Category: Family Life

In my work preparing couples for marriage, I have had to account for the unexpected implosion of a marriage where I was once part of the preparation. Sometimes I hear about the troubles first hand, other times when I see one of them meeting with the Nullity Minister. It saddens me every time when those couples who looked and acted so much in love, and desired to dedicate their whole lives to one another in sacramental marriage; give up and quit. I feel I have an investment in each and every couple. I connect with them, and give my whole heart in the work God has called me to.

The work of marriage however, is the couple’s work to do together for the benefit of their own souls, their family, and for society. The work they do will effect generations for good or bad and ultimately the whole world. We see this lived out in today’s culture when parents don’t take seriously their duty to raise up responsible, moral, hard-working future citizens. Those children left to their own devices, can easily become everyone’s problem. Choosing themselves and their personal happiness over working things out with a spouse, can have a devastating effect as children are left in the debris of divorce.

As in every disagreement, there is her version, his version, and the truth. I hate it when I hear cruel accusations lobbed at their spouse. Was this the same couple who cuddled on the couch in my office as we talked about marriage? What happened? What changed, or rather, what finally came to the surface and reared its ugly head? How do two people so in love that they want to be together for life, give up on each other, “fall out of love,” or cheat on their spouse?

It is easy to quit on one another- that is what the world wants and that is exactly what Satan wants! Quitting is easy, staying married is hard. One man told me “if it is this hard, then it must not be love.”
Really? Exercising is hard. What would happen if we quit on that? Just look around to see the fruit of that life style. What about our jobs? They can get pretty demanding. Should we not work? Picking produce, fermenting grapes, stocking shelves, is a real pain in the back day in and day out. No one’s talking about giving up on wine.

Love does not quit, give up, walk out, or point fingers… or lie or choose every other thing including work, children, or friends, over the beloved. Marriage is the sign that God instituted to point most to His unconditional, irrevocable, faithful, exclusive love for each of us. It reflects Christ’s love for the Church. You know Christ, the One impaled on a tree, barely clinging to life, bloody, and bruised. Perhaps there is something to learn in that icon. Love hurts. It hurts like hell sometimes. St. Teresa of Calcutta wrote, “Love to be real, it must cost, it must hurt, it must empty us of self.”

And therein lies the problem, “ self.”

Love isn’t about you, your feelings, your happiness, or unlimited fun. Love is about other. Love is giving, and pouring out without cost, or measure, or return. The word is sacrificial, because not putting me first-hurts. It takes dying to self over and over, until it becomes natural, a habit honed over time. When husband and wife do that very thing, we see such a beautiful, attractive window into God’s marvelous love for us. We desperately need this kind of witness in our world. Married couples have the power to raise up, or warp, twist, pervert, or elevate, how humanity sees God, imitates love, and understands marriage.

Almost always the couple does not make dedicated time for each other, pray together, or practice their Catholic faith regularly through attending mass. There is critical importance in placing each other above all else, of making God, faith, and prayer, a part of your daily existence. After thirty-eight years I can assure you, without God, we would not have lasted long on our own.

I have nothing to lose by being frank in writing these things sent in love, and empowered by truth. I beg you, do whatever is necessary to remain true to the vows you both made in front of God. “For I hate divorce, says the Lord…” (Malachi 2:16). I too hate divorce with all my heart. It leaves everlasting devastation in its wake. It harms children, and grandchildren for generations. It poisons those around us, it poisons how humanity thinks about marriage and a lifelong commitment, and it poisons how people think and relate to God. I have read one hundred raw testimonials from adults whose parents divorced, and the negative consequence it had, and continues to have, on how they think, and interact with others. (Primal Loss-Miller)

With God’s help and the healing power of confession, anything is possible. We believe in the God of Miracles! There is a retreat called Retrouvaille for couples who find themselves in dire straits and who are willing to do whatever it takes to seek help. It means “rediscover”. It is Catholic, but any faith can attend. I know it saves marriages, even the most horrible and seemingly UN-savable marriages.

So if you ever really loved each other, and if you are willing to let God do what He does best, then I invite you to do this, because you both deserve it. It is not magic. Nothing will change if you both are not willing to trust, love, surrender, and do the hard work.

