Giving Love Freely

Our neighbor Monique died last week. We are so sad to see her go.

The thing about Monique that endeared her most to me was her unwavering love, and I was most touched by her love for my son Henry. Monique had a love for Henry and his spark. She recognized this as a good thing during a season when I could not. I cannot express what it meant for me to have this dear neighbor ask about Henry every time I saw her — and hear her tell me, every single time, what a special boy my Henry was.

You see, Henry is a pistol. And there are times when I struggle with this fact. But Monique was always so quick to remind me how awesome it is to be a fierce lover of life — and how God can and will use that quality. And for me now, in the season of parenting Henry through — what a blessing to have someone be so quick to just love your child.

There were so many other things to love about Monique. I will certainly miss seeing her tiny little self power-walking through our neighborhood while saying the rosary. She was also quick to pass along an article she had read that might inspire me with my writing. She is the person who introduced me to Catherine Dougherty and the concept of the “duty of the moment.”

But it was her ability to love that inspires me the most. Of all the things Jesus might call us to do in our lifetime, what matters most is our ability to love. “If I have not love I am a clanging symbol.” Monique loved the person in front of her. When you were standing talking with her, you were the most important person in the room. She was a gem.

We should never be afraid to love. What it meant for me in those years of chasing a wild and crazy little Henry — to have this person remind me time and time again what a gift my son was — well, it got me through. Because usually I ran into Monique at some neighborhood gathering where Henry had once again escaped from my watchful eye and I was feeling frustrated and defeated. And she would come up to me and tell me, once again, how amazing my kid was.

I think it might be easy for older people to feel disenfranchised, to question where they fit in. And I can tell you that the greatest asset you have right now is the ability to love. If you can walk up to a parent in the trenches of raising kids, and you can offer a word of encouragement — that is pure gift. If you see someone like me, trying to gracefully parent teenagers — risk starting a conversation and offer a word of encouragement.

The young mom in the grocery store needs to hear she won’t always be chasing an errant toddler boy. The mother with teenagers needs to hear that what’s she’s doing is bearing good fruit. That family in front of you at Mass? They are beautiful and the mother or father needs to be reminded that all this hard work is worth the effort.

Monique was willing to say all those things. She loved Henry, but she had that same love for each one of my children. She wasn’t afraid to love and she wasn’t afraid to love extravagantly.

Monique’s friend Debbie shared at the wake that she had this vision, after Monique had died. She was praying about what to share and heard Monique say, “Give it all away.” And she knew that what Monique meant was love. To give love freely. To offer encouragement with abandon. To be quick to build up and listen and love love love.

Give it all away. That’s what Monique did. That’s the gift we all have to offer, and this love can change the world. It sure changed mine.

Teenagers are Awesome

From my weekly column

I don’t write a lot about having teenagers. If you have some yourself, you understand. Teenagers are wonderful, don’t get me wrong. But it’s complicated. Having teenagers is every bit as grand as having little ones, but those growing pains aren’t as easy to share publicly.

But keeping quiet on life with teenagers can give people the wrong impression. A lot of people are scared of teenagers I think, or misunderstand them. And there’s a lot about having teenagers these days that can be scary. The kids themselves are great, but the culture is daunting.

Someone recently forwarded an article from the New York Times, all about the apps for smartphones that teenagers use. The worst part? Kids can hide this stuff from adults, so that even the most proactive, involved parents might be unaware of what their child is exposed to (or involved in).

It is scary raising teenagers — children in general — or it can be. If you gave me three minutes I could list in rapid fire all the things in the world to be afraid of, things facing our kids that we didn’t have to face. It’s terrifying, actually, when you stop to think about it.

But before I get too carried away, I want to share with you a few things I’ve learned in this journey of parenthood. I don’t have it all figured out (for sure!), but these things I know to be true.

When dealing with your teens, operate out of love, not fear. Don’t be afraid, scripture reminds us again and again. We have to apply that to every area of our life — especially parenting. Make love your aim, and even when times are tough you will have peace.

