This poster was hanging in the hallway at All Saints School in Naperville. I found it a very powerful message. Choosing kindness over gossip or negative conversations isn’t easy. I have made the mistake myself of talking negative. Finding the proper place to express our feelings and being heard in a healthy space is definitely important. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves to “change the conversation.”
This summer my sister invited our entire extended family to her lake house in Michigan for our annual family reunion. My parents have 9 children, 28 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren. This year we were 32. It was bitter sweet, as this was the first year at the lake after losing my father in February. We slept in bunk beds, cots, on the floor, in the closet and even in tents. Some of our highlights include boating, fishing, tubing, splashing in the water, pontoon rides and relaxing by the fire with gooey smores. My sisters have a zest for life as they laugh loud and often, play in the water like children and treasure each child as their own. My brother and brother-in-laws are so patient working with all the teens as they learn how to water ski for the first time. They teach each child how to bait a hook, and they build the best camp fires. Savoring life and family is the way they demonstrate their love.
Relaxing at the lake offers countless treasures. Our family ritual of enjoying a cup of coffee in the morning as the sun begins to rise over the peaceful lake. We watch the lone fisherman troll across the lake and smile as a family of ducks paddle along. Through the busy-ness of our life it seems almost impossible to enter into meaningful conversations with those we love the most. Yet lake time provides us these opportunities. One lazy afternoon while sitting at the edge of the lake, my grown niece shared how she juggles a career, along with her need to return to school for an advanced degree. Later that day, my college-age niece shared about her intern experience at Maui Jim Sunglasses and her hopes to start her own business. My nephew shared with me his desire to find a new church that will guide him into becoming the father, husband and man that he so hopes to become. I treasure the time to rest and listen to their challenges and joys of life.
After dinner one evening my sister shared how she struggles with understanding and knowing her faith and God as an adult. We shared experiences of knowing God’s existence in our childhood. We reminisced how our family practiced our faith traditions and our certainty of God’s presence during my dad’s hospice and final passing. Yet she still wrestles with the mysteries of our faith and what she expressed as “rules”. She said “It makes me sad when people feel that I am not a believer if I don’t go to Sunday service.” Then she began to sing her favorite church song for me.
“Peter do you love me? Peter do you love me?
And again Jesus asked Peter do you really love me?
Then feed my sheep he said, Peter feed my sheep.”
She was brought to tears and we both sat silently looking out over the lake. In a sense, tears represent a prayer, as it is how we can express or communicate to God when we have no words for such a deep emotion. The question that rose up within me to ask my sister was, “How does it feel to know that someone, being God, loves you that much?”
Several years back as I was wrestling with an issue regarding my self-image and God, a trusted friend posed a similar question. We were discussing the greatest commandment that we received from Jesus, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind’ and the second commandment “love your neighbor as yourself.” She asked me “do you love yourself?” and “can you love your neighbor, husband, children fully if you don’t love yourself?” Just like with my sister, my friend left me speechless. In all honesty, I wasn’t quite ready to answer that as I had parts of myself that I didn’t especially like and perhaps I even loathed. On my wedding day my father made a speech along the lines of “Being my partner would be a bit of Taming of the Shrew.”
Over the last two years, the depths of those two questions my friend posed have brought me to tears, have challenged me to think and have drawn me into pray. I found it hard to believe that even “with my faults,” God loves me unconditionally; God made me exactly the way He wants me; and that I can choose to find joy in my areas of growth. Surely, I have room for growth and areas that my personality and temperament still need to be ‘tamed.’ As I work on these areas, I remind myself of, appreciate and work towards Thomas Merton’s wisdom. “There is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find him.” – Thomas Merton
This blog is based on the personal experiences and opinions of Peggy O’Flaherty. Any reproduction of the material in this blog may be used with written consent of the author by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Peggy O’Flaherty, is a certified spiritual director, public speaker, blog writer, wife and mother of five children. Her recent writing projects include “Who Is Listening?” and “Why Clean Your Garage?” She is the Founder & President of Creating Space, LLC., a ministry helping people enrich their faith. Follow Peggy at www.creatingspaceinyourlife.com.
