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Family Life | Mary Biever | One Writing Mother
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Mentor Moms

The key to my success – or sanity – as a mother is finding a few good mentor moms who have survived the parenting phases I am working through or am about to enter.

To me, one of my biggest challenges as a parent is that we learn by doing – and generally doing badly. No two seasons are the same, and each poses its own challenges. By the time I have made a lot of mistakes, and hopefully learned from a few of them so I can do better next time, the roller coaster of parenting takes a sudden dip, drops into a shaft, and I struggle to see how disaster can be averted.

That’s where mentor moms come in who have just taken steps along the new path of my parenting journey. It’s easy to get so stunned by the new turns of the parenting adventure that I think I’m alone, and I can think no other parent on the planet ever faced the challenges I do.

But when I quietly share my concerns with those trusted mentors, they share their own experiences, assure me that it’s normal to struggle, and suggest ways I can better parent children who are no longer kids but emerging adults. They remind me of the power of unconditional love and offer strategies in how to parent and still set boundaries.

With their help, I not only take comfort  but hope. At the same time, I can mentor younger mothers and assure them they aren’t alone in their experiences.

And when I try hard enough, I remember advice I’ve often shared – the tough times of parenting are when we remember that the Bible often says “and so it came to pass” instead of “and so it came to stay.” The struggles today are not permanent but will pass.

There was a time, as a mother, when my biggest challenge was staying up all night with a sick baby. It was tough. Now, in retrospect, I can look back on those times and what I remember is the time spent holding my babies. Not the tears, cries, and full range of bodily fluids.

And I wonder, with Mentor Moms who help me today, if I will one day look on today’s challenges with the same poignant fondness.

Bedtime Stories and Happier Endings

You never know the end of your story. And the saddest parts of your story can be used by God for happier endings later.

I flashed last night to one of my own darkest chapters, 38 years ago. We had moved out of state, to a different part of the country, in the last ditch final attempt of my parents to keep their marriage together. At that time, keeping a rotten marriage intact “for the sake of the children” was the norm, even when the cost for that was priced in pieces of children’s souls, trapped in a horrid situation.

We lived that summer in a tiny, 1-bedroom apartment that didn’t allow children. There were 4 kids, and we slept on army cots that filled the living room every night and were stacked against a wall the next morning. Because kids weren’t allowed, the curtains were kept drawn, and we had to play quietly. Our only respites were to leave to visit the library or to swim at a pool. And then we had to leave quietly so we wouldn’t get caught living where we weren’t supposed to be.

The door of those bad memories generally stays closed. I savor living in a world where my family has a home, and each morning I can open the curtains and savor the sunshine.

Last night, the door opened when I learned on Facebook of a woman who needed beds for her children to get out of a bad situation.

Times have changed. Now there is recognition that there are times women and their children are sometimes better off out of a bad situation and marriage.

So I shared the need for children’s beds on my Facebook wall. When I share such needs, I generally say a fast prayer that if it is God’s will that the need be met in that manner, that He will open the doors to make it happen. It so happened that night that someone’s parents were getting rid of beds that might work. The parties involved exchanged emails for follow up.

I don’t know what the ending of that story will be or if the beds that were needed and found will work.

But I do know that for awhile, I flashed back to being the quiet girl who survived a horrific summer by reading books. Except now I’ve learned there are good people. With my husband’s example, I’ve learned that not all dads are bad and how wonderful it is for my own children to have the childhood I didn’t.

But I was also reminded that those bad times are what made me who I am, and God will help me take the pain from those experiences to reach out to others in similar need now who need a helping hand.

These kids, whoever and wherever they are, have a chance to build a better life and will get to do so with something better than army cots stacked against a wall. They’ll get real beds.

They won’t know there’s a writing mother out there who’s praying for them and pulling for them to build better lives. And who recognizes that when we reach our own hands out to help others today, we sometimes empower them to do the same in the future.