It’s all up to you whether you are a part of a miracle, or just another statistic.


Flashback in Time

We were driving to a family event the other day with several of the kids in tow. Kids in this context refer to a seventeen, twenty and twenty-three year old. My dessert was carefully stowed in the back of our suburban. The back-seat inhabitants were safely plugged in to their ipods to avoid communication with each other or us.  We had just picked up Andrew from work, and saddled with his lunch bag he jumped in. I made the suggestion he put the bag in the back. With a flick of his wrist he let it fly. In that instant I had a flashback of an incident 15 years earlier.

Back then we lived in Illinois. I operated a small catering business from home to help make ends meet. My husband was frequently out of town, so deliveries included dragging along five young kids.  The flashback involved a birthday cake delivery on a snowy winter day. After securing the cake, and loading up the clan, we were off.  As was typical with my loving children, moments into any trip, an argument would break out.  It was always something critical to their existence, like who was smarter or the color of snow.  In an act of utter defiance, five-year-old Andrew chucked his shoe to the back where the cake was.  It was one of those slow-motion moments in life I watched unfold through the rear view mirror. I knew where the shoe was headed and there was nothing I could do to stop it. NOOOO-oooooooo, I screamed.

At the first opportunity I pulled over, trudged through the snow, and opened the door. A little brown shoe, size four, lay in the cake.  The van was so quiet, you could hear the snow fall as they awaited the aftershock.  I can’t exactly recall what transpired, but suffice it to say, I still have five children.

That little catering business grew out of my overzealous need to volunteer at the kid’s school. Organizations can see my type coming a mile away.  I imagine the word sucker is stamped on my forehead or something oblivious to me and obvious to them.  I am convinced; I wasn’t born with a NO gene. I seem to have some sick need to say yes to practically any request.  In fact, most of my sentences either begin or end with: yes, sure, when do you need it done or absolutely.

After many years of volunteering I launched my own catering business, which helped bring in a few extra bucks. Let me emphasize the word few here.  Catering at home with five young children under ten, is something only a psycho yes-person like myself attempts.

Once when catering an afternoon tea for a neighbor, I had run out of preparation time.  My assistant, four-year-old Becky, was standing on a chair beside me. She was tired of observing and wanted to help. “I want to hep, can I hep?” The last of the whipping cream was mixing when she grabbed a stick of butter and threw it into the bowl. AHHH-hhhhhh! I screamed.  After gently removing her off of the chair, I sent it airborne back to the dining room.  At that exact moment my neighbor’s husband was peeking in the door to render any last minute assistance. Explaining the wooden projectile to a father of 6 was easier than I thought.

Another memorable winter delivery involved sliding into a ditch only moments from the destination.  The recipients happened to be driving by and stopped long enough to pick up the First Communion cake, and drive off.  One must question what compelled me to continue?

Catering was a crazy time in our life and I am happy to report that the experience didn’t scar the kids too badly. Little Becky is a trained chef and Andrew is suffering only occasional flashbacks from his childhood.

As far as my flashbacks, I still get them from time to time and simply smile to myself or go find a dark corner to cry in.

“Marriage changes people, she’s different now” stated the young man speaking about his new wife.  “We lived together for two years, then suddenly”, claims the new husband, “the ring popped on and she changed?”

Is she really different, I wonder? Did the marriage really change her?

Many engaged couples I meet are already sexually active and living together. It is in fact a rare occurrence when I interview a couple that is not in this category or had a prior marriage…or three.

These beautiful young souls do not think they are harming their future marriage with their current conduct. To the contrary, they believe they are helping it. Oftentimes I have to explain the Church’s teaching to help them comprehend what is at stake. Some nod their heads as the “lights go on,” others sadly, respectfully disagree. They believe their relationship is different, and not doomed to befall a sad fate. I only hope and pray they are correct.

I present to you dear reader, a common scenario, albeit oversimplified. For the purposes of distinguishing our hypothetical couple, I will refer to them as Sean and Allie.

Sean meets Allie. Allie thinks to herself… this could finally be the one.

Sean and Allie date and sooner or later have sex because that is the expectation in our over sexualized culture. Allie is likely already on chemical contraceptives courtesy of mom from her high school days.

