JP and Lorelei Savaryn: All Things Catholic, Family, Life
Author: JP and Lorelei Savaryn
This Catholic Family is run by JP and Lorelei Savaryn. JP holds a PhD in biomedical science and works as a scientist in the greater Chicago area. Lorelei is a Catholic convert, children's author, and teacher. She was confirmed in 2016, and her conversion journey is available to watch on an episode of The Journey Home. She is a regular contributor on Catholic Mom. JP and Lorelei were married in 2007. They live outside Chicago with their four children and pet dog.
Historically, I have struggled when the young people in my care make poor choices. I have tended to take their decisions personally, and to see those moments as a failure on my part, thinking that their choices reflect badly on me.
As a parent, this has caused me to turn inward on myself, ruminating on how I am failing my kids and students, because, obviously, if I weren’t, they would be perfect little saints.
Even writing that sentence, I have to smile. Because removed from the heat of the moment, I can see how silly it is to think that. But in the moment itself, that is exactly the kind of thinking I have tended to engage in. If my children or students choose poorly, then, to me, that means I am somehow failing as a parent or teacher.
However, in doing this, I make my place in the grand scheme of things distorted, larger than life, out of proportion. As if me doing everything right (an impossible task) will somehow result in the people in my care doing everything right as well.
When I set myself back down in my proper place amongst the bigger picture, and zoom out even a little bit, I can gain a better perspective.
For example, it isn’t God’s fault that we choose to sin. It isn’t a bad reflection on God, and it doesn’t mean that God is anything less than a good, good Father to us.
In fact, our ability to choose is a reflection of His goodness to us.
Those opportunities to choose—even if we choose wrongly, are chances to learn and carve away those parts of ourselves that are not yet fully conformed to love. It allows us to choose love in the first place. We need to see the difference between where we are now and where we have the potential to be so we know how to orient ourselves moving forward. Our failures are a beautiful opportunity to learn and to move closer to Him.
The same applies to me and my relationships with my children and students. As a person entrusted with young people both in my home and in my classroom, I am learning to view these opportunities as a gift. When they make poor choices, I can get a good look at areas where my children and students have an opportunity to grow in character and holiness. And I have the honor of helping to guide them on that path.
Those moments have, in some ways, very little to do with me at all, other than the fact that they are opportunities for me to step up in my role as one who guides young people, and to help them turn back to love. To grow their virtue muscles. To help them see the difference between who they are today and who they can be, and to spur them forward. To encourage them. To help light the way.
When I view things like that, I put myself in my proper place. I put their choices in their proper place. And I can even rejoice at this thing called Free Will, and the opportunity it offers us to be sanctified throughout our lives so, when the time comes, we will be ready to meet God, Love itself, with arms wide open.
And so, in the end, it isn’t a poor reflection on me when the youth in my care make the wrong choice. In fact, it is an honor to be present, and to be ever at the ready to help.
As an introvert mom to four and Catholic school teacher, I know two things to be true. I love working with youth and being a mom. I also know that I am often overstimulated, and that in order to do my job and my parenting well, I need to set aside regular time to rest.
Easier said than done in the day-to-day hustle and bustle, but when I don’t rest, many of my less-than-amazing traits shine through. The impatience, the feeling overwhelmed, the irritability. The need has always been there, but rest has looked different at different phases of life for me. There hasn’t been a magic rest recipe that has worked well all the time. There have been times when I have tried to rigidly schedule rest, but I found that certain days I need certain things more than others, and sometimes the scheduled “rest” didn’t match what I needed at all, and therefore it felt more like a burden than anything else.
So I let go of the rigidity, and recently, here is what I’ve done that I’ve found helpful. And I hope some of you may find it helpful, too.
I started by making a list of things that recharge me. Things that, for me, constitute as rest. Some items on the list were a hot bath, reading a book, enjoying a nice glass of wine with my husband, writing or creating something, taking a walk, prayer, journaling, just sitting in a quiet space, taking a nap, doing a workout, and so on.
And then, rather than sticking to some regimented schedule of predetermined rest activities, I allow myself the freedom to choose what would best help me in that given moment. I do this by taking care to be mindful throughout the week of how I’m feeling. Am I overstimulated? Maybe I need to let my husband take care of making dinner so I can go enjoy a quiet bath when he gets home from work. Am I low energy? Some days, I might cure feeling tired with an energetic workout. Others, I may shut my eyes for a little while for a nap.
