The Need for Community

“Every day, as long as this ‘today’ lasts, keep encouraging one another” (Heb 3:13)

Whether we are inclined to be social or prefer solitude, God created us to live in community and unity.  Throughout the Old Testament, we see examples of this:  The Israelites were a community separated out from the rest of the world by God.  No matter what place they called home, they were still a community—a grumbling, complaining community as they wandered in the desert for forty years; but, still a community.  The early Christians lived in communities of believers and drew strength from that strong sense of community.  The New Testament is packed full of St. Paul’s letters to these various communities scattered throughout the lands.  He continuously extols them to keep living the life they were called to live, encouraging them in times of need, and admonishing them when they fall into sin.  Even though the communities are scattered world wide, the Church unites them under one mantle.  This is how the Catholic (universal) Church was established by Jesus Christ:  small scattered communities (known as the Church Militant), united together under one creed and eternally connected to the Church Suffering (saints in purgatory) and the Church Triumphant (saints in heaven).  It is such a deep and beautiful plan!   And theme of unity and community are a repeating pattern in the tapestry of life.

Fast forward to our present time and the need for community has not diminished.  Almost every family I know is suffering today.  Not just small matters, these families are afflicted with chronic illnesses, alcohol or other addictions, economic turmoil, divorce, etc.  One cannot help but feel that the evil one is attacking with great fury.  And like scattered sheep we are in more peril the more isolated we become from the flock.  As one who has suffered from chronic fatigue and burn out for close to five years, I understand the humiliation in having to ask for help and expose my weaknesses and vulnerability.  But, I also deeply understand the need for community as God intended.  We desperately need the face-to-face interaction within our community.

It is too easy for the devil to trick us into thinking that social media is true connection, when in fact it is a shallow form of communication that does not allow us to enter into a deeper union with one another.  We need to teach our children the importance of community and face-to-face interaction.  We have a need to look into one another’s eyes and get a glimpse at their souls.  To open ourselves to healing by crying and laughing with one another as we share our burdens and joys.  This is the principal of solidarity that St. Pope John Paul II taught us.  It is great to March for Life in DC, but it is even better to shelter a woman in a crisis pregnancy, bake a meal for a family in time of need, or babysit without pay for the frazzled mother with several small children.  It is lovely to wear a pink ribbon or run a marathon for a noble cause; but it is worth even more to take a woman battling breast cancer to her doctor appointment, laugh with her as she recovers, or cry with her as she shares her fears and frustrations.  It is an excellent thought to lobby for the rights of the poor or illegal immigrants, but how much more noble to physically feed them, shelter them or employ them so they may live with dignity!

Now no one can do all of these things, but God is calling us to do small things for those in our immediate family and community.  There is no shortage of need.  If we but open our eyes, ears and hearts we cannot help but hear the cries for help.  At the same time, we must not be hesitant to express our own needs and graciously accept the help that is offered to us.  This is the way families and communities become strong: pray for one another, assist one another and “for as long as this ’today’ lasts, keep on encouraging one another.” (Heb 3:13)

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A Dozen Roses

Twenty-two years ago today I was at work in the Dillard’s buying office.  I shared a cubicle with Juniors’ buyer, Robin and I assisted her in placing orders for dresses, knits and swimwear.  The other buyers with their assistants (my colleagues) were all around us–dozens of rows of cubicles with six-foot walls.   When I looked up I saw a floral delivery man carrying a dozen long-stemmed red roses and my curiosity got the best of me.  Who was the lucky lady?  The delivery man stopped at the cubicle across the aisle and Jenna motioned in our direction.  I turned to Robin wondering what had earned her such honors.  Shockingly the roses were for me.  The card was from Patrick.  We had had our first date the night before.  Everyone wanted to know who Patrick was, when Jenna exclaimed with horror, “The guy with the kid?!”  I laughed at Jenna’s obvious appal at the thought that I would even consider dating someone with a kid.  Jenna and I were both fresh out of college and all of twenty-one years old.  I calmly replied, “It’s just a date, Jenna.  It’s not like I’m going to marry the guy.”  But, in my heart I knew that I had met the man I was going to marry and here he was sending me flowers.  Roses.  At work.

