Echoes of Motherhood

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about the Focolare. The Focolare Movement is a lay movement within the Church that was started by Chiara Lubich in Trent, Italy, during World War II. Chiara received a series of experiences with a small group of friends that inspired them to dedicate their lives to serving those around them by placing love in the center of their hearts and minds. They were formed by the Gospels, especially John 17 where Jesus prays that “all might be one.” No one was above their notice, time or care and they served their community amidst the devastation of the war. (If you want to read some thoughts about Motherhood inspired by Chiara, check out this post.)

I am currently reading a book which is a compilation of Chiara’s writings and thoughts about the Blessed Mother. I have started this book a number of times, but never finished it. I’m hoping that this time, I go the distance. Lately, I’ve been feeling especially drawn to Chiara, her writings and the movement in general. I’m searching for something, but I don’t know exactly what yet. Perhaps it is something that this movement can offer. Even if not, Chiara has a beautiful way of talking about Mary, Jesus, Love, the Church, you name it. It resonates with me and makes me think. So, I’m going to keep reading, keep learning and continue pondering.

This week, I was reading about how God revealed to Chiara the incredible mystery of the Incarnation and Mary’s Immaculate nature. Chiara recognized that Mary is, as a creature created by God, contained by the Trinity. We all are. But,

Mary contains God! God loved her so much as to make her his mother and his love made him become small before her.

Mary: The Transparency of God, 26

I mean, wow. Let’s just stop everything right there for the next 10 years and contemplate that mystery. Mary, the Mother of God! How our limited language fails us to fully express this mystery. And then, in God’s great generosity, this incredible woman before whom God became small for so she might bear our salvation to the world, she becomes our mother.

Chiara recognized that just as Mary bore Jesus, we are also called to bring Jesus forth into the world. We are, effectively, “little Marys.” Mary allowed herself to be empty before God so that He could fill her with His divine life, His grace, His Son. In becoming imbued with God’s Word, she becomes the model for each of us. Chiara says:

All Christians are called to re-live Mary, who, as we have seen, is the Word fully lived out. We must re-live her in order to generate Christ in ourselves and in others. As St. Ambrose puts it, ‘If according to the flesh, the Mother of Christ is one alone, according to the faith, all souls bring forth Christ.'”

Exposition of the Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke

We are called to generate Christ by allowing ourselves to be filled with the Word. We fill ourselves with so many things – pride, success, ambition, chocolate, television, TikTok, hobbies, worries, plans. None of these things bring us true and lasting happiness. None of these things will bring us to live out our true and deepest vocation – to become Christ-bearers for those around us.

As Chiara said in the above quote, not only are we to bring Christ from within us to others, we help others to generate Christ within themselves. Chiara contemplates Mary as not only Mother of God, but mother to each of us. She pondered,

I remember it was then that I looked upon our mother, Mary, for the first time with the gaze of a daughter, but a daughter who saw her real self in her mother.

From a talk to the men and women focolarini, 1972

As a daughter who saw her real self in her mother. In a twist, I had this experience the other day, but as a mother who heard her real self in her daughter. And friends, it wasn’t exactly a pretty sound. I was upstairs changing a diaper and I heard a conversation between Clare, who is 7, and Gabriel, who is 2. Gabe was asking for help in his sweet and overbearing 2 year old manner. Lots of insistence, lots of NOW, little please or patience or care that he was interrupting Clare’s book. Finally, Clare huffed and said in a tone all too familiar to my ears, “Gaaabe! Do I have to do everything for you!?” She did, to her credit, get up and help him with what he needed. But what I heard come from her could have been my voice, my tone. I was totally caught off guard at this revelation and immediately thought of this last passage which I had just finished reading only a few moments earlier.

If my children are to become little Mary’s, they need an example to follow. If they are to become Christ-bearers, they need to witness what that looks like in everyday life. What I heard from Clare is that I’m coming up short.

Rather than taking this as a discouragement, I’m trying to use it as guidance for the way forward. None of us is perfect, least of all me. I do not think any of this was a coincidence and I am thankful I was aware enough to receive the lesson. My prayer and focus now is that I actually learn from it. Pray for me friends!