I’ve learned that right now a lot of my rest involves accepting the introvert inside me and stepping away from people for a little while, whatever that looks like. When I do that, I’m much better for everyone when I return.
One thing that remains relatively constant is setting aside regular time to pray. This often happens early in the morning, before the rest of the house has stirred. It’s not natural for me to get up at 5:00 AM, or even 5:30, but it is the best chance I have at quiet before the day begins for everyone else in my home. I do this four or five times per week, and it acts as an anchor to my days.
It can be very easy for us moms to push aside our need for rest, to put the needs of others above our own. I often smile when I think that even God rested, and I feel the value of rest in my soul when I see how much better I am for those I love and serve when I prioritize resting too.
Rest will not look the same for every person, and it probably won’t look the same every day, but if we can take time to recognize the things that recharge us, and allow ourselves to take the time when needed, then I trust that we are better equipped to live our calling in whatever phase of life God has us in today.
I think how we raise our kids in the faith is likely formed, at least to some extent, by how we were raised in our own. If we had a good experience that developed a rich faith life, or if we encountered struggles or poor examples or formation in some way still lingers in our minds and in our hearts.
There are moms who do an amazing job at liturgical living, or who are faithfully and frequently found with rosary beads in their hands. Moms who take their kids to Adoration often, to Confession often. Moms who homeschool and love it.
Since converting to Catholicism in 2016, I have tried on many different Catholic-mom hats. We do love celebrating liturgical days and feasts, but not all of them. We do love praying the Rosary, but it’s not my most frequent devotion. We love going to family Adoration, and would love to do that more often than we have. There were many parts about homeschooling that I loved, but in January of this year we enrolled our kids at a local Catholic school and I am beginning work there as a teacher. That particular move has been better for our family in many ways.
At first, I think I felt like I wasn’t a complete Catholic mom, in some ways, because I didn’t fit neatly into one of the boxes I had created in my mind about what a Catholic mom should be. But over this past year, that has changed. I am realizing that Catholic moms come in as wide a variety as the women who embody that name.
And, for me, I have come to accept that the thing that I lean most into as a Catholic mom is encouraging my kids to think deeply about the faith, to ask good, rich questions, and then to walk them down a path of knowing that there are deep, good, rich answers to be found. I also want them to love the liturgy, to see the beauty in ritual and tradition, and to know that we are connected profoundly to the Christians who have come before us.
This is likely formed by my childhood growing up in a fundamentalist-leaning but also somehow charismatic evangelical church. I was taught that faith and science are sometimes at odds with each other. I didn’t know there was depth to be found past the basic tenets of the Gospel, and when I became an adult my despair that there may not be deep answers to be found lead me towards agnosticism.
My husband had similar experiences within the Catholic Church, where he grew up knowing the rules but not understanding why they were there.
So, together, it has become very important for us to let our kids ask questions, to explain the whys of our faith, and then to hope and to trust that when they go off on their own some years from now, that they will find they have a firm foundation to stand on. My prayer is that they will feel safe at home.
I am the It’s okay to wonder and ask deep questions kind of Catholic mom, along with a sprinkling of the other kinds too. And that’s one of the beautiful things about our faith: that rich diversity is what makes the Church. God has given us each unique passions and gifts and calls, and we can all be ourselves fully within our Catholic home.
As someone who has spent most of my life in the Evangelical world, and who has spent the last few years in the Catholic world, ‘homemaking’ is something I’ve heard often in both places. There are books written about homemaking and podcasts about it. People talk about it—and we seem to all know what the idea of homemaking means.
When I think of the word homemaking, it conjures up images of throw pillows, and softly slung blankets across the arms of chairs. Fresh baked muffins and clean floors. Cute little artsy things on the walls and mantel that were probably purchased from Target or Hobby Lobby. A friend and I were talking recently about how even those more ‘surface’ level connotations are kind of difficult to swallow sometimes, especially if there are stains all over your pillows and couches from grubby little fingers, or if you don’t enjoy hanging cutesy things on the walls.
But there are some deeper connotations, too, and I wonder if other women feel the same way.
It’s not that I don’t want to make my house a home, it’s that I don’t want to feel like ‘home’ has to look a certain way for me to fit my identity as a Catholic Christian woman.
