Holding on For Dear Life

“She is a tree of life to those who grasp her, and those who hold her fast are happy.”

Proverbs 3: 18

Occasionally, in a quiet lull, while I’m washing dishes, or driving… my mind sifts through fading memories of being a little girl. I was my mom’s “velcro kid.” I picture a time when I’m maybe three or four years old, shielding myself behind her knee. It was usually when we went somewhere unfamiliar with a lot of people—a big family party, or when my mom stopped to chat with someone unrecognizable at the grocery store. I’d wriggle myself into the spot I felt safest. From behind her legs, no one else could spy me. Like a vine, my hands, arms, head, and legs happily entwined around that life-giving trunk. I usually went unnoticed if I remained very still and didn’t speak. My skin was firmly pressed against hers creating one fleshy amalgamation. But if the person with whom she was speaking addressed me directly, my mom would swivel her torso and reach around to find me. And sometimes to my great horror, she would grab my arms and carefully peel me away. If this action had been accompanied by a sound effect, I imagine it would mimic a long, thick strip of velcro being ripped apart. 

I was attached to my mother, both physically and emotionally. Even as a gangly teenager, and a young college student I sought physical closeness with her, sometimes laughably to her utter annoyance. Never too big or mature to insist that she “scootch” over on the recliner where she comfortably planted. After seizing enough room for myself, (I was practically on top of her) she would stroke my arm or scratch my back as we took in a tv show or football game on a chair meant for one. I clung to her stability, protection, and warmth until the day she died, a little over a month after my 22nd birthday. When she was ripped away that last time, it wasn’t the sound or feeling of velcro being parted, more like a piece of aged, worn duct tape suddenly and harshly yanked from a smooth painted surface. The damage was unmistakable.

For a time after, I thought maybe I had been too attached to her and resented our closeness. Sometimes, I even targeted my resentment and anger towards the very woman who I thought loved me into the mess. Maybe I should have been more cautious about how dependent I was on her. It was a childish attachment that resulted in grief and I would avoid that mistake in the future. I began to believe the lie that self-reliance was the only answer.

Over the many years (more than two decades!) since my mother’s death, I have had time and perspective to consider that treasured bond we shared. I’ve come to regard it as a good and natural connection, a tremendous blessing from God that many people never experience. Sadly, it took a decade-long-journey into my rabbit-hole spiral of self-reliance to finally figure it out.

Not until I was thoroughly dissatisfied with my life did I reassess. My disordered attachment to myself: my desires, my comforts, my plans resulted in a whole lot of emptiness, coupled with disappointment.

We are made to attach. I’m convinced God has put velcro in the human DNA. It is both natural and Biblical that we bond with others.

“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.”

Genesis 2:24

We are created for relationship. But that good and natural inclination can very easily become disordered, as did my attachment to self. People can readily become attached to bad relationships, addictions, fear, pride, and even good things like life itself–in fact, during this COVD pandemic, I see myself easily drifting to a disordered attachment to life. I love my life. I’m pretty certain God wills that for me, but when the love of my own life starts to supersede the love of God and His children, that’s a problem. So how do we cultivate healthy attachments? Faced with a potentially deadly virus, I wear a mask in public to ensure the safety of the vulnerable, and I gently, but regularly remind myself that my life on Earth is passing, whether now or fifty years from now. God calls us to attach to Him. We are to cling to Him on the cross. In so doing, our tears and suffering meld with His.

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;”

Matthew 10:37

God is not telling us to ditch our parents, kids, friends. When we cling to him with abandon, all of the other connections in our life that are good and healthy are strengthened, nurtured, and sustained. Our other attachments become ordered. He is our shield, our protector, the immovable tree trunk which serves as a wise mediator with the world.

God ordained the beautiful mother-daughter relationship I experienced. He has also willed all the subsequent holy bonds in my life: my marriage, my relationship to my children, family, and cherished friendships. But those attachments must always receive their lifeblood from the source—Christ Jesus. That doesn’t mean those relationships will be perfect and without struggles or loss. But when we are with Him and can feel His heartbeat against us, we will come through the trials, stronger, with greater hope, and deeply loved. He never leads us into fires, but through them. And He is attached to us the whole walk.