Patrick is seven years my senior, so at 21 he was so much more mature than I; but, I was mature beyond my years as well.  In April of that same year, 1992, I had made the most difficult decision in my life to that point.  I called off my wedding which was only six weeks away.  I won’t go into all the details here, but I see now that it was by God’s grace and my parents’ support that I was able to avoid making that disastrous mistake.  I was mature enough to realize that my love for this man was not deep enough to overcome the obstacles that we faced.  Even though my head understood these things, it did not make the heart break any easier.  In May I graduated and moved back to Texas.  In June I started my job with Dillard’s during the day and occupied my evenings by going out on dates or with friends.  I have always hated being alone.

My brother invited me to play adult volleyball at church.  This was a huge coming-of-age moment in my life.  He had been playing every Wednesday since I was 14 and I would sit in the gym watching them play after my religious education classes ended.  I was not able to join in until I was 18 and by then I had moved off to college.  So, when Wednesday came you better believe I was ready to play!  I noticed Patrick that first Wednesday.  We always played opposite each other.  My team almost always lost.  When my brother introduced us, he reminded me that Patrick used to come to the pool parties at our home when they were in college.  It was at that moment I realized the age difference and immediately told myself that he would never be interested in someone as young as I was.  So, when Patrick stopped me after Mass and asked for my phone number I completely missed the opportunity thinking he was just being polite.  On July 14, however, everything changed.  Volleyball was moved to a sand court while the gym was being cleaned.  Patrick and I played on the same team for the first time and we had some opportunity to visit on our rotations out.  After the games were over, I visited with Patrick and a mutual friend and this is when Rachael’s name was first mentioned.  Before long it was just the two of us left talking and I spoke my thoughts aloud as I realized that I had forgotten to ask Larry to borrow a softball glove for my game on Friday.  Patrick quickly offered to loan me his glove and just as quickly worked in a date proposal for Thursday evening when he could get the glove to me.  I hadn’t eaten dinner yet, so he joined me at Jack in the Box before we went our separate ways.

On Thursday evening, July 15, 1992, Patrick picked me up promptly for our first date.   We went to TGIFridays.  It was a terrific dinner with our conversations covering all the forbidden topics: religion, politics, parenting, and divorce.  In addition to seeing eye-to-eye on all major topics of discussion, I had also met someone who was willing to listen as I discussed my recent heartbreak.  Because of his divorce, Patrick could relate to my frustrations and struggles.  We returned to my apartment and I nervously fumbled through my mail thinking that he couldn’t possibly be interested in me.  He politely said he needed to get going, so I walked him out to his truck and thanked him for dinner.  And then he asked if he could have a hug.  The story can be told two ways here.  He claims that I kissed him, but I know that it was he that kissed me first.  In any case, he drove off and I went back into my apartment to call my girlfriend in Missouri to tell her the news:  I just met the man I was going to marry!

The dozen roses confirmed it for me.  It would be another two weeks before Patrick spoke the words, “I love you” to me for the first time.  That Christmas he asked me to be his wife.  I would bet that Jenna would still be jaw-dropped and wide-eyed today to know that I did in fact marry that “guy with a kid” and then went on to become parents to ten more.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

Pride in Humility

There is no doubt that this has been a rough week. Tuesday morning I awoke feeling sluggish with a slight headache and by noon I was putting myself back to bed on the verge of a migraine. It went downhill from there as far as my energy level is concerned. I was at least able to get to the chiropractor and get a massage; which completely eliminated my headache. I don’t have a visible illness other than I always look tired–hence the name of my blog. This makes for its own challenges because most people can mistake my lack of energy for laziness or weakness; or more commonly, think that I can do more than I am physically able to do. In fact, I do it to myself the majority of the time. If you need a label for my illness you could call it Chronic Fatigue or Adrenal Fatigue. But, even then it can sound like a made-up name and it really doesn’t pinpoint the nature of the illness.