We stopped homeschooling in January, and that has been the best thing for our family. I haven’t always been a stay-at-home mom. I’m currently the owner of a mobile children’s bookshop and an author of middle-grade novels, but I’ve also been a teacher. Our home has looked different in all of those seasons, but I don’t think that at any point it has been any more or less a home.
Sometimes my husband does the laundry. Never do either of us iron any of our clothes unless we’re going to a wedding. I can’t sew anything more than a button. I am horrible with yeast. Do not ask me to make anything that requires ‘rising’ because it will not work. But these are all things that I’ve felt, at one time or another, has been presented as the proper way to make a home by women in faith communities, both Evangelical and Catholic.
I think it may be helpful for us to reframe our idea of what homemaking means. To broaden it, and give it room to breathe. To create space for the diversity of women of faith, our unique gifts and strengths, and the different phases of our lives.
What about leaving the floor for later and going outside to play with your kids? That’s homemaking too. Really, really good homemaking. What about letting the grubby little fingerprints on the fridge go so you can sit down with a coffee and read a book? That’s homemaking, because our peace of mind impacts everyone else. What about letting go of the expectation that we need to entertain our kids all the time to the point that we burn out, and accept that creating a stable home with a predictable routine is also making a home?
While I personally love a good throw pillow, having seasonal throw pillows does not make a home. I am a big fan of creative ways to display pumpkins in the fall, but having decorative pumpkins is not in any way the essence of homemaking either. I’ve seen too many situations that look amazing on the surface, but when you peel back a few layers, you see a lot of brokenness and hurt. A pretty house can be an indicator of a true home, but it also can cover up struggle. And when we equate these superficial, first world Christian Woman expectations with being a Good Catholic Mother, then I think that leaves room for us to hide the struggles, or puts pressure on us to do things that may not be our strengths.
In the end, true homemaking is about a safe, and joy-filled, and peaceful home where hearts are safe to grow into what God made them to be.
That’s it, that is homemaking. That is making a home.
I’d love to hear what you think about homemaking—if it’s a concept you’ve embraced (which is great, if that’s you!), if it’s a word that you also struggle with, or if you just have never carried the emotional burdens like I have (haha). I’d love to know your thoughts.
My mom, Linda, is an amazingly strong lady. She’s known for her hospitality and service to the community. She’s fought many battles and won them. And she’s being asked to fight a familiar battle once again.
We found out recently that she has breast cancer for the second time, unrelated to her first cancer from 9 years ago. She will soon be undergoing surgery and weeks of radiation following.
I’m sending this out as a prayer request for all the surgery and treatment to go well, for things to be simple and straightforward, and for her recovery to be swift and complete. I had the honor of being my mom’s confirmation sponsor a few years back as she became Catholic, and Mom’s spiritual foundation is strong. I know it will help her through, especially with the prayers of others joined in with our own. Unless something changes, surgery is scheduled for Sept 1.
I’m also sharing an additional need. Her and my step-dad are owners of The Astor House Bed and Breakfast in Green Bay, Wisconsin. They receive so many five star reviews about their welcoming home, and they serve the most amazing homemade breakfasts to guests each morning. Many of Mom’s baked goods have won ribbons at the County Fair :).
Because of this diagnosis, they will have to operate on a limited capacity as Mom undergoes treatment. The unexpected loss of revenue from this, on the heels of recovering from Covid closures, will be a challenge. My brother and I set up a GoFundMe for her, to help bridge the income gap. If you are able to share or donate, we would be so very grateful.
The topic of contraception has been very much in the spotlight lately, perhaps more than usual, and it seemed like a good time to share a bit more about how we navigate family planning in our marriage in the hopes that it will be helpful. It feels especially fitting to share this during NFP week this year!
Please note that nothing in this article is meant as a substitute for official training in NFP methods. It is intended as an introduction and brief overview. If you’re interested, please reach out to me or connect with one of the resources below to learn more. I will also be using the terms NFP and fertility awareness interchangeably in this post, since they are both terms to describe the same thing.
Why I Don’t Use Birth Control
To start, I utilized hormonal contraception, as some of us are prescribed to do for other things, long before I used it for contraceptive purposes, and long before I ever imagined I’d be Catholic. There are religious reasons that contributed to why we decided to stop using this form of contraception, but I’m going to steer clear of those here and focus on the other reasons why I stopped, which are plentiful as well.
