"With all your kids, giving them what they need must be impossible." my friend observed over the phone after I'd told what I thought was a funny tale about how it had been a long hard and difficult day managing them. I was caught up short. Her words echoed my sometimes fears, but as I explained, it wasn't necessarily impossible, it was however impossible if I did not sublimate my will. "And they sublimate theirs." she added. Again I disagreed, "It's not their job to sublimate to me, it's mine to them. On my best day and in my best moments, I serve them." What she was alluding to however intentionally or not, was my not best moments and I could think of scads just from that day, but the quote, "With God, all things are possible." floated to my head though I could not say it in that moment.
What I felt in that moment flooded my heart and brain. I knew whether I had one or ten, I remained inadequate. I cannot fill anyone completely, for I am a flawed and incomplete child myself and my attempts at service are those of an ungrateful servant at best.
In that moment, I saw myself plunging into an ocean, not to drown but to be immersed, surrounded, enveloped lovingly by the waters around me. God was that ocean. Being pulled deeper by grace even as I sought to drown in the small shallowness of sin was the daily struggle I faced; especially when the cares of the day, the needs of all nine, of the home, of the world required that I act and act and act again. I kept wanting thanks when what I was doing was no more than what was needed and required.
"Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field,'Come here immediately and take your place at table'? Would he not rather say to him,'Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished'? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you." I both love and hate it when the Gospel so closely mirrors my reality that I cannot escape it without denial.
But how? What my friend had said had the ring of reality to it; after all it was true, I couldn't do everything. I admittedly tried rattling off the various clever systems or methods we'd devised over the year for laundry, for dishes, for chores, for homework, for schedules, for menus. They somehow felt like pale weak answers to a strong hard question. These were methods of providing for needs, but they didn't address the deeper resonating longings that some of my children might be hungry for and I not know because I was so busy trying just to triage through our basic obligations.
And I remembered another friend who told me, "Whenever you doubt yourself, remember that God really loves your heart infinitely and let that be your guide." I tried to explain that it isn't impossible, just some days hard and some days, unsuccessful. But each day, we try again.
The conversation moved on to other more mundane things and eventually ended, but the image of the ocean, and of my resistance to the word "impossible" and yet it's truthfulness remained. Hanging up the phone, I looked about at the house, 9 loads of laundry needed doing and the dishes from that afternoon still had to be unloaded so the next run could start and there was paper work to fill out and little available for dinner. "Impossible" whispered at me, "just agree it's impossible." There was homework to sign and help a child correct, a squabble over the tv remote in the other room, two boys I'd stopped from making water balloons who were decidedly up to it again, and hour seven of what seemed like an endless number to work on the basement. "Impossible." The word lingered like smoke in the air, daring me to agree to breathe in it's toxic embrace, to be smothered rather than surrounded. To be choked rather than refreshed and enveloped; yet it seemed so reasonable to think it.
And I prayed, for I feared I'd inhale. "Show me how."
The daughter who struggled so mightily with school that my tale of her troubles had in part prompted my friend's comments, came into the kitchen. She noticed me wrestling with the dishwasher and began unloading without a request. In a few minutes, she remarked, "This drawer needs organizing." and began work in earnest. Twenty minutes later, three drawers were cleared out, cleaned and orderly and she beamed, "I'm becoming good at organizing." She had surprised herself and me with this sudden spurt of clarity. She went to tackle more and promised to help me get the kitchen in order. When I asked "Why?" She smiled and said, "Because you're a good mom." and I felt humbled by such praise.
My three year old came into the room. "What's for dinner tonight Mom?" she asked. I remembered we had some chicken. I'd use the one box of pasta as a starch and could throw together a salad and microwave frozen broccoli. I rattled off the menu. She nodded and looked at the table. "We'll need a few more chairs." I looked at the table. We had five, she was right we'd need four more for all who were home and Paul would be in his high chair. I started cooking. She left the room. She came back pushing a chair. Putting it in place, she left again. I watched fascinated. She dragged in a second seat. I hadn't asked this, this was her gift and I felt a hint of the ocean around me as she brought in the third folding chair and commandeered her brother to get the final one. She then surveyed her work with satisfaction. I was floored when she began setting the table with paper plates, forks and napkins. No one had taught her this; she had simply picked it up from being.
After dinner, it happened again when my oldest daughter unbeckoned began doing the dishes. I had not asked and it is not her custom. It was a gift. As she simply went about the task of cleaning up from the meal while I got the littles dressed for bed, I felt the waves lovingly lapping everywhere.
And so it is, that to feed these nine and the one not yet born, to keep them on task and well, happy in heart, mind and body is nothing more than part of that list of things which the Master has commanded be done. And what dawns in my brain is I do not do this alone or in isolation; for they are all with me and we are doing this, not I, not just my husband and me, not just any of us, but all of us in union with God. God has given this gift of this family to all of us, so God knows there is a way for each of them including me to be nourished if only I would cease trying to carve out my nitch and allow myself to instead be fitted in His heart.
Copyright 2010 Sherry Antonetti
About the Author
Sherry Antonetti is a Catholic published author, freelance writer and part-time teacher. She lives with her husband and 10 children just outside of Washington, DC, where she's busy editing her upcoming book, A Doctor a Day, to be published by Sophia Institute Press. You can find her other writings linked up at her blog, Chocolate For Your Brain! or on Amazon.