Easter Dinner

How do you do Easter after a heart attack, without a ham but still having it feel like a celebration?

I tweaked the menu some, with more of a focus on how to make foods lower fat and lower sodium.

Salad - organic greens tossed with broccoli and carrots.

Fruit salad – strawberries, peaches, and pineapples tossed together.

Garlic beer bread – I didn’t have the time or energy to make yeast rolls, so this worked.

Deviled eggs – I hesitated on this one, but my family loves them, and I can eat one in moderation; I’ve avoided real eggs all week to save room for one.

Twice-baked potatoes – I used Yukon potatoes this year and cut the butter/margarine entirely. My son made these with fat substitutes. We’ll see how they taste.

Sauteed veggies – Zucchini sauteed with green and red peppers with onion.

Butterflied pork chops cooked with apples and cranberries – this is a new recipe and an experiment.

Low fat chocolate cake – this is an experiment too. I tried making a chocolate cake mix with a can of 7-up instead of the fats and oils. I’ve tried a strawberry cake with this and liked the results. So we’ll see if chocolate is edible.

 

Hearing God in the Silence

What do you give up for Lent when you’ve already given up fat, fried foods, bacon, ham, cream, and cheese for health reasons? That was my struggle this year. I was inspired by a homily to give up noise in my car so I would have more opportunities to listen for God.

No more would I race down the road making productive use of my drive time with news radio or Christian music. Instead, I would drive in silence and listen for what God wanted me to hear. The first day, as I self-congratulated my resolve, I expected to hear trumpets sounding and angels singing.

Nada.

There was nothing that day, the next day, or the next week. But I continued my decision and found myself singing in the car. Last week, I resigned myself that my exercise in self discipline, listening for God, would yield no results. Well, it did have some negative results when my teens wanted to turn on the radio while riding with me, and I told them I gave up car radio for Lent.

Until today. It was a poignant St. Patrick’s Day as our daughter returns to college this afternoon. This was our last time as a family together at church until May. As we sat down in Mass, the Bible readings each spoke to me and then opened the most profound of visions.

First, in Isaiah 43, the lector read that God opens a path in the waters. We can forget the problems of the past and rejoice in His new creation. I thought for a moment of my wicked childhood, our struggles, our loss by fire, and my recent health issues and recognized that God is making a way for us to follow that is new and wonderful.

And so we could sing, “The Lord has done great things for us. We are filled with joy.” I was filled with joy – the joy of being there singing with my family.

Then we went to Philippians 3, where St. Paul writes he considers the things of the past a loss, and we have a new beginning. As we pursue this new path, we “strain forward to what lies ahead,” pursuing our goal of God’s promise in Christ Jesus.

My life feels like it is beginning Act 3. Act 1 was childhood, Act 2 was motherhood, and Act 3’s path is still being determined. Changing my lifestyle to make it healthier, and discovering new interests and talents, is definitely a strain, but I’m optimistic in the promise.

Then the profound Lenten gift happened. As the priest began to read the Gospel of the fallen woman where he taught the lesson on casting the first stone, for a few moments I saw a Renaissance painting come to life. The picture was a beautiful mix of reds, blues, and golds and was set in heaven. Christ was in the center, with Mary and the apostles surrounding Him, as well as saints and angels. Then I heard a voice from a past dream telling me, “We are still praying for you.”

It was a reminder of the Communion of Saints and of the dream that profoundly changed my life. Seventeen years ago, as we struggled with a high risk pregnancy, I had prayed begging for my son’s life. That night, which was the first step of my conversion, I was told, “We will pray for your unborn son.” I didn’t know what the communion of saints was, but I woke up the next morning determined to become Catholic and learn about my new faith.

Despite terrible odds and many setbacks, my son and I both survived a difficult pregnancy that included a month on bedrest in a hospital 100 miles from home, 4 PUBS blood transfusions to my son, 5 weeks of high dose IvIgg treatments, and a terrible hemorrhage from placenta previa. There is no scientific explanation for our survival; it was truly a miracle. During those months of struggle, we were prayed over by prayer circles around the country. I took comfort in my recognition that saints and angels were praying for us too in their “great cloud of witnesses.”