You don’t have to do more than a simple Google search to get a list of side-effects of hormonal contraception. The list is long. I had a lot of the side-effects. It wasn’t great.
I also started to question the concept of hormonal contraception in the first place. My fertility is a healthy, functioning part of my body, and I couldn’t think of any other heathy, functioning parts of a person’s body that we artificially and long-term suppress. We usually treat conditions in which our bodies are sick, or not functioning like they are supposed to. Why was I acting like my fertility was something that needed treatment vs. something to be understood?
This is all not to mention my general discomfort in putting artificial hormones into my body on a consistent basis for years at a time. Or the fact that hormonal contraception puts the responsibility for not getting pregnant squarely on the woman’s shoulders, which didn’t feel equitable.
I kept questioning why there wasn’t anything better out there? Something that was, perhaps, respectful of my fertility, and let me understand my body so I could make effective decisions on when I did or did not want more children?
Turned out, there is something better out there. Fertility Awareness, or as it is also known, NFP.
(I will immediately add the disclaimer that I am not going to be talking about an app that tracks your fertility. You can use an app if you want to help record your data, or you can do it on paper, but apps themselves cannot tell you accurately when you are and are not fertile. More on what you can do to know that information below.)
A bit of background. My husband holds a PhD in biomedical science. I have a Master’s degree, and work as an author. I am of the opinion that fertility awareness is something that would benefit so many women, but is not discussed among family planning options nearly as much as it should be. It’s also incredibly easy to do for most women. Once you learn it, it becomes part of your routine and doesn’t take much time at all.
A bit of data. When used accurately, fertility awareness is statistically as effective as an IUD or perfect use of the pill. Sources at the bottom of this post.
Fertility Awareness teaches a woman to understand her body, which can help her achieve pregnancy or avoid it. Anecdotally, we have been utilizing Fertility Awareness since 2016, and have had 2 children intentionally and have avoided pregnancy the rest of the time with success.
How Does It Work?
We use a combination of sympto-thermal and Marquette methods for tracking my fertility. Here’s a sample month, starting on day 10 of my cycle until the end.
3 Things To Note:
At the very bottom you can see the letters L, H, and P. I use the Clear Blue Fertility Monitor starting a few days into my cycle (the monitor prompts you on which day you need to begin to test). It reads L for low, when it does not detect estrogen. It reads H for high when estrogen is detected, and this lets me know that my body is preparing to ovulate and I’m potentially fertile. It reads P for peak when it detects luteinizing hormone, which means that ovulation is imminent. This is wildly helpful for family planning purposes whether or not you are hoping to get pregnant, for obvious reasons.
The information in the middle of the chart (The colored bars, circles, etc.) relate to cervical fluid changes and other related pieces. Cervical fluid changes in consistency leading up to ovulation, and you can see peak cervical fluid (the yellow bars) just before my monitor reads peak, which is wonderful corroboration.
And finally, my favorite piece, are the lines and dots at the top, which track my BBT or basal body temperature. You can use an actual thermometer for this, or there are rings and wristbands you can use to digitally track this for you. Basically, your resting temp (after 3-4 hours of sleep), taken before you get up and move around, can help confirm if you’ve ovulated. In this sample chart, my temp is consistently below a certain point until just after peak. That rise lets me know that I’ve ovulated, and it is caused by an increase in progesterone after ovulation. I am past fertility on the evening of the 3rd day of the temp rise in this chart because the unfertilized egg is gone. If you are pregnant, this temp will actually stay high, and can be an early way to know if you’ve conceived. If you are not, it will drop back down as progesterone drops and your period approaches. I can not only confirm ovulation via my BBT, but I can also know with a high level of certainty when my cycle is about to start and I’m never caught off guard.
Fun fact- The amount of time between a new cycle starting and ovulation can vary greatly! It can be impacted by travel, sickness, interrupted sleep, stress, etc. With Fertility Awareness you never have to stress out if your period doesn’t arrive on its usual schedule. You can know from the data that you ovulated late, and therefore that it will be a longer cycle overall.
But, the other part of that fact is your luteal phase- from ovulation to a new cycle starting, doesn’t vary much. It’s pretty consistent within a day or so no matter what. If you have a really short luteal phase (shorter than 10 days often), it may be time to check with your doctor though to make sure that your progesterone levels are normal.
