Mother

A little bit of love in a muffin tin

JiffyNever be without a box of Jiffy muffin mix.

That was the bottom line for my mom, who loved to give guests something fresh from the oven.

As a mom who worked outside the home, quick and easy was a welcomed choice, and you couldn’t get any quicker or easier than Jiffy. Still, we loved the small yellow muffins hot out of the oven, sometimes with a pat of butter or a dusting of powdered sugar. But on weekends, when she had more time, she would sometimes make ma'amoul, a Syrian pastry, or Syrian bread – both worth the time and effort.

She was proud to share her ma’amouls with my cousins when family came to visit. I suspect there was a bit of a rivalry between aunts as to who could make the best ma’amoul, but if it meant my mom would keep trying to make it better, I was happy to be the taste tester.

Today, it’s the one family favorite I continue to make.

My mother-in-law, Muriel, on the other hand, preferred Entenmann’s. My sister-in-law once said to me, “If I ever bring an Entenmann’s cake to a party, shoot me!” We were both about home-made in our younger years. Not so much anymore!

I have often recalled the many animated, and sometimes, loud “discussions” that took place at the table set with a plate of muffins or ma’amoul or coffeecake, and sometimes wonder what it was like at Mary’s house during those years of Jesus’ grounding. (You know, after Mary and Joseph find the 12 year old in the temple after he was missing for three days? You think there’s not a reason why we don’t hear from him again until he’s 30? Mary was no push-over.)

Of course, my less than theological version of Jesus’ time at home, working as a carpenter alongside Joseph, does not do justice to a time that served as a profound experience of Jesus’ growing “in wisdom and grace,” before beginning his ministry at exactly the right time – God’s time.

Still, I wonder what it was like for guests at the home of Mary and Joseph while Jesus was there.

What did Mary serve her guests? What did she bake? Did she participate in the conversations? What were the loud discussions around the table?  And assuredly they would be loud if they were about religion! Did guests from Nazareth, their home town, chastise Jesus, as one of their own, for thinking he knew everything? What was the dynamic between Jesus and the guests, or even Jesus and Joseph?

So many questions, so few answers, other than those that might be expected from the culture of the time. But thinking about the unknown life of the Holy Family, reminds me that they were just that – a family, like mine, with the same challenges and joys. And Mary was a mother, like me, dealing with all the same issues and relationships that we each deal with, from putting muffins on the table to following a child to the cross.

I often think how good it would be to have Mary to tea, and muffins, and talk about the old days.


A mother's presence is full of lessons

Frogs on love seatAs we continue the work of restoring our home in Ortley Beach, so heavily damaged from Sandy, it’s interesting to note what survived the storm that took whole houses from their foundations.  A sentimental survival from our yard was a small cement statue of two frogs sitting on a love seat. My father, who gave the statue to my mom on the occasion of their 25th anniversary, had the umbrella under which the frogs sat painted with the anniversary dates of their wedding.

The statue is beat up, but the cracks and chips only serve to remind me of what life, and marriage, is all about. It also is a reminder, for me, of the two different people who were my parents. Two people who taught me many things, but each in their own way.

While my father taught me much with words, written and spoken, my mother taught me by her presence. Her gracious hospitality, her devotion to her family, her integrity, generosity and willingness to sacrifice for those she loved are all lessons I learned just from being in her presence.

A look at Scripture reveals the same for Mary. There are only four times in the Bible when we “hear” Mary’s words – when she speaks with the angel during the Annunciation, when she meets Elizabeth and she speaks the words of her Magnificat, when she finds Jesus in the temple  and when she intervenes at the wedding in Cana.

Throughout the rest of the New Testament we come to know Mary simply through her devoted presence with Jesus throughout his ministry.  We do not hear her speak, but we know she was there, in all the moments of his life, in the joy, in the disappointment, in the pain, in the grief.

As a mother, I have turned to Mary often as I travel those moments with my sons, and now their families, as well, continuing to draw strength and wisdom from Mary’s example.

When I consider the last words of Mary recorded in Scripture, I think that perhaps there was no reason to record any more, for her few last words reflect the most profound wisdom ever offered: Do whatever he tells you. 

What else is there to say?