God loves your children more than you ever could. It seems crazy but it’s true. Don’t forget that as you proceed on this journey. You are God’s favorite — and so is your teen!

Your kid will mess up. It’s gonna be okay. God allows us to make mistakes, and He gives us grace to learn lessons in the midst of that.

Remember who you were as a teen — even if you were really, really good and always made great choices. I realized recently that I was starting to have a higher standard for my older boys than I had for myself! It’s not that I want them to be perfect, but I don’t want my children to suffer being separated from God. I have to remember they too are on a journey — and God’s working with them just like he’s working with me.

You and your spouse are on the same team. Early on in parenting, Paul and I saw how important it was for us to be in unity. If we had a chink in our armor, the Balducci boys would overtake us. Turns out that was an opportunity to be ready for these years with teenagers, when there isn’t time for us to be at odds with each other. In those tricky parenting moments (which always feel so spur of the moment) it’s nice knowing Paul and I are together in this adventure.

Your kid is not the only one struggling. If he or she is going through a hard season, just know it’s part of the growing process. Some struggles are certainly more serious than others, but if that’s where you are at, that’s okay too. There is nothing too big — or too small – for God.

Finally, the devil loves for us to feel isolated and alone. Pray for protection against the wickedness and snares of his lies. You are not the worst parent with the worst kid. Get behind me, Satan!

Lord, give us a heart of love and eyes to see the goodness of our children. Remind us how special they are to you, and that you have a plan for each one of them. We don’t have all the answers, but we trust and believe that you will give us everything we need.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” — Jeremiah 29:11

Blogging Again? Blogging Again.

So I might start this up again. Yeah! Let’s do it.

It has been almost a year since I wrote here and I’m in a major life shift. I have BIG KIDS now and life is different. At first I thought the change would mostly be about not feeling free to write about life with bigger kids. And that’s true. Big kids are their own beings. I mean, little kids are too but it’s different. You can write about them without feeling weird. But bigger people — I don’t really know if Elliott wants me telling you all about how great he’s doing in college (he is!) or Ethan’s plans (which are exciting!). Anyway this is clunky but I’m not going to sit here and delete a bunch of stuff. Otherwise I’ll never get this going again.

So I’m writing a book! Finally, a second book. I think it was just God’s time, because I’ve been hoping and praying and trying so hard to make something happen and finally, after all this time, it did! I’m excited about the topic but I’ll tell ya, I’m living it HARD right now. My dad mentioned something to me this morning that I think is so true: it’s like God is allowing some stuff to happen to give me perspective with my topic. The book is about having order in your life. So, yup Crazy times. Which, let’s be honest, I’m glad to be going through this instead of writing a book and being some kind of insufferable know-it-all. I think. Although being a know-it-all can be fun, because at least you are under some delusion that you’ve got it all together.

Ok, as an aside, I would just like to add that I can tell it’s been a long time since I’ve written like this because I keep finding myself wanting to use emojis to communicate. Like here is would put the little face with giant eyes. And up above I wanted to use the face with the hand under the chin ruminating. So wow, totally time to get back to the written word.

Back to the topic at hand.

About a month ago I realized I was just completely overwhelmed with my life. Like, suddenly there just didn’t seem to be grace for anything. It was crazy because I couldn’t even figure out what had changed. All the things that seemed to be running so smooth six months ago — well, it just wasn’t. I felt exhausted and emotional and couldn’t find the gaps in my day that I once used for sanity stops. Something in my life had changed and my carefully constructed daily schedule was sort of collapsing.

The schedule itself wasn’t collapsing so much as my ability to make it all work. And what I realized (I’ll spare you all the days and weeks I spent naval gazing and fretting and analyzing out the wazoo) was that I had scheduled and managed myself out to here (hold up hands shoulder width apart) and my life had expanded to here (hold hands slightly wider). What used to work “professionally” and “domestically” was no longing dovetailing. Things in my personal life were shifting in unforeseen ways; namely, big kids take up a different type of time and energy.