If this is something that you are interested in learning more about, please feel free to message, comment, or email. Or check out the resources below for training. Paying attention to my body and recording this data has become such a natural, small, easy part of my daily rhythm. I have pretty regular cycles, but Fertility Awareness can also be for those who have irregular cycles too. It can even be a tool to help you figure out what’s going on in there instead of putting a band-aid on the problem.
Why Check out Fertility Awareness/NFP?
And now, a bit of my personal story. Since using Fertility Awareness, I feel like I know my body better, and that I am respecting how my body works, which is very empowering. There is nothing wrong with my body and my fertility, and changing from suppressing it to understanding it has been amazing.
This is a team effort. If you have a partner or a husband, they can get involved in many ways, from recording the data, to running the monitor each morning. It also increases communication between couples on a regular bases about their family planning goals, which is a beautiful, healthy thing.
I also have friends who, through Fertility Awareness, were able to identify hormonal issues that would have likely led to miscarriage if they were not addressed (often, low progesterone). They were able to get medical care and remedy those issues and not lose their children from a preventable cause.
Now that I’m here and have seen the benefits, I would never in a million years go back. I’m happy to answer specific questions too if you have them! Feel free to get in touch.
As someone who is a wife, mom of four, and who also writes books for children, I get asked a lot how I “do it all.”
And on the surface, I do a lot of different things, wear a lot of different hats. However, I don’t do it all, and I don’t do everything all the time. There are ebbs and flows to this season of life. Times where I must lean into one thing and lean away from the other. As I’m writing this, my kids are running around the house with a frantic energy that will likely lead to tears from someone any moment. But I do think that it’s important for us to talk about how much is possible as a mother, especially if you love being a mom and also have big dreams of some kind—whether they be creative, or business related, or both.
There’s this idea in our culture that babies and dreams are two separate entities entirely. You can be a mom, or you can pursue your passions. There’s the notion that we must set our dreams aside during the years that we are raising little people. While there is a need to be flexible, and to make space for flexibility that raising kids requires, I’ve found it more than possible to have a family and pursue my dreams.
And I think you can too.
My experience has also been one of exuberant support. My husband helps me troubleshoot and make space for the more intense periods of work that come with deadlines and revisions. We’ve adjusted work schedules, negotiating babysitting and help cleaning the house. There were times, before I ever knew I’d make any money selling my books, where we just found ways to fit writing time in, even if it meant a quick trip to a coffee shop in the evening. I’ve written from the driver’s seat of my minivan, and I’ve written while pizza cooked in the oven. My work right now is not often luxurious, and my time is not plentiful. But it is life-giving for my soul to be able to lean into this passion at this stage of life.
I’ve learned that when I’m not able to pursue writing in any way, when weeks go by without any filled pages, that my cup is empty, and I’m not as good for my family as I am when my creative well is full. When I write, I lose track of time, lost in magical worlds and the journeys my characters undertake. When I write, I feel like I’m doing one of the things I was made to do. Kind of like how I feel when reading my kids a bedtime story, or watching them learn about and lean into the things they love. They are both a part of who I was made to be, and I feel closer to God in both my roles as a mother and an author.
If anything, pursuing my dream while I have kids at home has pushed me to do my absolute best. I know my children are watching, and I want to make them proud.
Over the past few years, I’ve often drawn inspiration from St. Zélie, mother to St. Thérèse of Lisieux. She and her husband Louis were canonized together, and in that they represent for me an example of a strong, supportive marriage. Zélie raised holy children, and in that is an example to me of motherhood. She also owned her own lace business, and in that she is an example to me of a woman contributing to her family and doing the thing that she loved.
For anyone who has big dreams but has been too nervous to pursue them, or for anyone who is going after their dream with kids at home, please know you are not alone. It took me ten years before I got brave enough to even try, to even acknowledge that this is part of what I was created to contribute to this world. Your work has value, just as your motherhood has value. The messages about some sort of inherent contradiction between babies and dreams are a lie.
And while it isn’t always easy, at least for me, it’s certainly been worth it.
I’ve been finding great joy lately leaning into my “Catholic Mom-ness.” The list below is built of little, thoughtful things beyond the crucifixes and rosaries that are often found in a Catholic home. They have made me smile time and time again in the middle of the noise that is raising and homeschooling our four kids.