Today, I am both grateful, and wistful when I recall being my mom’s velcro kid—a treasured memory, but more importantly, a profound preparation for the ultimate attachment in my life–to a God who gave His only son that I might have abundant life now… and beyond this one. So grab hold!

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

John 3:16

Like it or not, Mom, someday, we may share that recliner again.

*1st Photo by Trent Haaland on Unsplash

*2nd Photo by V Lionel on Unsplash

Hanging By a Thread… of Beads

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Amidst the strange events that are unfolding worldwide, I have been so grateful for my Rosary. The Holy Rosary is my tangible link to the Blessed Mother who continually leads me more deeply into relationship with the Trinity. A month or so ago, I gave a talk to a moms’ Bible study group in which I shared my personal story of how I came to rely on the Rosary. A mere string of beads has been a source of strength and comfort when I had nowhere else to turn—and thanks be to the Almighty, those beads are fortifying me once again when so much uncertainty and fear abound. What a profound sense of peace to pray the Luminous Mysteries with the Pope and the rest of the world this week. I hope we all continue to pick up this powerful devotion daily and marvel at the results.

You don’t have to enjoy saying the Rosary. Truth be told, I often don’t. But, now more than ever, give it a chance. I hope the talk I’ve linked below helps you understand why.

Here’s the intro they read before I began.

Our speaker today is Mary Jo Gerd. She has been married for more than 15 years to a wonderful husband she believes God handpicked for her.

However, she is currently employed by three overbearing, domineering bosses…ages 13, 11, and 9. They just happen to call her mom which is the best and hardest job she’s ever had.

Before taking on that important role, she worked as a promotions writer and producer for a movie channel, doing trailers, celebrity interviews, and red carpets. She traded in her “glamorous” media job for the more rewarding, albeit lower-paying vocation of full-time wife and mother. She hasn’t looked back since. Well, maybe once or twice.

She and her family are active members of their Denver parish. She enjoys writing about family life and her reversion to the Catholic faith on her personal blog, Late For Church.blog. You can often find her essays featured on New Advent. She’s been regularly interviewed on Relevant Radio’s, “Morning Air” discussing all sorts of Catholic topics. And she is a brand new board member of the non-profit organization, Families of Character.

Please welcome Mary Jo Gerd.

G.P.S. (God Positioning System)

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Recently, I wrote about how God spoke to me through an incidence of eavesdropping. You can read about it here. In His not-so-subtle way, the dear Lord woke me up to a weakness that regularly plagues me: I don’t trust Him. I constantly question the benevolence and guidance of the One who created me.

I pray. I read scripture. I love God. And sure I’m totally on board with His leadership when everything is running along just fine. I’m a happy passenger. But I hit a random bump in the road, or find myself in unfamiliar territory and oh boy, I’m gonna grab that wheel from the Almighty. It’s nothing short of a herculean task for me to surrender to His infinite love and trust. I think we all struggle with this to some degree, but when you tend toward the controlling end of the personality spectrum (my hand is raised real high right now) it can seem downright impossible. Maybe some of you out there can relate.

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Where, O, Death is your Victory?

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For those of you who mourn the death of a loved one, this is the time when we joyfully (yet often with tears in our eyes) anticipate our eventual reunion in heaven. May the powerful hope of seeing our dear ones again, that is made possible by our Lord’s victorious Resurrection, be with you this Easter season and always. Oh, what a glorious day!

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“Punch him. Kick him. Crucify Him!”

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What does a young woman’s self-defense class have to do with our Lord’s harrowing journey to the cross? I posted this essay last year and it remains one of my most popular to date.  Find out why…

Every year with the arrival of Holy Week, I endeavor to place myself in the unfolding drama of our Lord’s incomprehensible path to Calvary. It is an extremely fruitful and therefore established devotion of prayer in preparation for the holiest days of the year. And no doubt, the Church in Her wisdom understands our need to unite in Christ’s suffering especially at this solemn time leading up to Jesus’ resurrection. So we pray the stations of the cross, we meditate on the most sorrowful mysteries of the Holy Rosary, and during the Mass on Palm Sunday, we even get to play a role in the gospel’s Passion, interjecting vitriolic phrases like,

“Crucify Him. Crucify Him!”

