St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s feast day is just days away. On 10/1 there will undoubtedly be much celebration on Earth and in Heaven—appropriately so.
I wish I could say I’ve written a whole tribute to the enduring wisdom of her “Little Way,” but I haven’t. I did, however, recently give a talk about striving for day-to-day holiness in family life in which I ended with a profound quote from the much loved saint and doctor of the church. In the talk, I may or may not have slightly tweaked her profound words for the purposes of my theme. Bold, right?! But I’m gonna go out on a limb here in asserting that I think Little Flower would have approved. You decide. Regardless, an early happy feast day to all of you, recognizing one of the church’s most influential saints—a twenty year-old girl from France. Quelle sympathique!
A quick shout out to the wonderful ladies from the Magnificat Moms at Spirit of Christ in Arvada, Colorado! Thank you for the invite to speak. It helped spur me out of a recent writing lull.
Hit play below to listen to my most recent talk on striving to live day-to-day holiness in family life. Bonus points if you listen while doing the dishes.
It’s been 28 years. Wow. Is that possible? There are moments though, when I am mysteriously transported to that hospital room again. I remember it—thick with fear and fluorescent lighting, and the bustling activity around us as the world simultaneously seemed to stop. Back then, we didn’t say goodbye. Since then, I’ve said it a lot. Can you hear my goodbyes? There are also those stretches when I feel the heavy weight of time and distance.
I am nearly the same age you were when you breathed your last—just 51.
I have forgotten what your laughter sounds like. I think I hear it in my own children’s voices. You would have loved them. They don’t know you. The stories I share cannot do you justice. But I bring you up often, even if they tire of hearing it. I love you for them and I will love them for you. Occasionally, I get flashes of you when I see my oldest son. He looks and behaves more like you than I do. He is blessed. And I am grateful. How can I thank you enough for all that you handed me? I had a front row seat to heroic, selfless motherhood.
With innate grace, you loved me unconditionally, especially through my teenage years. I never got the chance to apologize for wising you wouldn’t sing so loudly in church. I’m sorry. You would belt out Immaculate Mary so beautifully that those in the pews around us would remark, “What an amazing singing voice!” Instead of being filled with pride, I boiled with embarrassment and shot you dirty looks. But, you could not hold back that singing anymore than God can hold back His love for us. If only I could take back those icy stares… I sang the very same song with exuberance this morning. Full of gusto or not, I got dad’s signing voice. I smiled behind my mask thinking of you hitting the high notes with perfect vibrato.
You were an amazing writer who left me your journals full of wisdom, humor, and heartache. Never any despair though. Such a treasure. I turn to them for silky, comforting words and phrases. You offer hope in the trials and the mundaneness of your life. It has informed my life as wife and mother. Each year your reflections take on new meaning for me. When I open the pages and peruse your perfect teacher’s handwriting, I know these were meant as love letters to your children. This is mine to you, Mom. But I am not half the writer you were. I agonize over just the right combination of words. Your writing came effortlessly. But not many people even knew that about you. I like having an inside track.
Would you believe I have fully embraced the Christian faith that you so lovingly taught me? It is a link as real as the cord that once connected us, nurturing me with your lifeblood. This connection, however, can never be cut. You planted seeds in my life that you never had the opportunity to witness come to full bloom, but that never stopped you from planting, again and again. I hope you know what an amazing gardener you were. I am who I am because of your love. As long as I breathe, I will strive to carry on that invaluable legacy.
I’ve heard it explained that the barrier between the living and the dead is no more than a thin veil. That seems right to me. Today, I have my hand held out against that veil where I know you will find it.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.
Your loving daughter,
And for all of you who are grieving the loss of a mother today, I am sorry. Even the veil will eventually pass.
I wrote this many years ago as a new mother who was just beginning to understand the depth of my own mom’s love for my siblings and me. Happy Mother’s Day to all the sacrificial mothers out there—biological & spiritual! Today, look a mother in the eyes (even if via zoom) and tell her thank you!
My Mother’s Eyes
I remember my mother’s eyes. They were clear, light blue, deep-set with a faint perimeter of feathery skin that crinkled when she smiled. Those calm, translucent eyes managed to communicate so much. But her childhood snapshots were incongruent somehow. As a child myself, paging through tattered, old-fashioned, black paper photo albums, her youthful eyes seemed slanted and squinty, only faintly reminiscent of the woman I knew. I actually felt a little pity for my homely, little mommy. Her face must have needed to grow in order to accommodate such complex and interesting eyes. As she aged, the skin around the eyes became more delicate, thinner, and fainter, giving her penetrating eyes a whitish, oval frame. Now, when I look back at photos of her during her mothering years, I see so much light emanating from her face. I’ve heard it said those who are filled with goodness sometimes seem as if they are shrouded in light. Her goodness radiated from the eyes.