St. Zelie Motherhood T-Shirt
One of my favorite Saints of all time is St. Zelie Martin. In fact, I admire her so much that we have a daughter named Zelie! So when I found this shirt, containing one of Zelie’s quotes that has most inspired me as a parent, I had to put it on my Christmas list this year. The fabric is so soft, which is an added bonus! Available on Etsy and CaelistiCo.com.
Do What Makes You Holy Wall Art
Our culture promotes the god of happiness pretty much everywhere we look. “This toy will make you happy, this skin cream will make you happy, this car will make you happy.” We’re trying very hard to teach our kids that the only thing that will truly make them happy is God, and growing into the person He created them to be. We’ve hung this wall art in a prominent position in the hall that everyone passes by multiple times a day as a sweet yet poignant reminder.
Hardy Design Boutique, a lovely Catholic shop on Etsy, offers this sentiment as a keychain, sticker, and sometimes wall art as well.
For $5, Rosebud Print Design also offers a printable download of this beautiful truth that you can frame yourself.
Raising Saints Requires More Coffee Mug
I use this mug from Cause Of Our Joy Studio almost daily! It reminds me of the truth that I am raising my children for God, but that it is a big task, and that coffee can be helpful. And when things get a bit overwhelming, it makes me smile and brings me back to the most important things.
Salve Regina Candle
I think we moms can sometimes tend to brush aside self-care in favor of giving everything to our families. I got this candle from House of Joppa recently in order to remind myself that part of being a good mom is making sure I take care of myself, too. It has become my frequent companion when the 2-year-old is napping and I take a bit of time to sit and read. Little moments can become luxuries with intentional details like the gorgeous scent of this candle, built of roses, black currant, and sunshine.
If you’re looking for fresh artistic representations of the saints to display in your home, then MrsTorresCreates on Etsy might just be the shop for you. Each member of our family has either a first or middle name after a saint, and we ordered a beautiful colored print of each saint from this shop to frame and put on the wall of our house, with a metal “Pray for Us” sign directly above it. I love classic representations of the saints as well, but these paintings fit so nicely with the aesthetic of our home, and I was delighted to find the great variety of saints the artist has available.
There are so many fun and innovative ways to embrace Catholic living, direct from amazing Catholic creators! These are only a few, but they’ve made a difference in our home in the best of ways.
A few days a week, I get to a point where I ask (usually in exasperation): “Why can’t I even just finish a single thought?!”
It’s often after hours of homeschooling the kids, trying to place online grocery pick up, folding a basket of laundry, sending a few emails, feeding the children, in a flurry that often feels like a juggling act in a domestic circus. I will freely admit that I sometimes don’t juggle very well. I stare at a few pieces of laundry, sitting folded on the couch nearly all day while the rest of the basket sits untouched. An email languishes, half-composed in my inbox. I’m still in my pajamas at lunchtime because I waited, ever so naively, for a peaceful moment to sneak away.
My brain is even more fragmented than the physical world around me. Four kids at four different developmental stages all ask me different questions and need different things on a near-constant rotation. Someone could scream at any time, or excitedly slam a door, or hurt themselves and need my support.
Once, last month, after planning a very nice Advent activity that got interrupted about five bajillion times, I asked, in front of my children, “Why do I even bother?”
The answer came only seconds later, and I’m glad I ended up saying both the question and the answer out loud.
And the answer was this: “Because I love you. That’s why I bother.”
We all had a moment of exhale after that, and we kept forging on, as we always do.
Sometimes the interruption is to show me something they’re proud of.
Sometimes it’s to ask about something they’re curious about.
Sometimes it’s because they need help with something.
To be sure, not all interruptions even have the potential of being pleasant. A tattle, a fight born out of selfishness, those are the really tough ones for me. How can we just finish talking about being loving and then go off and do selfish things? But even those, no matter how much my heart pinches when I see it, are chances for me to help my kids (and myself) turn back to love.
I’m not very good at accepting interruptions, at least not at the frequency I receive them these days. I like to start tasks and finish them, but the truth is, many of the tasks my kids interrupt aren’t truly emergencies. They aren’t things that are vital for me to complete in any given moment. Truly, sometimes the most important thing is closing my laptop and leaving that email unfinished so I can look at my son’s newest Lego build, or my daughter’s picture. It’s just not always easy, in the moment of the interruption itself, to see it.