My next dilemma is once I label my illness, I am bombarded with questions about my treatment and more questions about why I am doing the things I am doing (I am taking a homeopathic route to wellness as the traditional methods have failed me thus far). Normally, this wouldn’t be a bother. I am outspoken and share my opinions a little too liberally. I am also confident in the choices I have made because of the time in prayer and research we have spent in making them. But with the fatigue, it is just extra energy that I really don’t have to spare. I am a people pleaser and desperately want people to understand and validate; so I am learning a great lesson in humility. I am learning humility in not being able to please people and trust that I am learning to please God. I am learning humility when I cannot do the things I “want” to do and have to ask and rely on others for help. I am learning humility in knowing I don’t have the answers all figured out and what I am doing may or may not work in the end. Mostly, I am learning humility by recognizing how my own actions have affected others. How my unsolicited advice caused stress, or my judgements caused pain; how my impatience when caring for a sick loved one made them feel burdensome instead of cherished; and how my assumptions caused me to overlook their true needs.

In this exercise of humility I have found great pride. Not in myself, but in my spouse, my children and my friends. It is truly amazing how my husband and children have responded to my time of need. Sure, we have our share of tears and bickering, but overall they just come together and do what needs to be done. This is no minor feat as for the better part of the past 4 years I have had to rely on them to keep the house and family moving in a positive direction. I refuse to feel guilty any longer. God is teaching us all great lessons and I am finally ready to listen and learn.

My friends are another great pride for me. I send out a simple email for prayers and ask for help with the kids and the needs are quickly filled. I have had some friends apologize for not being able to do A, B or C. I tell them not to be sorry. From my end I see God filling the needs with exact measurement. We are never in want, nor am I turning people away. He calls us each of us to action every day and if we would all respond with little “yeses” what an amazing world this would be. Yes, God is so good! He has provided me with this wonderful family and friendships; but, He didn’t stop there. He sent me encouragement just when I needed it via Scripture and blogs. He is a gentle and loving father who is patiently teaching me to place all my trust in Him alone. So, I rejoice in my chronic tiredness because it has brought me closer to Him and through the lessons I learn, please God, I will bring others to Him as well.

Mach Moccasin

In my glory days when I had more energy than sense, my friend Karen and I would frequently work on projects together. We would send the kids off to play outside or in the other room and we would get to work talking constantly and laughing nearly as much. It was good for the body and the soul. Everyone should have a friend like this!

Anyway, on this particular day in October we were making costumes for the All Saints Party. Now you have to know Karen–she is incapable of doing anything ordinary. She has pattern drafting experience and inventor genes in every cell of her body, so these were not just any costumes. We had a Knights of Columbus complete with purple flumed hat,

Knights of Columbus

Knights of Columbus

St Elizabeth Ann Seton with black bonnet,
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

and St Elizabeth of Hungary with a red cape and basket of bread. So, when it came to making Kateri Tekiwitha for my 5-year-old, the cheap store-bought Pocahontas costume would simply not do. “Oh! You should make moccasins.” She said. “What?” I exclaimed, ” How do I make shoes?” Karen was surprised by my lack of experience in shoe making. “Didn’t you make shoes when you were little?” she asked. To which I replied,”Uh, no!” We both laughed and then she went on to explain that she and her 9 siblings all made shoes for fun. Apparently you just need scraps of wood, strips of fabric, a little bit of cardboard and a good stapler. Who knew? So, Karen quickly whips up a pattern without a second thought or the need to measure Alli’s foot. She eyeballs it and tells me to cut it out of the faux leather vinyl and sew it up. Simple. 3 pieces, 3 seams and Presto!! A pair of moccasins. Except that it was me sewing them and not her. Four hours later and several practice moccasins I finally completed my first moccasin. For the record, I CAN sew. It is just that vinyl is not the easiest fabric to work with. It necessitated that I use the commercial machine which sews at the speed of sound and doesn’t discriminate between fabric or finger. It pulls anything under the needle faster than my preschooler can snatch the cookie from the toddler’s hand! So, while the machine pulls the fabric through, it slides around leaving holes in the seams and a very crooked finished product. I wish I had pictures, but this was before smart phones or digital cameras so you will have to take my word for it. Rarely have I ever laughed so much. But, alas, I finally had a finished moccasin! Look! I exclaimed I did it! The kids were laughing. I was laughing. Karen was laughing as she tried to encourage me in her sweet and humble way. “No. That’s good. You did a good job. Now just make another one.” Never one to pass up a good laugh, I said “We should go into business together. Mach Moccasins. How much would I need to charge if I can whip one out every four hours?” It is always fun to get Karen laughing because she can’t stop and she tries to talk and laugh at the same time. “Mach Moccasin,” she corrected, “You don’t even have a pair yet!” And I’ve never lived it down. Every time I come up with a great idea, she says “from the makers of Mach Moccasin . . .” Yes, everyone needs a friend like this. She keeps me humble and laughing and she taught me how to make my own shoes–apparently a skill every child should learn.
Blessed Kateri Tekawitha. sorry no pics of the moccasins