A marriage invariably brings together two individuals who are skilled in different ways. Some are gifted in nurturing, others are adept in managing finances. One may have culinary expertise or even a natural inclination for decorating. Yet, another is gifted at craftsmanship to handle the home repairs. My father was the consummate worker, a plumber by trade, but he could also fix anything, and he loved any home repair challenge. My mother, on the other hand, was the model of hospitality. She welcomed exchange students from France. She created our home as a hub for all the neighborhood children. Most importantly, she taught us to reach out and care for the marginalized. Mom and Dad were a nice blend.
I must have inherited a small degree of my father’s desire to keep things in order. This was most evident to my husband’s chagrin a few weeks back, as I asked the family to help me clean out the garage after attending Sunday service. “Ugh,” was his reply as he had just settled in to read the Sunday paper on his IPAD. Well, I knew he would like some quiet time to read, so I decided to prey on my five children. I tempted them with outdoor playtime and a trip to the pool, if they helped. Again, after a few moans and groans and my persistence we moved out to the garage. We began by pulling everything out on the driveway. It was going well until I unrolled a carpet and out of the carpet, a mouse ran up my arm, and I ran down the driveway screaming! After we calmed down, we swept and organized the entire garage. That day, we donated a few things. The kids rode their bikes and had fun with an old box. They even practiced shooting hoops. Close to the day’s end, we even pulled our two cars into the garage, which hasn’t happened in months.
The next morning as I ventured into the garage to find some batteries, I had an overwhelming feeling of being content. I paused for a moment to soak in the rewards of our labor. It led me to think about where does contentment and happiness come from in life? Cleaning my garage allowed me to remember how good we feel when our life is in balance. Our family unravels when we are running around for days on end with sports, school activities and family obligations. We feel overwhelmed and overscheduled. The flip side is how we connect when things are in balance. Attending to each of our individual needs and family needs isn’t always easy. I find that balance when our physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs are being met.
Our family makes an attempt at healthy eating even with the occasional drive-thru meal. School and park district sports, along with dance are the bases for our fitness regimen. Connecting as a family comes through enjoying family dinners, game nights or movie nights on the weekends and a healthy dose of affection at bedtime. Taking time to nurture our marriage doesn’t always get the highest priority. We both agree a regular date night is a necessary component, especially since it is easier with older children. We try to keep our life mostly in balance, and sometimes, we even get over confident and feel really good about ourselves. Then life throws us a curve ball. When my Dad’s illness took a turn for the worse our family had to readjust the meaning of balance.
I have learned that my greatest contentment comes from being aware and grateful to the source of the blessings in my life. Having a discipline to nurture my spirituality, even in very subtle ways, has transformed my life. Taking five minutes in the morning to rest in God’s goodness and then five minutes at bedtime to reflect upon the day has been my most meaningful spiritual practice. It is in that 10 minutes every day that I remember the moments that were filled with love and those that were absent of love. From there, I determine what I can do differently tomorrow.
My husband may not jump for joy to clean our garage, but he brings an important component to our marriage. He creates a loving atmosphere that is focused on balance in all areas of life. He demonstrates a great work ethic, he is an avid reader, and he values education. He coaches the children’s sports teams and remains connected with their needs. He hugs me first when he comes home from a long day of work. And most importantly, he teaches our children to pray.
Cleaning my garage is like my spiritual journey. Having the discipline to nurture my faith provides me stable footing (the balance in my life) and supports me when life tosses me a curve ball. When life gets cluttered , we hit the reset button to get it back on track. Then, when the curve ball comes and we have that balance, we are better prepared to tend to ourselves and those we love in our life.
“If we will walk humbly with our God, He will lead us by the hand to exactly who and what we need, to those people, things and experiences He has designed and intended for us, and this alone will be the cause of our deep fulfillment and happiness.” Matthew Kelly
This blog is based on the personal experiences and opinions of Peggy O’Flaherty. Any reproduction of the material in this blog may be used with written consent of the author by e-mail at email@example.com. Peggy O’Flaherty, is a certified spiritual director, public speaker, blog writer, wife and mother of five children. Her recent writing projects include “Love One Another,” “Who Loves You?” and “Who is Listening?” She is the Founder & President of Creating Space, LLC., a ministry helping people enrich their faith. Follow Peggy at www.creatingspaceinyourlife.com.