As a kid, if I got hurt she’d give me a quick, concerned once-over as if silently recounting all of my limbs. Once all were accounted for and intact, her gaze would fix on me, offering such comfort. When she was proud of one of my little accomplishments, her eyes would soften and seem to laugh. They would light up to cheer me on when I was struggling, like trying to get my first hit in softball. My stare would zero in on her eye line in the stands as I waited out the right pitch. But there were also times throughout my youth when her eyes betrayed the otherwise well-adjusted motherly exterior. I had a natural love for baking, one of only a few interests we did not share. My mom was usually exhausted after a long day of work. She was a school teacher who rushed home and did the lion’s share of the housework as well. Having the impeccable timing of a child, it was then that I would generally hit her up to help me bake cookies. Her eyes were incredulous and impatient. But soon, without much prodding, they would look up signaling resignation. In that glance, I could almost instantaneously smell the homemade chocolate chip cookies.
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.
Years ago I used to enjoy the mind-numbing babble of a popular national morning show while I got ready for work. One segment that caught my attention was, “Eat this! Not that!”The ultra-skinny host whose own diet clearly consisted of an occasional rice cake topped with kale would run through a display of mouth-watering dishes, often well-known fast food items. With the help of an “expert” guest, the bobble-headed anchor would compare the fat and calorie information of each. By comparison of the nutritional facts, they would conclude, “Eat this grilled chicken sandwich which has 50-billion fewer calories than that one loaded with mayo and fried in gobs of fire-retardant lard. (Gasp.) And for heaven’s sake, don’t ever eat that!” But the greatest shock entertainment value came when they compared seemingly healthy salad entrees against obvious fat-laden dishes like pizza, or hamburgers and fries. The plates piled high with greens and veggies often contained—wait for it—double or even triple the calorie content of the junk food items! The moral of the story: unsuspecting customers were often hoodwinked into heart disease by the lurking fat in “healthy” salads. Poor shmucks! “They should eat this delicious all-beef patty! But not that deadly harvest salad piled with carcinogenic croutons and dreaded trans fats! It contains enough calories to nourish a small town for two years. Just look at all that BACON and RANCH!” Yum…
Recently, I came up with a twist on the morning show game which has shed some light on the problem of recurring sin in my life.Let’s call this little game of spiritual discovery, “Hate THIS! Not THAT!”
I think about my mom almost daily since her death 26 years ago. While it’s been too long since I’ve heard her laugh, she has left me with a bounty of wisdom that sustains me. In fact, there are simply too many lessons to enumerate. She was a Catholic school teacher by profession, so it was in her nature to instruct and impart knowledge. But there were also things she most certainly did not pass down. There are some worldly teachings she decidedly left by the wayside. And for that, I am even more grateful and bolstered.
Bear with me. I’m about to brag about my kids. Proud mama alert! Go ahead. Look away and grumble, but there’s no putting this exuberant lioness back in her cage.
And I’m not embarrassed to admit that you will probably be quite underwhelmed by the source of all this maternal delight. It’s neither a virtuoso violin performance nor aprize-winning science project. In fact, none of my kids even plays an instrument, (excluding kazoo) or cares a whole lot about making scientific breakthroughs. (Sadly, there’s no fighting genetics.) I am fully aware the rest of the world will consider the source of my pride as something banal and utterly unexceptional.
Nonetheless, it causes me to light up like a roman candle in a cloudless, dark country sky.
When I was a wee lass, my grandma came to stay with our family for what seemed to me to be an extended period of time. It may have been in reality only a week or two, but to my fuzzy childhood memory, it was longer than usual. And yet, it felt excruciatingly too short.
When she stayed with us, it meant there was a smiling, warm face to greet me after an arduous half-day of kindergarten. My loving parents were hard-working Catholic school teachers trying to carve out a meager living, so they dealt with childcare by entrusting us kids with the heavy responsibility. My brothers were tasked with unlocking the door and not burning down the house until my parents returned a couple hours later. But as the youngest, they wisely thought it best I should spend my after-school time with adult supervision. It was arranged for me to stay with a neighbor mom who had a daughter my age. While we lived only two doors down from each other and attended the same school, our families were very different. My “little” playmate was at least twice my size and a physical and emotional brute. Today she’d probably be characterized by that popular buzzword, “bully,” but I didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate it back then. To add insult to injury, this mean girl’s mom was pretty mentally checked out and had a knack for turning a blind eye to her daughter’s mean-spirited mischief. She even mocked me when I complained. So I learned to quietly suffer through those seemingly interminable four hours, day after day.
I’m not a serious tennis fan, but over the years, I’ve followed the amazing career of Serena Williams. In fact, she’s hard not to watch, such a force of sheer athleticism and drive, not to mention all the spellbinding, gutsy grunts that accompany each swing of the racket. In addition, her striking, glamorous face has covered countless magazines over the years from fitness to fashion. She’s got the world’s attention, including mine. That’s why her recent rant at the US Open truly disappointed this mom.
Is it just me or have you noticed how every single reading from Mass over the last couple weeks seems to point to all of the unrest and scandal in the church of late? Not in that oblique, beating around the bush kind of way, but overtly, and in a way that seems to strike you to the core. It’s kind of how I remember feeling after a romantic heartbreak. No matter what station I tuned the radio dial to, I’d hear a song that eerily seemed to be speaking directly to me. But this a lot different. It’s not the voice of Tears for Fears. It’s God who is knocking on our collective foreheads, trying to break through so we might truly hear Him in the midst of such devastation.