, and for the first time ever, hit what could be called a glass ceiling. The work-life balance thing wasn’t popular with my co-workers when I tried working again. I tried consulting from home. I used technology to my best advantage. But God was trying to show me something I wasn’t seeing.

For other people my kids weren’t the number one priority. My work wasn’t the issue – my schedule was. Eventually, employers lost interest in me. I cared more about what was really important and less about the machinations of the system. I silently implore the young “I-can-have-it-all” women I see. Don’t let the world tell you what femininity is. You can’t have it all – not because you aren’t able, but because real living gets in the way.

Being a stay-at-home mom has taught me a lot about myself. And about my own self-centeredness. “Dying to self” to one steep hill to climb. Transitioning to domesticity and parenthood has been difficult for me, the girl who almost always succeeded. Who was sure to set the world on fire with something. It’s hard to let that go – that “I could have been a contender” feeling. 

Lately, I’m struggling with the lack of motivation in my two daughters. They’re in the 5th and 4th grades – that’s 11 and 9 years old. They aren’t bad students, but they have little desire to be the very best. They study, they do homework, and there are topics they excel at. But they aren’t about getting an A every time. This is hard for me to understand. Yet again, my children are my true teachers.

They know me only as mommy, home doing laundry, picking them up at school to take them to their activities. The lady who has a mental breakdown over uncleaned rooms, too much screen time and unfinished spelling homework. Not as the me who planned public relations programs and smoothed public crises for a living. They aren’t real sure why excelling is so important to me, and why I stand by biting my tongue as they learn the right way – at their own pace, as the individuals they are, not as MY daughters.

Our conventional wisdom about what makes a person – particularly a woman – successful is horribly wrong. I find that brilliance everyone is looking for in parenting. I never once found it in a board room. I’ve found life is better when you live for others. But that “me, me, me” is still out there, making me feel like my life will never mean much if I don’t achieve what society says I should. Wrestling with ME makes for stress, bitterness and distraction. She makes me wonder if I would have kept reaching for the Grail even in the sight of the Angel of death.

I pray God will let me finally out grow her.

Me Second!

Some of you might remember an old commercial for the US Army. “We do more before 9 a.m. than some people do all day.”

I know a woman like this. I met her back in the eigth grade at an all-star cheerleading event the Diocese of Pittsburgh used to do for Catholic schools. Later, we went to high school together. But we never really loafed together, as my mom would say. 

Today, this woman and I are Facebook friends. And she is high on my list of mommy idols. 

My friend has eight children. Yes, eight. Ranging from twenty-something to elementary school age. From what I understand, from people other than her, they are some pretty amazing kids. Involved in helping others through their Church, serving at Mass and so on.

My friend is not divorced, an addict or irresponsible. These kids have a stable, if financially tight, home. She is a true Mama Bear – every ounce of energy, every waking moment, every cent in her pocket goes to raising those eight. Don’t try leaving one of them out, bullying one of them or mocking their situation. You’ll regret it. 

In the sense we often hear in scripture, or our priests discuss at Mass, she has died to self as Jesus did, and lives her life for others.

That’s what inspires me. If anything has challenged me as a parent, it’s the need to step away from my own desires and live my life for my family. I know that’s an old fashioned if not out dated idea to some. But I’m pretty sure it’s how you raise quality people. 

This belief, founded in my faith in God, is much at odds with the person I once was. Even now that I’m striving for this ideal, my personal selfishness often raises its ugly head in my parenting. I was a career woman once – ambitious, driven and some say talented in my field. I left my career because it didn’t want my girls along for the ride. I miss it sometimes, and more than once I’ve had to catch myself in moments of frustration from asking my girls if they actually realize what I sacrificed for them.

Not exactly an attitude of dying to self and allowing God to guide me so I can guide them.

Added to the general loneliness that comes with being a stay-at-home mom and kid taxi driver, I’m miles away from being the parent my friend is. Maybe she can’t give them all the stuff I can give, but she has truly given them herself. I push myself to that ideal, but there are times when I pull myself back from my family, and I want them to acknowledge what I do so that I can feel some type of achievement that I felt when my opinion was sought out and my work defined me.

And then I think of my friend – a true angel on Earth for her children. Not with wings and a halo, but as a protector and provider of love. Up at the crack of dawn getting her kids to various schools (all Catholic by the way), toiling at fundraisers, driving her youngest to weekly appointments for Lupus treatments and finding new ways to sustain their family. 

That’s when I realize I need a smack in the head for not being more present with my own family. For ignoring them sometimes when I don’t want to deal with their crises or would rather watch the X-Files than Supergirl. Or whenever I choose myself over them. My friend, who could use some downtime, likely does little of that. She doesn’t have time. Yet what she does is so much more important and rewarding than my career ever was.

She makes me want to get up early to watch cartoons, cook breakfast and play video games. To be there for every moment until I can’t be anymore. Like God has been wanting me to.