Dental appointments are often a long process, especially with 5 children. My goal has been to always keep each person busy and quiet while we wait for each of our procedures. I remember a few years back, in an effort to keep them quiet; some of the kids would read a book or color. Now each of us has collected the plethora of electronic gadgets: Kindles for books; iTouches for music; iPhones for texting; DS’s for video games; Even my 4-year-old has a princess laptop to learn her ABCs and 123s.
Technology obviously provides great value in learning, communication and overall advancement of our world. I’ve begun to wonder the value of these electronics. How does technology impact our relationships and our emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual well-being? Surely social media provides value in reaching out to long-distant relatives, classmates from years past or networking for employment opportunities. While waiting at the dentist, as I began typing this blog on my laptop, my 11-year–old daughter asked, “What are you working on, Mom?” I turned the question around and asked her, “How does it feel when Mom is texting or sending an email, and trying to listen at the same time?” She replied, “It makes me feel that whatever I am saying isn’t important.” Recently, a child psychologist told me that there is fine line between children feeling that “what they say is not important” and “who they are is not important” because they interpret their worth to the attention they receive. While I was out for lunch with a friend, she continually looked down at her phone to check an incoming message text. I started feeling that what I was saying was not her top priority. However, I had the understanding, as an adult that I was important to her. Children do not have this wisdom that comes with age.
Active listening is a practice of being fully present for another individual. As an active listener, you have a genuine interest in the person talking and want to hear their message. This often requires that we stop multi-tasking, refrain from giving our opinion, and limit our desire to shape or fix the outcome of their story. Being an active listener to those in our life, regardless of technology, is often a challenge. We are called upon daily to be active listeners in so many instances. A friend calls distraught and you are in the middle of making dinner. A co-worker comes into your office for the fourth time this month to vent about an unresolved issue. An aging parent repeats a story about a new ailment that they talked about yesterday. A child is looking for your attention, in the midst of attending to another child’s need. Almost all of us have experienced at least one of these scenarios. David Augsburger, the author of Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard, said “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” ― David Augsburger
What did my children need from me, their mother, during that dental visit? On some days, based on my own busy-ness and energy level, I miss the chance and gift of attentiveness. I have to remind myself to be patient with myself, as pausing to listen attentively is a practice that needs constant renewal. As I paused in that moment, I could see my 9-year-old son really wanted to be consoled after he had a cavity filled. Another younger child wanted to be reassured that her procedure wasn’t going to hurt. My oldest daughter just wanted to share her excitement about the upcoming volleyball season. My 8-year-old daughter wanted me to glance over for a second to comment on her rainbow loom bracelet that she was making for the dental hygienist. And the youngest, was looking for me to hold her hand while she flipped the pages of her book. In reflecting upon that time now, none of their needs involved technology and all of their needs involved me being attentive to them.
Yes, it is absolutely a challenge to be attentive to others in our fast-paced technology world. With all the distractions and our need to multi-task, it is almost a battle to slow down long enough to rest and listen to the people around us. I certainly wouldn’t want God texting during our conversation or my prayers. When we pause for even a moment to recognize the precious people in our midst, it is often a surprise to feel the emotions that are evoked in our heart. And it is there in our hearts where we meet God. It is in my attentiveness to God and my family, where I find my life has an overall balance with my emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual well-being.
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:5
This blog is based on the personal experiences and opinions of Peggy O’Flaherty. Any reproduction of the material in this blog may be used with written consent of the author by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Peggy O’Flaherty, is a certified spiritual director, public speaker, blog writer, wife and mother of five children. Her recent writing projects include “Who Loves You?” and “Why Clean Your Garage?” She is the Founder & President of Creating Space, LLC., a ministry helping people enrich their faith. Follow Peggy at www.creatingspaceinyourlife.com.