Friday, October 26, 2012

Small things

I had the opportunity this week to appear (via telephone) on a live radio show from Alabama.  I've never done an interview like that before, and I have to admit it was a blast!  Not only did my spotty cordless phone not die, I also didn't completely humiliate myself.  So I'll call it a success.

The truth is of course that anytime I have the chance to share publicly about adoption, openness to life, my faith, or my journey into the Catholic Church, I am equal parts eager and humbled to do so.  Eager because it is a joy and privilege to advocate for things close to my heart, and humbled because people often make a big deal about what our family is doing. 

So I've been thinking about this over the past few days because while I understand that my story is relatively unusual in most circles, in the day-to-day I don't see myself as doing anything out of the ordinary.  In fact, you can bet that if you're a mom, you and I pretty much do the same things on any given day: shopping for groceries, preparing meals, tucking little ones in at night, bemoaning the fact that babies grow up too fast, and worrying about how this or that child is going to turn out, come adulthood.  I bake cupcakes and take my kids to Mass, I give time-outs and occasionally yell.  I'm just an everyday mom.

The only difference between us is that perhaps I have a few more children than you do, or maybe your kids didn't have a combined total of three heart surgeries this past year.

And apparently those are the things that make for radio broadcasts.  :)

But here's the thing: no adoptive parent, least of all me, believes they are doing Big Huge Things.  When it comes to adoption (and parenting in general), we're really just doing a combination of the really small things--like changing diapers, wiping noses, and offering a shoulder to cry on when little feelings are hurt.  My life really is just life, with some extra challenges like kids with ADHD or developmental delays thrown in.  Oh, and I drive the world's biggest car that I am hopelessly unable to parallel park.  No big deal.

It's funny too because I used to really believe that the world is primarily changed by Very Impressive People doing Big Huge Things, and that I should aspire to that.  (Not that I even came close--I assure you I didn't.)  But you know what?

It's not.

Saint Therese of Lisieux is one of my all-time favorite saints, in large part because she did small things, generally unnoticed, but all the while growing in holiness and devotion to Jesus.  A young nun who didn't live an outwardly noteworthy life, her writings are incredibly profound, and her "little way" now inspires Christians the world over.  And Blessed Mother Teresa?  While best known for her compassionate tending to the sick and dying, she too wrote and spoke primarily of the little things, about loving and serving those in your very home.  While she was indeed recognized for her work during her lifetime, that work was comprised of small, difficult, menial tasks in the forgotten corners of Calcutta.

And I am discovering in my own life that saying "yes" to God amounts not to grand and sweeping actions, but to a series of seemingly small and unseen tasks.  And it's hard.  But beautiful too.

See, there's a reason that we mothers are so often discouraged--and also why adoption is one of the greatest blessings I've been given.  21st-century Americans have a natural disdain for the small things, the things that "hold us back" and keep-us-from-really-accomplishing-something for Jesus.  I once read a book, in fact, that claimed being an at-home mom was depriving God of using our gifts and talents for more important work.  (Clearly this book was not written by a Catholic.)

But as an adoptive mom, I know the importance of treasuring the mundane and embracing the normal, of savoring the days at home with peanut butter and jelly and Sesame Street. My adopted children didn't always have these days, so I rejoice in the littlest of breakthroughs--like when my five-year-old daughter with Down syndrome (and likely Cerebral Palsy) ran for the first time, off-balance and all. It is the little things in life that we are made for; these are the things that nourish and grow the soul, and these are the things that define motherhood.

So while I love sharing my story in hopes of encouraging others, I also want people to know that the things I do on a daily basis are infinitely small

And that people who begin the process to adopt a waiting child are not saints.  They are not super-human.  They do not have infinite patience or perfectly organized closet spaces.  They do not consider amassing large amounts of mismatched socks to be a life-goal.  They don't think changing parasite-filled diapers is the most fun thing ever nor do they somehow have a greater capacity for love or charity or mercy.

They are merely people.  Stepping out in faith to meet a need, and to receive a precious and vulnerable child, yes...but that act will not ultimately culminate in the satisfaction that comes from winning a Nobel Peace Prize. 

It will culminate in the daily grind.  And in a completely humbling self-perception and awareness, amidst diapers and meal prep and mountains of laundry to be folded.  And maybe a bigger car that you don't take downtown very often, because of the aforementioned parallel parking situation. 

So I find it incredibly encouraging (and freeing) to remind myself that God chose me for the small things: making jello for my daughter when she has a sore throat, cleaning messes off the floor, and sitting at a newly-adopted child's bedside in the Cardiac ICU.  My call is not to be some high-energy Really Great Person, but to put one foot in front of the other each day in an attempt to love my family through word and deed.  It is my "yes" to God, and it's small--the biggest thing about it being that it forces me to see outside of myself, and has the potential to bring forth virtue in my life.

Saint Therese of Lisieux once penned the following: God rejoices more in what He can do in a soul humbly resigned to its poverty than in the creation of millions of suns and the vast stretch of the heavens.

One of the most beautiful and true things ever written, in my opinion.

Because it reflects the idea that God is working faithfully in our souls, and delights in our doing small things with great love.  I may have a baseball-team's worth of children, four of them adopted, two of them born with medical and developmental needs...but at the end of the day?

I'm simply a mother. 

Doing small motherly things, while hopefully growing in great love.


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