Sean is satisfied in the relationship. His basic needs are met; Allie makes him happy and doesn’t demand too much. Both are captivated with the other.

Allie yearns for a little more emotional intimacy, but doesn’t want to complain or refuse sex for fear of a fight or worse, a break up.

Their sexual relationship actually thwarts the growth of their communication and authentic knowledge of the other, giving only the illusion of intimacy.

Neither truly gets to know the other in reality because their hearts and minds are clouded by the natural pleasure chemicals (dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin). The relationship is based mainly on a purely erotic level.

Allie tends to sentimentalize Sean’s attributes and disregard his shortcomings with the always popular, “I can change him” attitude.

Their sex life continues, as well as the false understanding of what real love demands, masked and driven by their feelings and emotions.

The next [il]logical and expected decision is to cohabit… after all they are a “cute couple, get along pretty well, and the sex is great.” They believe that trying the other out for compatibility is the best way to ensure they are “marriage material”…if marriage is even part of the equation. Allie might believe this is the natural course of events, Sean may not be thinking this at all. Neither has any idea what their compatibility is, sans sex.

Their bodies, hearts, friends and money are vested in this relationship-and soon no doubt, a pet will join the liaison.

Neither mentions any real issues that might upset the other. Allie in particular will not say anything to risk the relationship, despite the fact that there are certain things beginning to concern her about Sean. She may even be feeling a little used at this point.

Both may be feeling from outside sources the pressure to marry. Allie’s dream of her perfect wedding invades her thoughts regularly. Sean may or may not have this dream.

Allie and Sean have been together for a few years now and may have some unspoken reservations in the back of their minds about the relationship; but it is better than being alone.

If marriage is on the horizon- they may consider a church if it fits their belief system, the prep period isn’t too long, too hard, too costly or just too inconvenient. Anyway who needs some self-righteous church person telling them what to do when they really are more “spiritual than religious?”

Sean and Allie take the plunge and tie the knot. Sean feels Allie might be overspending and possibly feels cut out of the planning which is predominately filled by her friends and mother.

They marry and both are happy…for a while.

Allie may think that she got what she wanted and now feels a little more comfortable in bringing up those little issues that have weighed on her mind for some time now. Sean is no more receptive to this now than he would have been before. Allie pushes onward. Sean wonders what has changed all of a sudden.

Allie may be getting tired of sex on demand- after all she is contracepting so there is no valid “excuses” in Sean’s mind. If she rejects his advances too frequently, this affirms in him that she has in fact “changed.” Allie wonders why Sean is distant and isn’t attentive to her emotional needs like she hoped he would be by now. She wants to be loved for more than her body.

Sean may or may not wonder what’s happening with Allie chalking it up to “moodiness.” Allie is frustrated wondering why she didn’t notice all those things that bothered her about Sean sooner.

Each wonders why the other seems to have changed so suddenly.

They may be reminded erroneously by their friends that marriage ruins people and is impossible.

Should they have married?

Neither understands the other, or what happened? Everything appeared fine when they lived together.

Neither Sean nor Allie is happy anymore, and life is supposed to be about personal happiness.

For the first time they consider divorce.

Both think they have fallen out of love when they never understood the demands of real love.

The marriage ends.

Both are unhappy, but think they are better off and eventually repeat the same foolish cycle this time hoping for different results.

This little scenario is not meant to depress us. Rather it is an all too real look at what is happening all over, at a shocking rate. The newest spike in the divorce rate is eighteen months. The marriage I referred to at the start of this article ended right about that time. I have known still others that lasted less than a year. All of them shared the same components outlined above in chilling detail.

So what is the answer?

Arch Bishop Fulton Sheen writes, “The greatest illusion of lovers is to believe that the intensity of the sexual attraction is the guarantee of the perpetuity of their love.” This statement strikes at the heart of the problem.

In my next article (Marriage is a Marathon Not a Sprint) I will reflect further but also share more optimistic news.

When We Get To The Freeway

This summer we had the opportunity to do a road trip together again. It would be the seven of us, packed in the old gray Suburban, just like old times. A few years have passed since we have had the occasion for six hours of this kind of togetherness and I was waiting for the usual fall-out that accompanies these trips.