Now, as my children are no longer children but young adults beginning their own adventures and stories, I was reminded that I am still prayed for, as are they.

We each have a path to follow, and if we listen, we can receive guidance every step of the way.

After that brief flash of my Renaissance painting, I was back  with my family, where I was then reminded to put faith first, family second, and my career third. (Thank you Mary Kay for that reminder!)

Had I not turned off the car radio weeks ago, and begun giving myself time to reflect and release, I don’t believe I would have enjoyed today’s epiphany.

We discover God in the silence. Sometimes it takes awhile to hear Him, but He’s most definitely there.

Less Is More – And Letting Go of Teens

Good teachers and parents learn as much from their students and children as they teach.

As a speech coach, I’ve had definite ideas of what will and won’t work for speeches and demonstrations. His whole life, my son has confounded my ideas. I’m into detailed plans.

His perspective on the world is different. When he takes photographs of events, he always chooses unique angles no one else considers, and they turn out well. I learned with his photography to back off so he can do it his way.

The same holds true of public speaking. He has that rare gift of taking complex subjects and making them simple. And he sees the value in doing something that is seemingly simple but doing it well. Years ago, when he was a health and safety officer of our Tech Club and gave monthly health reports, I gave up on trying to direct him for topics. Once, his topic was how to safely carry a table and set it up. I would never have chosen such a topic. But he approached it thoroughly and made good points. For years since that report, when I set up tables, I’ve thought of his demonstration and how people often drop tables or put them up incorrectly.

This past week, as he designed a Project Interact – in 4-H we used to call them action demonstrations where you demonstrate something simple that you can repeat over and over again. He chose his own topic:

How to Tie Your Shoes Faster.

I shrugged my shoulders and assumed it would be a total loss. But when he began, he took multiple pairs of shoes with him and started with a calculation of how much time your spend in your life tying your shoes. And then he explained that if you cut that time in half, you save time every single day. Then he demonstrated his shortcut.

He held the audience’s attention. I observed 8 teens happily trying a new way to tie their shoes, laughing and joking as they worked.

It was an effective demonstration of something seemingly simple, but improved.

Never would I have considered a shoe tying demonstration for teenagers, but this worked.

Once again, I learned that less is more. And if I step back from my son whose viewpoint is so unique, and I give him space to do things his way, they work.

Thanks to My Kids

This was the year of the Christmas break that was anything but a break for my kids. Six weeks ago, I first got sick with a kidney stone. My son, who was driving on a permit, drove me to the emergency room as I was doubled over in pain. Four days after that, I had a heart attack, just before my daughter began taking her final exams in college. After she finished her finals, she spent her first night back home with me in the hospital.

And so began the break from hell when both of my kids stepped to the plate to not only help me while I recovered but also took care of running our household. My daughter spent her Christmas break driving her brother wherever he needed to go, figuring out how to fix meals that met my new lower fat/lower salt requirements, and taking me where I needed to go. When I needed to complete some paperwork and got stressed, she jumped in and completed the hardest parts of it for me. My son worked with keeping the household running and laundry kept up.

For a few days, things got worse. My husband got sick with what we later learned was a temporarily pinched nerve in his neck, and my daughter took him to the emergency room. She stayed with him at the hospital while my son stayed at home with me. Fortunately,  he was released after tests and is fine.

I am now on the road to recovery, when it’s time for me to start thanking people.

Both our teens helped without complaint and did whatever needed. Often, we hear people complain about teens and their attitudes.

However, teens can do great things. I know a 16 and an 18 year old who rose to the occasion and were extraordinary when we needed them most.

Thanks.