In any storm, a mother's love never gives up

SnowsuitWith the newest snow storm upon us, I am reminded of winters in upstate NY and a mother who dressed me reminiscent of the younger son in The Christmas Story – stuffed into a snowsuit like sausage into a casing and double wrapped with scarves and gloves, and mittens on top. My dad wasn’t so tough a clothing task master. With him, there was more chance of bending a joint, and
getting frostbite.  I think it had something to do with a mother’s love.

To be sure, one of the constants in my life growing up was my mother. I never doubted for a moment that she could move mountains for me if I needed them moved. Yes, she had the “snowsuit” tendency to be overprotective, but in the important times she allowed me to fly, in spite of the pain it caused her. And in all things, she was always there for me when I needed her, perhaps not happy with my choices, but always offering her love, none-the-less.

Lately, when the local Christian radio show plays a song by Passion, “One Thing Remains,” I find myself thinking of her, and of Mary, especially as Mary followed Jesus during his years of ministry, right up to his death on the cross where she stood at his feet, held fast to him, in his agony and hers, by a mother’s love. His thoughts could have been similar to the words of the song:

 “Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me … And it’s higher than the mountains that I face and it’s stronger than the power of the grave and constant in the trial and the change, this one thing remains. … your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me…”

May the love of Jesus and Mary be ours to give.


Image from manicexpresssive.blogspot.com

Never underestimate the value of spit

MomspitOn the way to work I heard a woman call in to a Christian radio station to respond to the question, “What have your children taught you?” She shared the story of her two daughters, one 4 months and one 19 months old. When the younger one was crying, the older one tried to comfort her by calling out her name and making cooing noises. When that didn’t work she went to the crib, took the pacifier out of her own mouth and plopped it into the mouth of her baby sister.

 The mom said she learned that sometimes words are not enough when it comes to comforting someone. Sometimes it required a personal touch, real presence.

 The radio announcer said the story reminded him of mother’s spit, a reference most moms would recognize immediately. Whether I was a toddler, teen or know-it-all mother of my own children, my mom wouldn’t hesitate to use one of the chief weapons in a mom’s arsenal of kid care – spit. And though I grimaced and squirmed and pulled away each time, I relied on the same tool myself as a mom of often dirty, scratched, bleeding or bitten sons.

 Mom’s spit is a healing, cleansing balm, intended as a course of care, contrary to the insulting practice of spitting on someone.

 Spit works. Jesus knew it, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he learned it from his mother, Mary. So when two blind men, and a third with a speech impediment, need healing, Jesus uses divine spit to release the men from their disabilities – a personal, intimate touch to be sure.

 Theologians are likely to interpret the story with more exacting attention to doctrine and prevailing customs of Jesus’ time, but for me, it’s enough to remember the miracle of spit – and the power of love made known through a mother’s caring, albeit sloppy, touch.


A mother's appreciation for Inspector Gadget

Inspector_Gadget1While babysitting for my delightful grandson, Jacob, my oldest son was showing me where to find all the accoutrements for making coffee. Much of what I needed was on the top shelf of an upper cabinet, difficult for me to reach.

“How does Nikki reach these things,” I queried, referring to my petite daughter-in-law who stands at least several inches shorter than me.

“She has go-go gadget legs,” he quickly retorted. “You should remember that; all mothers get them in the hospital when the babies are born.”

Thinking back to the popular cartoon show, Inspector Gadget, which my sons often watched, I had to laugh at the image, but also at the fact that he was basically right. New mothers seem to find a way to do anything they need to do, as if they have been given superpowers, or at least outfitted with a never ending supply of James Bond paraphernalia.

Certainly, I had my own version of go-go gadget legs, arms, fingers and eyes while raising my six sons. But I’ve been noticing the past few years that the warranty must be up, because my seeming superpowers have, for the most part, petered out.

I think it goes hand-in-go-go-gadget hand with the empty nest syndrome; the many legged version of the supply and demand principle.

But things are looking up. Today, when my grandson was moving precariously towards the edge of couch, my go-go gadget knees kicked in and I lept across a space insurmountable just months ago. I actually beat him into the kitchen when his two- year-old legs propelled him too close to the hot stove. Even he was shocked.

And now that grandchild number two has arrived, I’m sensing a resurgence of power.

It seems the empty nest was just a time and space to refuel and recharge all the moving parts for round two.