What was different this round, was the fact that for the first time ever, my children were officially all adults.

When they were little, what stands out most in my mind is the crick in my neck that would develop about ten minutes into any trip. I would spend the majority of the excursion looking backwards, settling the constant indiscriminate disputes that would arise each time one of them ventured to speak. There were many times that I wished I were Inspector Gadget so I could simply say, “go, go gadget arm,” and reach out and touch someone.

Having a mini van made all the difference in the world once my neck was too sore to whip my head around. I would with great drama, unclick my seatbelt, and a hush would fall upon the backseat inhabitants as I headed aft. The blame game ensued, followed pretty much by somebody getting it, and I wasn’t handing out cookies.

Another famous phrase we often use goes something like this, “when we get to the freeway…” The rest of the sentence usually ended with “we will all say the Rosary together.” After the predictable moans and sighs died down and the five miles it took to get to the freeway, several kids would invariably be overcome with sudden sleep disorder thus rendering themselves unconscious when it came time to pray. This tactic was never very successful because the remaining vigilant siblings would arouse them with loving forcefulness so they wouldn’t miss out. After all, a family that prays together…

As teen passengers they would mostly keep to themselves once the initial fight over “who sat where” ended. The cleverest tactic used to secure the front seat involved sleeping all night in the car thus beating out all siblings. The preferred method used most often however was the tried and true duke it out process that began hours before we left. They could recall with minute detail every instance since birth when each sibling had already had his or her turn. These same kids who can’t remember when to take out the trash, could recount with the precision of a tax accountant, the date, vacation, and mileage of each trip, and who rode shotgun.

Return trips from California on New Year’s Day after consuming my cousin’s secret chili recipe, were predictably interesting, to say the least. About an hour into the trip the wind began to blow stronger inside the vehicle than outside. The girls would let out a scream as the offending smell wafted past their nostrils, then all the windows would simultaneously go down, and the boys would laugh hysterically. This cadence continued every couple of miles for the remainder of our journey. Without a doubt, the cars behind us got a good whiff as they blew through the green gaseous cloud at seventy miles per hour. Good times.

So what was different this time? In a word, it was pleasant. At departure they loaded right up without the customary seat fight, plugged into their ipod’s, took out their books, and sat there in blissful silence…for hours. It was actually surreal, peaceful even, and just a tiny bit boring.

Gone were the days that made fodder for stories and generated laughs around the bus stop. We had entered a new era, or had we? Perhaps we just caught them off guard and a little bit exhausted from having real lives and real jobs that just don’t leave much energy to fight over little things. I actuality though, I was really grateful for not having to deal with the old familiar crick.

Ever since moving back to Arizona in ’97, we have lived in the same neighborhood; quite a feat these days. Only a few houses were finished back then, and the desert seemed to begin right where our yard ended.

We had met on rare occasions, as our homes were being built, these strangers who would become our neighbors. Everyone seemed friendly enough as we tried to imagine what our new lives together might be like. We laugh now about those early assessments, when the kids were kind of squirrely, and it was easy to prejudge.

Move-in day boasted one hundred fifteen degrees and by the grace of God didn’t leave any of my siblings or their families with heat stroke. Sweat saturated our clothes and streamed down our faces much like the comical gags you see on TV.

Real love helps you move in, expecting nothing, even when it feels like you are moving into hell itself.

At last, I was back after living in Korea, Texas, New Mexico, Idaho, England, and nine years of freezing in Illinois. My husband was far less enthusiastic than I, since this move required that he commute to work. After dutifully following his “career” all over the world for seventeen years of our marriage, I was going to raise our family, near family. He was still going to be happily flying to destinations most folks dream about, so I wasn’t feeling that sorry for him.

So fast-forward to now. Our neighborhood is complete, and some homes have even had multiple owners. Those original neighbors we met so long ago are still here becoming more than just neighbors, they are friends. We occasionally host each other for meals, look after home and herd, and have watched our small children morph into young adults. We have laughed, cried, and supported each other through scorpions, javalinas, teenagers, roaming coyotes and the rare tarantula. (Yes, all those wild creatures are properly lumped together.) Standing collectively we have cringed as each new child received their driver’s license and drove off alone for the first time.