Blessed Kateri Tekawitha. sorry no pics of the moccasins

On Friendship

“A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure.” Sirach 6:14

The largest obstacle I had to overcome in the process of becoming a stay-at-home mom was, well, staying at home. I am very social by nature and the isolation was extremely depressing and lonely. As a young newlywed it completely took me by surprise that I was doing exactly what I wanted to do and yet felt so terribly sad while doing it. Looking back with 20 years of hindsight I can see that it was a setup for failure if it had not been for the grace of God. I didn’t enjoy cooking or cleaning. Laundry was an unbelievably boring and sometimes nasty job as well. The baby was adorable, but she slept a lot and wasn’t much of a conversationalist–although I spoke to her constantly and about everything in our world. I came to realize that I needed friends, girl friends that were in the same place in life as myself so that we could encourage and support each other and “use up our words” as my husband would say. I had a neighbor with a little boy the same age as Lauren and we spent countless hours together going to the park and playing with the kids. A move across town would prove that friendship weak and the distance soon ended the relationship.

I prayed for God to send me a friend so that I wouldn’t be as lonely. At the time, I had three young children and had lost two others to miscarriage. We desperately wanted more children, but it did not seem to be part of God’s plans, at least for the five years in the desert of infertility. Little did I know that God would give me children during that time through my friends. On any given day I had no less than a dozen children in my home or yard. Even before I had 6 more of my own, I could be seen going to church or the store with 6 or 8 kids in tow. It made my heart happy. My friends and I had formed a babysitting network within our circle that allowed us to go to doctor’s appointments, the store or on a date without taking kids along. I have even had the luxury of sick days where I could rest and recover while my children played safely at a friend’s home for the day.

But, these friendships go beyond meeting the physical needs of one another. These friendships feed me spiritually in a way that I have never been fed before. I have been privileged to walk with friends through personal, intimate and painful life events. Words cannot express the blessings of being trusted in such moments of vulnerability. I have been to funerals for babies whose lives were too short by human standards. I have cried with friends while their marriages tumbled on sharp and rocky ground. And I have helplessly listened while a friend wept as her child lay in the hospital in critical condition. I have praised God when that child miraculously recovered, when the marriages were healed, and for the little saints in heaven that are now our intercessors. The living children are growing up and a few have gone off to college, others are beginning High School or getting their driver’s licenses. I have been to their Baptisms, First Communions and Confirmations. It has amazed me to be a part of so many lives, especially to watch the children through all stages. I have newer friendships and older ones. I have friends that I still see weekly and those that are once a year visits. Some I keep up with on Facebook and others through the annual Christmas card. One friend recently bought the house across the street! Our lives ebb and flow, but the true friendships just pick up right where you left off.

If a faithful friend is a treasure, then I am rich beyond belief. Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates ain’t got nothing on me! Thank you, God for answering my small plea for a friend with such abundance.