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com

Empty, Open Hands

Well it sure has been a while! I’ll admit, this break was not necessarily planned or intended. It just sort of happened. I try to make this blog as close to God speaking through me as possible. So if I’m inspired to write, I write. If I’m not, I try not to force the issue. I’ve been inspired off and on during this impromptu hiatus, but haven’t found the motivation to write about it.

Until today. And I hope it sticks. Because I have some exciting news to share at the end.

This morning, Ben and I got the kids up early for daily Mass. You may recall that we moved back in January. Our new parish is a very active, welcoming community. There is a school attached to the parish and the students attend Mass throughout the week. Each grade/groups of grades go once a week. On Wednesdays, as today happens to be, the youngest students attend Mass.

When the older kids go, they are the ones who lector and serve. The little ones, however, are not old enough yet. Therefore, the homeschooling families traditionally handle these duties on Wednesdays. I love this inclusion of the homeschool families. Of course, we signed up to participate.

On this particular morning, Rosie (age 9) and John (age 10), had prepared to lector and served respectively. However when we arrived we were told by the custodian that Father was away, something had come up, and there wouldn’t be Mass. The kids were disappointed and understandably so.

The lights were off in the church. Only the tabernacle candle and the prayer intention candles at a few statues along the walls were lit. It’s October and we were still early enough in the morning for light to be faint and mysterious. Instead of going home, I suggested we go into the darkened church.

We went in and sat down. After a few minutes of not silence, I started a Rosary. Conveniently, I noticed that we have 4 main statues surrounding the pews – The Blessed Mother, Joseph holding the Child Jesus, a version of the Infant of Prague, and Jesus’ Sacred Heart. We did our first decade in the pews facing the tabernacle. We then began a traveling Rosary, stopping at each statue for a decade.

Our final stop was with Joseph. I was leading again, but standing behind the kids. Clare (age 7), was in front of me, using her hands to keep track of the Hail Mary’s. As she got to the 5th, instead of closing that had and moving on to the next, or just starting over, she kept it open. Then, when she reached the 10th, she kept both hands open and extended for the duration of the prayer.

I was so struck by the simplicity of her posture, yet it’s profound message. I wish I could have taken a picture. Here was a young girl, praying, with hands open and empty, ready to receive the graces bestowed upon her. She did not feel the need to work for the grace, she wasn’t proving she was good enough or worthy enough. It was a very St. Terese of Lisieux moment.

After we finished, Clare came up to me. “I liked that Mommy,” was all she said. I hope she keeps this attitude of prayer. The emptiness, the openness. What a witness to me and my own feeble attempts at proving my worth or being concerned over my accomplishments. God doesn’t need those. He just needs my hands to be ready to receive His gifts.

Speaking of gifts, I’m excited to share that Advent Journals are back and nearly finished! This year we are shaking things up with a brand new format I was inspired to create (truly inspired – I heard this phrase on a knitting podcast of all places and it became a fully fledged Advent journal. Only God can do that!). Remember the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books from when you were a kid? This is going to be similar. The key phrase is “Embrace Your Own Pace.” I’ll be sharing more as I get closer to pushing publish. These will continue to be completely and totally free, as usual. So get excited and please share the good news with your friends, family and parish!

Choosing our Feelings & A New Method of Fasting

Lent is on the way. I know this because my fingers have been frantically typing to finish up the Lenten Lectio Divina journal for this year. It ought to be ready and posted by this weekend, so for anyone who is looking for it, it’s on the way! 

I had a revelation a few days ago that I wanted to share. A little update first. As I sit here typing, I am almost 35 weeks pregnant with #6. My sister-in-law and I have been walking the pregnancy journey together, which has been so much fun. She, however, is a bit further along than I am and that day I spent thinking she was at the hospital getting ready to meet her first child. I was so happy for my brother and his wife. This is their first baby and has been a long journey. Pregnancy and pandemic are not the easiest combination.

And yet, while I was genuinely happy and excited for them, I felt off all day. I blamed it on ligament pain, general pregnancy stuff, etc. But as I woke up the following morning (it turned out I had it wrong and this was the day of the inducement) I was struck by this rather ugly thought:

“Yesterday I was jealous that she was going to have her baby and I’m not there yet.”