We come from a variety of faith backgrounds but share a common belief in taking care of our homes, families and neighbors. When news of my impending surgery reached their ears they snapped right into action providing us with meals, cleaning help, prayers, encouragement and hope. Even through this personal challenge I was given a gift to slow down, reconnect, and really appreciate the folks who have been beside us all this time. For years it seemed we were simply “waving blurs’ as we hurried in and out getting kids here and there. Our neighbor across the street will always recall fondly the time our family came home from a vacation in those early years. She happened to be watering her plants as our suburban pulled into the drive. Exhausted, frenzied children poured out of every opening. Finally emerging, our youngest daughter looked over at her and sighed, “That’s right, Mrs. Cross, the freak show is back!”

These strangers are more than neighbors and greater than friends. They have become like family to us. God placed us all together so many years ago, in this space and time and we have been touched, helped, loved and accepted, nurtured and embraced by each other. Isn’t that what we are all called to do, as we build here on earth strong families, communities and nations? Mutually respecting and treating each other with kindness as brothers and sisters in humanity and children of the most-high God.

Our little freak show is the fodder of many neighborhood tall tales, and a catalyst for lots of laughter. Looking back we all smile recalling those long lost days, yet, look forward to new adventures too.

Look around the world. Who is your neighbor? In God’s family there are no fences or boundaries, so reach out and make someone’s day brighter like so many others have done for you and me. For their love and generosity I am immensely grateful and forever changed and we all must go and do the same.

Barbara Lishko  is blessed to be a lifelong cradle-Catholic. She and her husband Mark, have been married for 30 years, and have five amazingly talented young adult children who are an abundance of inspiration for her weekly columns. Through her experiences as a wife, mother, and full time youth minister she shares her unique humor and insight with her readers. God continues to abundantly bless her life by allowing her the honor of serving as a tiny instrument in His Almighty hands. Barbara is a past recipient of the St. Thérèse of Lisieux Service Award given through the Diocese of Phoenix. Visit her blog at

Driving in Oven Mitts

It’s that time of the year in Phoenix, when we really do question why we live here. Could it be because it only gets down to ninety degrees at night, or perhaps because massive dust storms hit without warning?

I would suggest that it is something more fundamental than that: driving. I had every intention of getting a light colored car when we replaced the Studebaker last year, but no, I ended up with a black car detailed with pretty silver chrome. In November, you don’t think about what “chrome on black” does when it is one hundred and seventeen outside.

So how can I make the most of driving a kiln? Perhaps I should start driving with oven mitts?

Hopping in the car the other day, I burned my hand opening the door and my leg closing it. I sat there in my “oven on wheels,” air conditioner blasting my face like a blow dryer on high. Reaching up to get my silver rosary off the mirror, I scorched my fingers. If anything is going to act as a deterrent for Hades, it’s this place in the summer.

It occurred to me at that moment that I am going about this all wrong. I should be “making lemonade” or in this case lemon soup, out of lemons.

If I could outfit my car with some nifty solar panels, I bet I wouldn’t need to buy gas anymore. Furthermore, I could save tons of money on electricity at home, by simply drying our clothes in the back seat as I drove around town. Better yet, if I prepared dinner before leaving for work, I could set it right under the hood and bake it all day while my car sat in the parking lot. After all, I drive around in a Crockpot, might as well make good use of it.

Why stop there? I can dehydrate fruit in the trunk and at the same time grill burgers on the roof at lunchtime. I could have a little roadside café earning extra income to help pay the summer A/C bill. Now that’s using my brain cells before they evaporate.

I imagine what it must have been like hundreds of years ago in this heat, as the missionaries came over from Europe. No air conditioning, bottled water, or cold iced tea around every corner. Snakes, spiders, and scorpions as well as hostile natives who wanted nothing to do with them or their religious practices. More than ever I am so grateful for their sacrifices and abiding determination to bring Catholicism to Arizona.