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Lenten Mercy & A Ball of Yarn

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I started knitting recently. It turns out the ol’ inter-webs aren’t all bad. Via the université de Youtube, some very gracious ladies have kindly schooled me in the art of “casting on” and achieving my very first stitches. Under their expert tutelage, I will now be spending my free time connecting countless yarn chains, while hopefully breaking the bonds of slavery to my phone. That’s the plan, anyway.

I’m kind of enjoying it… I think. Progress has been slow. My kids, however, are already extremely confident in my abilities. They’ve even placed special orders which seems wildly premature since I have only a week of experience under my sans-a-belt. Against my better judgment, I have promised each of them a homemade scarf. At this rate, the scarves will make wonderful college graduation gifts. That gives me a good ten years before my oldest graces the stage of the auditorium to pick up his diploma and hopefully collect his glorious handkerchief-sized scarf.

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Feasting, Fasting & Perfection

What’s your take on fasting? If you’re a well-adjusted God-fearing, healthy individual, it’s always a good thing, right? Recently, God the Father surprised me by His answer.

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Why am I even thinking about fasting now?! According to the liturgical calendar, we are squarely in a season of feasting. Woohoo! Lemme at the goodies! Yesterday we marked the joyful feast of the Epiphany. Our family joined another family at a doughnut shop after Mass. And what says feasting better than greasy fried cakes covered with icing and sprinkles? Nothing in my book. While I did manage to refrain from partaking in the sugary treats this time, the truth is, ever since Christmas Eve I have taken to the feasting principle like a portly duck to buoyant waters. Who doesn’t enjoy all the great foods that accompany our jubilant holy days during the Christmas season? I single-handedly made enough pizzelles to supply the Italian World Cup soccer team for a good year. Santo Cielo!

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Signs You Suffer M.V.D.S on Your Faith Journey

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I drive a minivan. Don’t be jealous. It’s been seven glorious years since my husband and I decided to take the plunge and purchase our little Honda house on wheels. To my mind, we made the right decision. From the ease of the automatic sliding doors when hands are juggling groceries, diaper bag, and baby carrier, to the times we’ve happily hauled gaggles of kids on field trips, it’s been a helpful tool in achieving our family’s version of domestic contentment. However, there have been definite downsides that demand address. “What is that smell?!” Don’t get me started on the joys of finding hidden-away “treasures” in the very back row. Suffice it to say, the heralded discovery of a new antibiotic may be in our future. But a much more pressing and troubling concern regularly plagues me. Everyone else on the road who is not a minivan driver is suffering from a severe case of M.V.D.S.

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Beware! Are you a ZOMBIE Catholic?

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(This was posted last October and got a lot of great feedback, so I’m reposting for those of you who would like a refresher on Zombie Catholicism. I added a particular prayer at the end of the post that has helped me personally keep the zombies at bay)

Halloween is just around the corner. And as usual, I expect to see my fair share of kids trick-r-treating in their zombie get-ups: pasty white masks with dark, vacant circles for eyes, torn shirts and pants, occasionally a little flourish of fake blood splattered here or there. It’s usually the teenagers who go all out with the most gruesome costumes, but occasionally a five-year-old will greet me at the doorstep decked out in full zombie face paint and garb. I respond the same way each time. “Oh… wow…quite a costume,” I stutter with my best perma-smile. “My, look at all that blood… here’s your candy,” I murmur, avoiding eye contact while timidly dropping a couple snickers in the outstretched bag. Then I anxiously scan the perimeter to make sure there aren’t any zombie parents lurking nearby.

Don’t chuckle. Zombies exist. They dwell in our midst.

Continue reading “Beware! Are you a ZOMBIE Catholic?”

A Big Whopper of a Lie

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When my kids were really small and just learning to talk they occasionally told “fibs.”

“I don’t know how that gross banana got mashed into the carpet. I think I umm… just found it like that.”

Their little half-truths coupled with their beguiling faces were just too cute. I couldn’t consider their stories lies. “Lie” is such an ugly word. My kids told fibs.

Continue reading “A Big Whopper of a Lie”