What worked with smaller or “in the home” kids just didn’t anymore. It’s totally different than what kids getting a bigger world view need. Does that make sense? Even just last year, with five kids at the same school and me working there, we were all on the same flow, so to speak. This year I have two kids that live either at home or just nearby who are doing something different from the rest of us, and suddenly I’m needed outside the realm I’d gotten used to.

I started realizing that my body was on overdrive ALL the time. I never got downtime, or a buffer with what was needed of me and what I needed in order to recharge to give. The margin I had built in got too small with the shifts in my life.

So I had to start having a hard conversation about all the commitments I had made and what I could now realistically do. And that’s where I’m at now. Trying to rearrange some things, working to consider how to manage things in the future. I also realized in the midst of all of this that I had let go of some things a few years ago that were the things that brought me the most joy. Namely, writing. And if you are wired to write in order to assimilate, that’s not a good thing to dump.

I don’t have all the solutions just yet. Ha! I don’t have nearly any at all. But recognizing that I’m in need of change — that I’m ready for it — that a good place to start.

Thanks for listening. And I’m so happy I remembered my password to this space. xo

How To Talk About Politics with Family

The holidays are always a wonderful time to enjoy family, lots of family. It’s all about spending time together, so much family time that by January 2 you promise yourself you won’t utter another word to another human being for the next six months. .

Let’s face it: the holidays are awesome and fun but also overwhelming and exhausting.

Add to the normal stressors the recent election and if you’re not careful your future promises to hold many explosive dinnertime conversations. Triple this prediction when you throw in booze.

People are passionate about politics and just because you’re related to someone doesn’t mean you see eye to eye on everything. In fact, there’s a good chance you have a few points on which you don’t agree. Call me crazy but I think this is true.

Here are some tips I’d like to share to make your holiday season a peaceful, pleasant and fun occasion. I call this, “Rachel’s Three Simple Rules to Making the Christmas Season a Fun-filled Time for All.”

Don’t talk about politics. Seriously. Don’t do it.

Really, I mean it. Don’t talk about politics.

I’m not lying. Don’t even think about talking about politics.

And that’s the advice I’ve got for you. Follow Rules 1, 2 and 3 and everything will go well for you and your loved ones this holiday season. I cannot stress enough the importance of following these rules. To stray from this in any way is madness.

I know it might seem like I’m joking but I’m absolutely serious. Now is not the time to talk about politics. For starters, the election is fresh on everyone’s mind. And if you think you understand where someone is coming from in who they voted for, think again. None of us can truly, totally understand where another person stands on every single issue. Someone else voting for the candidate you hated doesn’t necessarily signal anything.

So, okay. Here’s one way you are allowed to talk politics: you keep your mouth closed and just listen. That’s the smart way. Don’t go into any conversations with big plans to change minds and open hearts. That will end poorly, very poorly indeed. If you really truly want to “talk politics” then you can just sit back and try to figure out where your brother/cousin/mother-in-law is coming from and really listen to what they say.

OR you can compliment them on the good looking sweater and focus on the delicious meal in front of you.

This is not a cop-out. I repeat: this is not a cop-out. Keeping it real during the holiday season is not about getting all our junk out on the table. It’s not the time to acknowledge all the ways we don’t see eye-to-eye. Christmas is about the gift of family, of love and life and joy. Have a glass of wine! Toast all the goodness God has to offer.

This works, trust me.

Did you know that you can have vastly different political views with family members and still get along swimmingly? You might even realize that you have more in common with this person that you knew. The key is to focus on all that you share — your love for each other, your family ties, a history with people you love — and not let your differences get in the way.

At the end of the day (or days or week) what is worth working on is the relationship. What I have come to realize and believe is this: nothing, no ideology or political candidate or stance, is more important to me than a relationship. Which means I will choose to ignore everything but love when it comes to dealing with people.

There is always more in common than we think, especially when things are heated. Take a step back, say a little prayer, and ask Jesus for wisdom and patience and lots of love.

And pray the person on the other end can do the same.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.