Today I organized a tour of St Mary’s Basilica in Phoenix, with a group of teens. Gordon, the choir director, spoke with such eloquence and passion of the rich history of that awe-inspiring Church. Over forty years it took to build the beautiful historic structure that we enjoy today. We got to go up in the choir loft and out onto the balcony where Blessed JPII stood as he addressed the faithful of Phoenix over twenty years ago. I felt a great peace as I pondered his presence walking up those very stairs. A modern-day, future saint, stood in the very place that I was standing.

So I ask that we all take some time and ponder the sacrifices of all those who for centuries faced persecution, deserts and jungles, violence and rejection so that we might have the beautiful churches and witnesses of faith that we sometimes take for granted today. Then sit there in those “sanctuaries and havens” and realize we are abundantly blessed to live in this time. Join me in thanking Almighty God for those strong, faithful, determined men and women who by His grace made beautiful places like St Mary’s possible for us today.

And then I have to wonder out loud what legacy will we be leaving for those who will follow after us?

Barbara Lishko  is blessed to be a lifelong cradle-Catholic. She and her husband Mark, have been married for 30 years, and have five amazingly talented young adult children who are an abundance of inspiration for her weekly columns. Through her experiences as a wife, mother, and full time youth minister she shares her unique humor and insight with her readers. God continues to abundantly bless her life by allowing her the honor of serving as a tiny instrument in His Almighty hands. Barbara is a past recipient of the St. Thérèse of Lisieux Service Award given through the Diocese of Phoenix. Visit her blog at

This is the second year I have decided to invest in a home garden here in the desert. That means we start planting by late February or March when most places are still shoveling the nasty white stuff.

The only reason I toy with this fantasy has everything to do with what we did after the in-ground trampoline had bounced its last bounce. We filled in the space with real dirt. You know the kind the rest of the country takes for granted. You see here in the desert southwest we have rocks, with dust mixed in for giggles. When we agreed to have a trampoline in the first place, it was on the grounds (no pun intended), that a ground-level trampoline was safer. The kids got right to work with their little shovels and after an hour had accomplished nada.

Observing the locals, we decided a pick-ax would do the trick and only mom and dad were allowed to wield it. That lasted thirty minutes and we didn’t care if the four year-old swung it as long as there was visible progress. After a week we had made a hole the size of Malibu Barbie’s wading pool. We were losing heart, and the kids were conveniently unavailable. Week two, we saw some progress when dad got serious with the ax. The diameter extended to five feet around and a whopping six inches deep.

It was about that time I had a landscaper come by to make a bid on the yard. He took one look at my husband and said the magic words, “If you give me the job I will throw in digging the hole for free.” You would have thought Mark had won the lottery. The ax hit the dirt and it is history from there; but I regress.

So we have this lovely circle in the yard with authentic dirt, and shrewdly determine to grow our own produce. “Why not, think of all the money we will save.” A few trips to the store later, about a hundred bucks, and we are in business. Or so we think. Tomatoes need cages, grapes require a trellis and then there is the netting, fencing, and the gross amount of water needed to keep plants from turning to crust in the desert heat? Need I go on?

The first year we had no clue and netted a harvest fit for a mouse. This year, the birds beat us to the grapes although I did get to taste the last ten they left on the vine to tease me. Our tomatoes were a different story altogether. A rabbit found his way into our yard through a small design in the fence, and ate himself too fat to get out. I discovered that desert rabbits love tomatoes and ignore carrots and lettuce. Between the bunny and the birds they sampled most of the tomatoes, much like a kid samples a box of chocolates. Arr-gh!

I am pretty sure that if we divide the cost of everything into the harvest, we can happily say we dined on twenty dollar tomatoes. Even from a production and labor cost comparison, this happy experiment was a failure of seismic proportions.

What have I learned? Set traps next year and learn to cook rabbit, then we will have meat with our carrots.

Thinking about this from a spiritual perspective, I can imagine that we humans are the seeds God loving and expectantly plants here on earth. Each of us has such potential to grow and be fruitful and transform the area we are planted in. Trials and difficulties can come by and chew on us leaving us a little imperfect but stronger as we continue to grow and mature in the light of the Son. When we are ripe and have remained rooted in the vine, the master gardener will come and gently remove us and take us to the great banquet in heaven where He can show us off as the fruit of His unconditional love.