I think back over 2,000 years ago when God made what could probably be considered the biggest interruption of all. He literally interrupted time with Himself incarnate. Some people were ready for the interruption, and accepted it gladly. For others, it took a while. For still others, it was hard to accept it at all, and still is to this day. But that great interruption paved the way for humanity to be restored in union with God, through the person of Jesus.
I’m so, so glad, even with all the varied spectrum of reception, that God bothered. And He bothered because He loves us. I hope my kids continue to bother too, because I want to see their creations. I want to hear their hearts. I want to put band-aids on their wounds. I want to keep trying to do cool things with them, even if it doesn’t go as smoothly as I hoped.
Interruptions can be good. And, at least once, a great interruption saved us all.
May we all strive to look a bit more kindly on interruptions this new year, as there are sure to be plenty. May we see the opportunity hidden inside them, and learn to let go of ourselves and lean into what they might have to teach us.
While spending time with my husband and brother recently, I said: “I don’t know if either of you know this, but I can sometimes be a bit rigid.” They laughed, because it’s true. I laughed, because it’s true. It was a good, lighthearted moment.
But now, a few days later, when reflecting on that rare time spent together (my brother lives several states away and was with us for a brief visit), I realize that even my ability to say that, and then to laugh about it, is actually a marker of a significant amount of growth over the past couple of years.
Some of the pieces of my past have led me to tend toward wanting to control as many variables as possible in my life. Things not going according to plan used to have the ability to send me into a spiral of anxiety. I’ve been doing a lot of work to dig deep into these things in order to not pass them along to my children.
I used to measure success by how many things I accomplished on my to-do list, and whether the kids and I got everything done by sticking to my self-imposed schedule.
Emphasizing the Wrong Things
I’ve been learning, sometimes through fire, that all those things, like getting tasks accomplished when I hoped, or even getting everything done at all, puts an overemphasis on the things of this world, including time, productivity, and what I perceive to be ‘good’ behavior from my kids. I was in danger of sometimes falling into the trap of thinking “My kids are well behaved, so I must be doing a good job as a mom.”
It didn’t leave a lot of room for flexibility, or mistakes, or, the most important of all, all of our journeys to, hopefully, sainthood.
My ultimate goal as a mother is to help my children grow into the people God created them to be. To become the saint God intends them to be.
So I’ve been working very hard to flip my normal tendencies on their head. How about, instead of seeing a conflict between the kids as some kind of failure, I see it as an opportunity to teach them how to apologize, forgive, and then make amends. To take a moment of sin or selfishness and support them in facing it head on and doing the hard work to overcome it.
Sticking to a schedule or having everything go exactly according to plan is of such small importance compared to their souls.
A New Way to Measure Success
At the end of the day, I’m working toward measuring success in an entirely different way than I have in the past. Instead of asking if everything went according to my plan, I’m trying a new question.
And that question is this: “Did I support my children in their journey toward becoming the people God created them to be?”
Even if the kids fought every ten minutes. Even if the kitchen is a mess. Even if we only got math done and nothing else for homeschool. Even if I’m exhausted. I want to see my kids in heaven. I want them to go off into the world one day loving God and seeking Him all the days of their lives. That is, unequivocally, the most important thing.
There are so many messages bombarding us mothers these days about what “good” motherhood looks like. It can be so easy to fall into the trap of comparing, of pushing to do more, of measuring up to some standard of success someone else has set for us or that we’ve set for ourselves.
If anyone else struggles with rigidity, or the great tendency to view the immediate moment as the most important thing, please know you aren’t alone. It’s hard, when we’re in this skin and inside of time, to maintain a view of the eternal.
Even Saint Zélie, mother of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, had bad days. In one of her letters, she writes: “Oh well, that’s the day so far, and it’s still only noon. If this continues I will be dead by this evening! You see, at the moment, life seems so heavy for me to bear, and I don’t have the courage because everything looks black to me.”
But she also said this: “For me, our children were a great compensation, so I wanted to have a lot of them in order to raise them for Heaven.” And she did raise her children for heaven.
That is success as a parent. That is the ultimate goal. May we ask God for the grace to see each and every day in light of the eternal, and do the same.