Navigating the sea of change in an empty nest

Empty%20nestWhen the oldest of my sons was preparing to leave for college, I spent the last night of our family vacation sobbing like I would never see him again. Even as I cried, I tried to analyze why I was behaving so irrationally, considering he was only going to Pennsylvania.

 “It must be all about our mortality,” I mused soulfully, assuming there is always a profound, often obscure meaning behind all human behavior. It couldn’t possibly be as simple as I was going to miss him.

 By the time the third son was leaving, it was a quick hug and kiss at the dorm room amid piles of unpacked stuff, because my husband and I wanted to hit the local diner for lunch.

 When the fourth and fifth sons decided college was not their thing, I figured the empty nest syndrome was a vague promise that would never be fulfilled in my lifetime, though there was a sliver of hope when son number six went off to NYC to study drama.

When the revolving door began spinning with their subsequent (temporary) returns home in well-timed succession, some staying longer than others, I was certain I would never know the “pain” of having the house to myself.

But I have since learned, as so many before me, that the empty nest syndrome is not so much a physical space phenomenon as it is an emotional one, and no matter how many big feet are still roaming through the house, it’s possible, or more to the point probable that, as a mother, you will, at some point, feel alone. It seems the empty nest is not your house as much as it is your heart.

The beautiful thing about the heart is how it grows to hold more love, more people, new experiences and creative energies. If we open our hearts to all things new, it will never be empty.


For moms, even slippers can be running shoes


It seems to me the adage, “You can’t fool mother nature,” was really a take-off on the original, “You Girlonrailroadtrackscan’t run away from your mother.”

I will never forget the first day I really tried. I don’t remember the circumstances that initiated my bolt out the front door, around the corner to my cousins’ house. They lived directly behind us, our yards touching in a corner across a few feet of fence.

As I ran like the devil was chasing me, I remember thinking, “She’ll never catch me. She doesn’t even know where I’m going.” Silly me.

I rounded the second corner, up their gravel driveway and concrete porch steps to pound on the front door. “Let me in! She’s after me!” I yelled, certain my cousins would know who “she” was.

Relief flowed over me as I heard the click of the front door latch and a voice saying, “I’ll let you in.”

But it took only a few seconds for the emphasis on the “I’ll” to sink in, and to realize the hand reaching out of the door to pull me in was my mother’s.

I don’t remember her words after that, though I am certain there were many. I just remember thinking “how??”

I began to realize that you should never underestimate a mom when it comes to doing what’s best for her child, and that includes vaulting over a split rail fence in slippers and an apron so your daughter doesn’t grow up believing she can get one over on you.

With the wisdom of age, and being a mom myself, I’ve realized it’s not so much a matter of running away from mom, but of mom always being present, and unconcerned about the cost, when a child has a need, even a need for correction.

Thanks, Mom.

 

Image at Pinterest, Alida Bigham, Black and While photos, found at 500px.com.


True strength comes from surrender to the Word of God

Annuncia-thumbDifficult times in life often encourage us to wonder how other people do it. How do they navigate the losses, the pain, the simple day-to-day struggles that life brings with it?

 

Mary is one of those people. We look to her with wonder, considering the challenges of her life as Jesus' mother and the profound losses she incurred. I often wish that Scripture had recorded more of her words and her actions, but even without them, we may find a key to her strength in one sentence of her Magnificat: “Let it be done to me according to your word.” No pre-requisites, no codicils, just surrender.

 

In a homily for the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Benedict XVI taught a lesson on Mary and God’s word that is worth reflection whenever we need to be reminded of the source of our wisdom and strength. He said, in part, “Thus, we see that Mary was, so to speak, ‘at home’ with God's word, she lived on God's word, she was penetrated by God's word. To the extent that she spoke with God's words, she thought with God's words, her thoughts were God's thoughts, her words, God's words. She was penetrated by divine light and this is why she was so resplendent, so good, so radiant with love and goodness.

 

“Mary lived on the Word of God, she was imbued with the Word of God. And the fact that she was immersed in the Word of God and was totally familiar with the Word also endowed her later with the inner enlightenment of wisdom.

 

“Whoever thinks with God thinks well, and whoever speaks to God speaks well. They have valid criteria to judge all the things of the world. They become prudent, wise, and at the same time good; they also become strong and courageous with the strength of God, who resists evil and fosters good in the world.