It is there I hope to see everyone; strong, perfect, beautiful and displayed in a dazzling array of unique and wonderful creations.

Barbara Lishko  is blessed to be a lifelong cradle-Catholic. She and her husband Mark, have been married for 30 years, and have five amazingly talented young adult children who are an abundance of inspiration for her weekly columns. Through her experiences as a wife, mother, and full time youth minister she shares her unique humor and insight with her readers. God continues to abundantly bless her life by allowing her the honor of serving as a tiny instrument in His Almighty hands. Barbara is a past recipient of the St. Thérèse of Lisieux Service Award given through the Diocese of Phoenix. Visit her blog at

The implements of discipline have changed over time. Back in the old days, some pretty harsh punishment was used to keep one’s offspring under control. I can remember my father talking about the barber’s strap being the preferred “rod of discipline” utilized most by his parents. He was raised in a very strict German household. My Irish mother doesn’t remember her parents ever fighting or even raising their voices. That polar and cultural combination is what raised my four siblings and me, it’s a wonder we’re sane. It took a lot to get my mother annoyed. As the oldest, I only remember a few times when she got angry and lost her temper, apparently it is not possible for a teenager to avoid pushing that bright red button on the forehead of a parent. Mom was best known however for her uncanny and timely ability to show-up when we would “accidently-on-purpose” forget our curfew. We would be chillin’ with our current “bf or gf” and “way too cool to play by the rules,” when her headlights would slowly pull up to our location. As she would emerge from the car, you would swear that red hair of hers was on fire. I shall not repeat the words that struck terror in our hearts. My father on the other hand, developed over the years what I like to call a Darth Vader approach to discipline. I recall one memorable evening feeling pretty good about escaping the dreaded headlights as I slithered inside. Closing the door as quietly as I could, my “spider-sense” picked up a distinct presence in the dark room. I froze in my tracks; the hair on the back of neck jutted upright, a deep voice broke the silence uttering, “Give me your license.” Unlike the father in the story of the prodigal son, my dad did not run and embrace me while offering to throw a party. The only fatted calf that was getting slaughtered that night was going to be me. Fast forward a few years to becoming a parent myself. I too was eventually blessed with three zany sons and two free-spirited daughters. Life with daddy working out of state much of the time left me as the primary disciplinarian. That’s right; I wore the “black pointy hat” in our family. My tool of choice became the spatula. When things would get chaotic and out of control I would threaten to “get the spatula.” Now I will admit that nine times out of ten I broke more utensils on the door frame than on backsides. It made a lot of noise, got their attention and served mostly in a preventative capacity. Consequently, several years into my gig, my oldest son and the foremost “pusher of my buttons” connected the dots. (Read Waffle story for a peek into my world) During the height of one particular conflict he goaded me to, “Just do it, come on…hit me.” That’s right he threw down the glove, and called my bluff. What’s a mother to do? In retrospect…the kid was begging for it. At times like that, there are only two responses, “holy terror or deflated anger.” Thankfully, I chose the latter in this case. Let’s apply all this to a spiritual level and ponder our relationship with our heavenly Father. What is the Lord to do with us at times? Does God need to say to us, “Have it your way” when we do not respond properly with “Thy will be done”? What form of discipline do we require? I know when I get frustrated as a parent, I like to remind myself of how God must feel…only times a zillion. We humans can be a fickle and disobedient bunch. Scripture and history prove this over and over. So how does God remind us of our need to die to self, and our own selfish will…basically through the fire of His love? St Bernard of Clairvaux speaks of a purifying fire, The fire that is God does indeed devour but it does not debase: It burns pleasantly, devastates felicitously… a fire that rages against vices only to produce a healing unction in the soul. We must be purged of everything unclean that cripples us, distorts us, and inordinately attaches us to anything that isn’t of God. Like the tools of discipline that parents use, this process is painful and hurts. St Bernard goes on to say, this fire consumes “every stain of sin and the rust of evil habits.” Our trials, temptations, purifications and sufferings are not punishment from God but a means to help increase our capacity to love, trust and depend on Him. Even the greatest saints underwent this process and it is God’s tried and true method. Discipline is a means parents use to help bring children back into right relationship with the family and position them towards the path of goodness. God too knows what it takes to bring us into right relationship with Him and each other, it may sting a bit but it is a “good” hurt and one that we are capable of enduring. During these periods of trial let us keep our eye on the prize and that great reward in heaven. Then the purpose of these purifications will become ever more clear and a means for us to thank God for caring enough about our lives to do what it takes to bring us home.

