Parental Example

            Within a month’s time, my husband and I both celebrated the lives of one of our parents. My father-in-law passed away after too short a struggle with cancer. My husband took on the responsibility for planning the funeral, including a heart-felt eulogy that recounted what a good father he had been. My brother spoke next as a representative of the countless young men that Dad influenced in his years of work with Scouts, as well as the numerous young men he taught about life while he taught them to be his work assistants. The priest and many of the frequent visitors to Dad’s bedside during his last few weeks talked about his years of enthusiastic volunteering with St. Vincent de Paul. Others benefited from his decade of hospital service where he greeted patients, helped direct them to the right department, and retrieved the wheel chairs that travelled the campus. Nearly everyone mentioned his “thumbs up” attitude, his commitment to service, and his strong work ethic.

            One month later, my entire family gathered for the first time in thirty years in Anaconda, Montana. Ours was a joyful reunion to celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday. I had spent a few days with her the month before and experienced her typical activities. I tagged along as she attended Mass and the rosary daily, delivered communion and a Word Service to the nursing home, helped organize and attended a deacon ordination and a May crowning, and the weekly Adoration. I wasn’t there for one of the funerals–she averages two a week–which she organizes and plans with the bereaved families. But I accompanied her on her visits to friends: morning coffee here, a sandwich there, dropping in to check on one or pouring a cup of tea for another. Everywhere we went, people told me how wonderful my mother is and what a spirit she has for service. Our family celebration of her birthday had to include this “other family” of hers, so we hosted a tea with light refreshments in the church hall and more than 200 people attended!

            Two parents, both busier in their “relaxation years” than I am in my everyday life. Both making their lives meaningful by working for others. Both surrounded by people who love them for the service they give. Their lives exemplify one way to live well.

            They also both invite me to reevaluate my life. I am a home body who needs much time alone to process my thoughts and maintain my calm. The areas I’ve chosen to serve in are primarily solitary by choice. I write, I crochet prayer shawls, I pray for my family, friends, church, and the world. Most of my personal service is to my family–whether babysitting,  house cleaning, or lending a caring ear.  I host extended family gatherings and maintain connections. I see myself as an enabler to others in their service; I keep the household functioning while family members serve the world through their particular gifts. I’ve raised children with hearts more open than mine.

            I’d like that to be enough. I’d like to stay in my comfort zone. I want to excuse myself as an introvert who is drained by contact with people rather than energized. Yet, I know my mother and my father-in-law both were introverts who grew beyond their natural inclination and became extraverted. My husband opened his eulogy by describing his dad as shy and quiet and, as expected, the funeral attendees laughed. No one who knew him for the last 40 years would have described him that way. Yet leadership classes and becoming a Scout master drew him beyond his shyness.

            Some psychologists define maturing as growing in our weak areas until we are balanced. An introvert becomes comfortable with people. An extrovert becomes comfortable with contemplation.

            I have my own weaknesses to overcome, which may be different than the ones our parents grew through. I also have my unique call to follow and my unique strengths to place in God’s service. I hope my writing reaches out to people in need and offers help. I hope my service to my family makes a difference in the world.

            We can’t say one way of life is the only way to live well. I wouldn’t expect my children to live exactly as I have, or to serve the ways I serve. Maybe that is part of our challenge, to find our unique way to make this life meaningful. If there were only one way, we wouldn’t need to have a personal relationship with God to figure things out. We’d simply follow the defined steps. But given the distinctive nature each of us experiences–strengths and weaknesses, gifts and challenges–we are invited to constant conversation with God to get it right. If God is a parent anything like us (and He says He is) He longs to share our lives, our thoughts, and our decisions.

       In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis quotes George MacDonald, “God is easy to please, hard to satisfy.” Any effort we make to follow His path pleases Him, but He is never satisfied. He calls us to continue to grow more like Him throughout our lives.

      Sometimes I think I’m doing ok in my life choices. But then the lives of my mother and my father-in-law, and the life of Christ, challenge me to resist complacency.

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