It hit me hard too. All day, I was harboring this jealously so tightly within me that it’s tendrils reached out to effect my entire day. I wasn’t patient, I struggled with motivation, I didn’t even want to cook dinner or plan out the meals for the week because it involved too much work. I felt exhausted even though I hadn’t done much. I was frustrated with myself for my failings and that surely didn’t do anyone in the house any good. 

Because of this revelation, the actual day of the birth of my very first nephew, was noticeably different. I still had the same ligament pain, same pregnancy stuff. But I acknowledged this struggle I am having, prayed about it and it makes all the difference. While writing this, two of the girls asked me to play a game with them. I very much wanted to get it finished this afternoon during the few precious hours of quiet time while Gabriel, now 18 months, is asleep. The day before, I would have probably snapped at them for interrupting me and sent them to play on their own. This day, I closed my laptop and played Go Fish. 

Instead of letting my jealously rule me, I chose to rule it.

Any program for addiction will tell you that you have to own the feelings and thoughts you are having. You have to acknowledge you need help, that you can’t go it alone. By naming how we are feeling, we are acknowledging the feelings for what they are. From that place, we can choose to indulge them, dismiss them, or change them. I am so thankful that God revealed to me my jealous heart so that I could greet my new nephew with a heart full of joy and love.

With Lent coming up, this is a great time to consider what feelings we are ruling, and which ones we are allowing to rule us. What actions or activities do we feel we cannot live without, and what can we let go of without too much complaint?

Since the start of the year, I have been trying something new. Instead of one big New Year’s resolution (which I usually fail at by now) I have chosen a weekly fast that changes with each week. Sundays are “off” days and simultaneously discernment days. No fasting, but discerning the upcoming week to see what I will be fasting from. Some things I’ve fasted from already include:

  • Desserts
  • Instagram
  • Social media scrolling (I check in once a day because important announcements for Ben’s squadron are often posted on Facebook but I did not allow myself to sit and scroll the newsfeeds)
  • Games on my phone

I have repeated a few and have found some to be harder than others. Desserts were hard all week long and I found myself reluctant to bake anything because I couldn’t have it. This is something to work on for sure since my whole family wasn’t fasting from dessert, just me. Social media wasn’t as hard as I expected, though I did notice that I just played more solitaire or word searches so it wasn’t necessarily a reduction in screen time. I plan to fast at some point from using my phone after the kids are in bed, like a digital sunset if you’ve heard of that. This week happens to be phone games and I am noticing a reduction in screen time. There’s only so much Instagram scrolling I’m willing to do, which is new information for me about my phone tolerances and habits.

Usually for Lent we choose one thing to fast from. I’d like to offer an alternative, especially if you were planning on fasting from something you habitually do each year, like pop or chocolate. Take some time and look at your calendar for Lent. What might you fast from each week that would bring either meaningful change to that week, or could reveal meaningful information about you, your habits and feelings? Maybe you only pick two things and switch back and forth (there are 6 weeks including Holy Week so you would fast an even number of times). Each time you revisit the fast you could tweak it, adjust it, so that you continue to grow and stretch yourself. Here’s an example:

Week 1: Fast from saying “I want.”

Week 2: Fast from chocolate.

Week 3: Continue your fast from Week 1 and include delayed gratification practices. If there is something you want to do, buy, eat, etc., wait a specific amount of time before doing the activity (Personally, I would not count main meals in the “I want” category.) 

Week 4: Continue your fast from Week 2 and include no desserts of any kind.

Week 5: Continue your fast from Weeks 1 and 3. Challenge yourself to fast from whatever was the hardest thing to wait for in the previous weeks.

Week 6: Continue your fast from Weeks 2 and 4. Challenge yourself to eat no dessert or snack between meals.

Do you see how the fasts grow upon one another, building your stamina over the course of the whole Lenten journey? This is just one idea of course, there are so many good practices and methods of fasting. 

What are you planning on fasting from? What do you think of the idea of trying a gradually building fast over the course of Lent? 

Don’t forget, the free Lenten Lectio Divina journal for this Lent will be out by this weekend! This is a totally free resources to download, please feel free to share the blog post link when it is up.

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com