Better Than Your Waffles

This tale of a Christmas long, long ago is what makes me appreciate the more uninteresting holidays of the past few years. Let me take you back to a time when daddy was gone far too much, and the children and I were stranded up in the cold north, far away from family.

I don’t tolerate the cold well. I think it came from growing up in Colorado where I have less than fond memories of trudging through the snow to school and freezing from October to April. My family moved to Phoenix when I was in eighth grade and I haven’t regretted that move ever since. I much more prefer living in an oven, verses an ice box.  So when my husband got out of the military and found employment in Chicago, off we went to brave the elements and the unknown.

Bundling up five little ones was a fearsome task. I would no sooner get the last one out the door before the first one was ready to be disrobed.  Mark was flying all over the place visiting warm and wonderful destinations while the kids and I battled winter on a daily basis.

When the work schedule for December came out, the look on Mark’s face said it all; no daddy for Christmas this year. While we were all disappointed I would attempt to make the most of the holiday. Christmas Eve found me wrapping, assembling, and wondering what my husband was up to in Miami.  I worked tirelessly so the “jolly one” could hog all the credit. That morning I got up early to make waffles and further spread the cheer all the way down to their little empty bellies.

Things were going good until a fight broke out about a small baseball card found in a Cracker Jack box. Imagine the scene, Christmas tree twinkling in the background with joyful sounds emitting from the stereo, presents strewn everywhere and my five kids shouting and chasing after each other over a one-inch piece of colored cardboard.  I’m sure Baby Jesus was crying in the manger over this bizarre scene.  Being the patient and loving mom who wasn’t in the least bit feeling slighted this Christmas morn, I barked out several  mommyisms like; “If you don’t stop fighting I will take away all your gifts.” Or the always popular, “don’t make me get the spatula.” My warnings went unheeded.

Christopher, who was nine at the time, decided this was the day to make his fateful stand against mommy and thus it began. Stretched to my limits, I used the last weapon in my arsenal…the “soap in the mouth” strategy. Not to be deterred, he blurted out the fateful words that sealed the deal. Left with no recourse, I scraped the soap under his front teeth and stepped back. The rest of the children looked on with baited breath, almost afraid to move and thus draw my wrath in their direction.  There was a distinct stillness in the air before he smacked his lips, smiled blithely at me and said… “ummm, tastes better than your waffles.”

Yes indeed, he went for my final button, the one with the big red warning sign, “push at your own risk.” I can’t recall exactly how I got on top of him so fast and what occurred next, but suffice it to say he is still alive and that Christmas has been burned into our psyches for life.

Another preposterous Christmas tale involved daddy working once again. This Christmas morning after going through the loot left by Santa, a fight erupted over some pop cans. Seriously? you might ask. Yes, the little ingrates fought over pop cans. We were all heading for a meltdown brought on by too much sugar, cabin fever, and another fatherless Christmas. Warning after warning went unheeded and then it happened, I snapped as mothers often do. Grabbing a black trash bag with as much flourish as I could muster, I proclaimed that they could all “kiss their Christmas gifts goodbye” and like the Grinch, I grabbed up each gift and tossed it into my bag. I marched upstairs, locked the door, and sobbed. I could hear them all outside the door crying. What had brought us to this moment on the most joyful morning of all?  It was then, through the door, that I heard one of them say what could only be described as ludicrous…  “I think she’s gonna jump.” If it wasn’t so sad it would have been comical. I tried to respond right away and was cut off by another saying between sobs, “if she jumps, I’m jumping too.” The sheer absurdity of such statements was farcical. What do you say to that? We should have all gone back to bed and started the day over again.

I share these crazy stories because it not only gives you a peek into my whacky world but I hope it also brings a little laughter to yours. God knows we could use more joy on this planet. May your family make some crazy memories this Christmas… ones you can laugh at for years to come.