 

“Thus, Mary speaks with us, speaks to us, invites us to know the Word of God, to love the Word of God, to live with the Word of God, to think with the Word of God. And we can do so in many different ways: by reading sacred Scripture, by participating especially in the liturgy, in which Holy Church throughout the year opens the entire book of sacred Scripture to us. She opens it to our lives and makes it present in our lives” (2005).


A page from Things My Parents Taught Me

ShuttersA mother never knows just how much attention her children are paying to her, but every once in a while she discovers they know her better than she thinks they do.

That was my discovery when my son, an eighth grade language arts teacher sent me an email explaining that they were writing memoirs in class, and, I guess while his students were writing, he was inspired to write a “Slice of Life” piece which was inspired by my style of writing.

Always the wise guy, as all my sons seem to be, he titled it as being from Things My Parents Taught Me. I share it, with a smile. He knows me – not just my style of writing – so well.

There’s a weathered house around the corner from me, where the bushes grow feverishly, aiming to devour the tattered relic.

Where a faded American flag flutters solitarily. It’s a home where a shutter gracefully dangles on paint-chipped cedar shingles. Where cracked windows are marked with the battle scars of childhood rock throwing. Where a gate sways on a hinge, drunkenly guarding the distant memories etched in the house’s history. Where a broken rocking chair sits on time warped planks, grayed by years of weather. It’s the kind of place many passer-bys would miss.

It’s the kind of place my mother would love.

She’s always had a penchant for gentle simplicity and for distinguished houses. The kind of house that needs some work and calls for that special someone to restore the beauty, to realize the potential. I think a dream exists for her – a dream of moving into a house around the corner and accepting the challenges that await, even if they are daunting.

She is not one to shy away from difficulty, to allow the task to leave its mark on her. She would see the house for what it could be – and who knows, maybe she would bring her husband to help, because it seems he’s pretty good with his hands, and I’m sure there would be a leaky roof and damaged walls and worn floorboards.

But I also know that it’s easy to miss that house, if we’re not looking for it. And it seems that often we, as people, don’t see it. We don’t see that we have become like the house around the corner, battered by many storms, grayed by time.

We don’t realize that we have left too many repairs unattended, that we have forgotten to make an investment in ourselves and in others. And as we examine who we are or who we have become, hopefully we see that, in the end, we are worth restoring.

I wish I wrote that.


Living big for God requires a forgiving heart

PrayerofjabezSome  years ago, hanging near my computer in the little cottage where I did most of my writing was a lovely ceramic carving of the Prayer of Jabez, a gift from one of my sons many Christmases ago A small children’s devotional refers to the short, but powerful, prayer found in the Hebrew Scriptures as “the little ancient prayer about living big for God.”

The prayer reads: “And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, 'Oh, that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that your hand would be with me, and that you would keep me from evil that I would not cause pain.'  So God granted him what he requested” ( 1Chronicles 4:10).

What still intrigues me most about the prayer is not its success in enlarging Jabez’s territory but, rather, Jabez’s request of God to keep him from evil so HE would not cause pain.  For me, his request has been the focus of many times of reflection on my own life and shortcomings.

Soon after receiving the plaque, when I was dropping one of my sons off at school, I witnessed something that made me very sad and reminded me that evil comes to us in little, unsuspected ways, not always in what we do but very often in what we fail to do – most often when we fail to love.

In the car behind me a mom and her daughter had stopped in front of the school, as well. The youngster, a girl of about 12, leaned over to give her mom a kiss on the cheek, but the mom turned her head away.

The look on the child’s face was heartbreaking and it became obvious, as I watched their exchange for the next few minutes, that the child had done something to anger the mom.

I actually felt my throat tighten and tears form as I watched the daughter get out of the car and walk to the school building with her head hung low. And I wondered if I had ever done the same thing to any of my sons in a moment of anger or disappointment.

I wanted to run to her and give her a hug and tell her that her mom still loved her.

I wanted to explain how fear is usually at the root of anger and, for parents, the world is full of reasons to harbor fears for our children.

I wanted to make it all better, because that’s what moms are supposed to do, and it’s a hard truth for us to swallow when we can’t.

In that brief gesture of a mom turning her head away, a moment that child will most likely remember for the rest of her life, an evil triumphed over love. 

But that doesn’t have to be the end of the story.

You see, as a parent, as a friend, as a child, and as a spouse, I have discovered another powerful little prayer that can keep us from evil: “Forgive me.”