Happy Birthday to a Dear Friend

“The only way you’ll know whether or not you are having a heart attack is to go to the emergency room and get an EKG,” Jean told me. I called her three weeks ago, convinced I was having an allergic reaction to medications for a kidney stone I was passing. We then began to argue because she told me my symptoms were more like a heart attack than an allergic reaction.

Maybe that’s why she’s the doctor and I’m not. I’m glad I listened.

We are fortunate in our lives to have a few good friends who will tell us what they think and tell us when they think we are wrong. If we’re smart, we’ll listen to them and heed their advice at least some of the time. Jean is one of those friends.

We first met 13 years ago when our kids were in a Christmas pageant together. Somehow, I got the task of leading the kids’ singing. Her oldest 4 sons and my kids were in the same production. My most vivid memories from it are of my son (age 3) and one of hers playing angels. Their version of angels was a little different from the normal Christmas story.  My son, on the front row, spent most of the performance lying on the floor, with his halo off, as he used the halo like a giant spyglass to peer into the audience. Then he decided to play target practice with his finger and pretend to shoot people in the audience.

At the same time, her three oldest sons (the oldest was probably a first grader) were the three wisemen. As they rushed in to see the Holy Family, they bumped into each other and accidentally crashed some chairs. I don’t remember who, but one of them whispered to the others, “That was fun. Can we do it again?”

Little did I know how our friendship would help my family. Twelve years ago, the night our home and business burned, the first person I called as we raced home, was Jean. Soon after we got home, she was there with her van, as were other family friends. Jean had put out a prayer alert and raced to help us. It turned out the firemen knew her and told her what we needed to do once the fire was out and we were cleared to quickly go in to retrieve a few things.

Jean helped us organize in our front yard for our fifteen minute dash to gather belongings. Once we were in the house, I remember telling her I wanted to save my vacuum cleaner. “To hell with the vacuum,” she said.

“It’s a Kirby,” I told her.

“Why didn’t you say so?” She answered and grabbed the Kirby as she raced back out of the house, “Make way! Kirby coming through.”

The next morning, Jean and her kids visited our church so we would have moral support at Mass. We went afterwards to a city park so kids could play and we could develop a battle plan for our survival. That afternoon, Richard set a temporary office up in a spare bedroom in her home so he could meet deadlines for clients. We stayed with her family that first week, until a temporary apartment was ready for us to move into.

I can’t begin to describe the ways she helped our family in the months after the fire. We were a homeschooling family, and she schooled my kids along with her own the first weeks after the fire, as I worked with the fire recovery crew and demolition. Later, after we returned home, my kids spent afternoons at her home as I took an additional afternoon job at a local school to help supplement our income. During her time with my kids, she not only helped school them but made sure they learned to ride bikes, swim, and ski. Her children became like extended family for my own and helped them continue a childhood despite tremendous loss.

It’s hard for me to remember all the Jean stories of our time together. There was the afternoon when Richard had worked nonstop on a client’s job for 24 hours without any sleep, I needed to go to work, and half a large maple fell on our house in a rainstorm. Jean came over after the storm, while I was at work and told Richard that sleep deprived people shouldn’t cut trees off their house. Then she recruited another friend and joined him on the roof, chainsaw in hand, removing the tree branches. I wasn’t home but heard that afterwards our neighbors stood in amazement at the mother of five who so easily handled a chainsaw and tree limbs.

She not only taught me how to bake bread but how to grind wheat for the freshest flour possible. And she organized several families to make bulk purchases of Montana wheat so we could get it at wholesale prices.

Then there’s the time one of my neighbor’s kids had an emergency during a summer theatre production for school. I got an urgent call from the school administrator that she had dislocated her kneecap during rehearsal, and no one could find her parents. They were taking the girl by ambulance to the emergency room. They found my phone number in her cell phone, so they called. We could not reach her parents and left large notes on their doors to call us as soon as possible. I raced to the emergency room to meet the girl when she arrived. When I got there, Jean was on shift, about to leave for the evening. After I explained what was happening, she stayed a little late to help my neighbor’s daughter. My neighbors arrived at the emergency room – they had been at a ballgame and couldn’t hear their phones. Jean quickly and quietly helped their daughter.

