Friday, November 18, 2011

present to the present moment

"Perfection consists in obeying every commandment of God and His Church
and in merely accepting what usually cannot be avoided anyway - 
in suffering with love - with resignation and sweetness - 
what is too often endured with weariness and discontent."
J. P. de Caussade

So often the snow starts at night. (Not in New Zealand, of course - and besides, it's summer here now). Back home it seemed like the snow usually started after the kids were in bed, asleep for the night. I'd always go for a long, happy walk in the storm and then come home and build the biggest, awesomest snowman I could as a surprise for the girls in the morning. We'd all enjoy Frosty for a few weeks and then inevitably we'd get some melty days - and one afternoon there'd be a small lump of dirty snow in an otherwise bare brown yard. A carrot and a few sticks would be poking out at awkward angles and that would be all that was left of my wonderful snowman. 

The same thing is happening to the baby in Bernadette. I only just realized it last night. She still has a few of those charming traits of babyhood sticking out quite prominently, but even these last lingering traces are rapidly giving way to the little girl she is becoming. Until Maria was three years old, I'd lay in bed with her every night and hold her in my arms until she fell asleep. Not just until she fell asleep, but for a little while afterwards too (because that was the best part). But I'm so often the only parent here at bedtime now that I almost never get to do that with 2 year old Bernadette. I just sort of chuck her in the general direction of the bed. We get time earlier in the evening to sit alone and read, but it's certainly not at sleep time. I've mourned this a bit - and consoled myself with the list of perks she gets as a second child, including having a live-in playmate who never interrupts a wildly fun game of running in circles to go fulfill some dreadfully boring adult responsibility like thawing the chicken for dinner. 

Last night I had the rare treat of really lingering with Bernadette at bedtime. She requested long, made-up stories and listened intently while running her fingers over the few wisps of my hair that hung down over her face. Then we reviewed the details of her entire day, pledged our undying love to each other, and then.... I got to hold her until she fell asleep. Plus some. It was while I was staring at her sleeping face that I realized that she is almost not a baby anymore. I really mourned that for a few moments, even though it is exciting and lovely to see the little girl that she's becoming. Then I got up, softly kissed her motionless cheek and whispered with humble sincerity, "It is a privilege to be your mother.I passed Maria's bed on the way out of the room, knelt to kiss her dreaming forehead and repeated the same. My heart was nearly bursting.

Motherhood has been much on my mind lately. It always is, but the Lord has been particularly active in this part of my life recently.... turning exasperation into compassion, helping me examine my previously unrecognized motives in many of my parenting choices; showing me that parenting is a ministry, a call to minister to the needs and hurts and poverty of the child; clarifying my "vision" for our family life. Most of all, He is directing me to be present. He's inviting me to come out from being "in my head" all the time, from being too absorbed in what I jokingly call "my rich inner life". If I'm not lost in Deep Thought then often I am busy, busy, busy - hating to sit still - wanting to get stuff done - sort the laundry, tidy the books, unload the dishwasher. It's very very very hard for me to just. be. present. So I'm working on that. Really hard. 

Even harder than simply being present is being at peace. In big things I'm so obviously helpless that I remember to turn trustingly to Jesus. Like when Joseph was sick. Jesus, I trust in You! I really meant it. But I so often forget all about Jesus when I'm faced with smaller things, things that I think ought to be under my control: when I can't find the overdue library book or the kids are arguing or the internet won't connect. If you put "peace" in a box and press "opposite", that's how I feel when the girls are crying and screeching over whose turn it is to hold the bigger of two sticks lying randomly in the courtyard. Of all the things I think I am "supposed" to be learning in New Zealand, the most important lessons are on peace - defining it, attaining it, sustaining it, living it, transmitting it to others. The peace the world cannot give (nor take away) is always and only possible through humble trust in the Lord - radical trust - for every detail.

The Lord is asking me to trust Him more with the little things. I reread de Caussade lately and loved how he writes that God's will is hidden but present in every detail of my day. "The duties of each moment conceal under their outward appearance the true reality of the Divine Will which is alone worthy of our attention." God's will for my life is unfolding moment-by-moment - not just in the huge events but in the minutiae. Even if, like Job, sometimes it feels to me more like the work of the Evil One, nothing happens to me that is outside of the Lord's knowledge. Not in my life, nor in the life of my children. He can draw good from anything. He has a purpose in all things, though it often baffles my intellect to discover His designs. Nevertheless, if He permits something He has a plan to bring beauty and goodness from it in time. Since I assent willingly to all that in my mind....He's been asking me to be SO MUCH LESS UPTIGHT and to let go more and trust Him completely - in everything - down to the most tedious and tiny irritations of the day. He's teaching my will to cooperate with His will. If the girls are fighting over that stick, it's a moment filled to the brim with grace and opportunity. He can bring some good out of it. Can I let Him? Can I find the grace hidden in the moment?  When I can keep hold on that spirit of peace, it's not hard at all. I can perceive the argument as practice for growing in the virtue of patience, stepping in gently, seeing a great chance to coach them (again) in conflict resolution. Another day I can stand in awe for a moment at the simplicity of childhood wherein a blinking stick is worth fighting over. Or I can laugh it off and show them the humor in it all. Or maybe this moment is food for meditation - on the worthless "sticks" I argue over with other adults (in particular, the one I'm married to) and see through the eyes of God the futility of all bickering. My mind wanders off. I start identifying the "sticks" over which I've argued lately. I see clearly the absurdity and foolishness of my pet peeves. I begin to form some concrete resolutions - when suddenly child A snaps me back into reality by whacking child B with the coveted stick, which she has managed to pry out of her sister's grasp - by scratching her hands bloody. So the Lord reminds me.   Just.     Be.     Present. 

"God reveals Himself to the humble in the humblest things, 
while the great do not discover Him even in great events
if they do not penetrate beneath the surface."
jean pierre de caussade