And as always, when she helped someone she stayed in the shadows, preferring to be the unknown Samaritan.

A few years ago, Jean’s family moved to another city. We’ve stayed in touch and I know that we’re as close as a phone call or a text message when needed. Thank God she was able to answer that phone call 3 weeks ago, just as she answered the call 12 years ago. I don’t know what would have happened without her.

Today is her birthday. Since my heart attack, I’ve resolved to do a better job of sharing with my friends why they matter and what they mean to me. And in this case, I’m blogging it.

Happy birthday, Jean. You’re very loved, and you’ve made a huge difference in our lives. Thank you.

 

One More Day

One thing my heart attack taught me is that I am not invincible. “I am not having chest pains because I don’t have time for them” doesn’t wish them away. No matter how important the things I want to get accomplished are, I cannot ignore my human frailties.

Now, each morning when I wake, my first thought is a prayer – “Thank you God for one more day.”

That changes my perspective completely. If today is our last day – and I don’t believe in any silly Mayan prediction – what will we do with this day to make it count and make the most of it? How will we harness our thoughts and our words, what we do, and what we fail to do?

What are really the most important things we need to do today? Focus on those and think of everything else as gravy.

Seek out and seize joy wherever you find it. And share it with whomever your life touches today.

If we’re lucky, then tomorrow, we can again say, “One more day.”

Entrusting Them to God

Sometimes the hardest thing in the world to do is to let our children go to make their own way in the world. It can be every day they go to school, when they venture for their first overnight, when they go to college, or when they move to build their own lives.

We’re older, and we know how tough the world is….and that bad things happen to good kids.  We hope they remember to be smart, follow the rules, and stay safe. But we also know that sometimes you can do all that and bad things still happen.

At those moments, I quietly say a prayer and entrust my children to God’s care. Then I ask their guardian angel – and all the saints and angels – to watch over and protect them.

Years ago, I had a night full of dreams of angels. First, I was at St. Benedict Cathedral’s choir loft during a Mass, and I saw angels stacked from the floor to the ceiling in worship. Then I saw angels throughout our community, in places where I went with my then-young children. They were even on the swingsets. One of them turned and told me, “We’re always here ready to help – all you have to do is ask.”

I can no more protect my children from all the evil in the world than I can protect myself. But what I can do is send them off with a hug, an expression of love, and a sense of relief that they have a praying mother.

When Hannah left Samuel at the temple as a young boy, she entrusted him to God. That’s the hardest thing any parent ever does. Letting them go – literally on an angel’s wing and a prayer – makes it easier.

Good Samaritans in Our Midst

Sometimes, when we need it the most, help comes from the most unexpected places. There are Good Samaritans in our midst.

  • This week, I was overwhelmed with the kindness of many healthcare professionals. They not only saved my life but honored my dignity.
  • Our family and friends reached out and lent support not only to me, but to my family in many quiet, unknown ways – and who are still doing so.
  • Several of those who have dedicated their lives to service in ministry reached out in our hour of need. Many were total strangers – the chaplain they called to be with Richard as soon as they realized I was having a heart attack, a Christian church minister who came to the hospital to pray with me less than an hour after my cath, and other members of their pastoral staff. I met some remarkable people. And I appreciate our friends in ministry who also helped, especially a dear friend who works in pastoral ministry at the hospital who made a point to visit every day and arranged for a priest to administer the sacrament of anointing and a wonderful lady from our parish’s health ministry.

In the story of the Good Samaritan, we see who makes the effort to stop and help the person who needs it – the one who makes the time to visit the sick and care for them.

This week, I experienced how wonderful their care is and how they work as the hands and feet of Jesus.

And for that, I am grateful.

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