Times of Joy, available at: ForYourMarriage.org

Happily Even After

Times of Joy

August 26, 2010

We have had a “helluva” summer.  What was supposed to be three and a half months of down time at home and at the office – kicked off with a fun vacation at the beach – turned into multiple funerals and cross country trips by car and by plane. And it probably goes without saying that trips of that magnitude didn’t result in a lot of downtime at the office.  We seemed to be endlessly returning from a trip or getting everything in order to leave for a trip. 

I actually remember a moment back in early June, sitting on our front porch on a heavenly Saturday afternoon.  I mean it was completely idyllic.  Kids playing in the yard.  Flowers we planted blooming.  Perfect 70-degree weather, sunshine and not a cloud in sight.  It was just one of those moments when you are completely…complete.  At peace with yourself and your life; fully conscious and aware of what a precious gift you are experiencing and thankful to God for it.  I remember that moment, because it was the last time I remember feeling that way for the last two and a half months.

Until last weekend.

A friend and co-worker offered us her timeshare at a beach condo out of nowhere.  She had it booked and ended up not being able to use it and figured we could use a getaway. She just gave it to us.  Free.  A completely gratuitous gift.  So we packed up the family, sand toys, rubber boots and jackets (this is Oregon, not Florida) and headed to the coast for some family time–something we just haven’t had in a couple months. 

After driving for a few hours, we arrived in the mid-afternoon, and settled in quickly.  Then we headed straight for the beach.  Now, I had never been to this beach.  And, I come from a land (Florida) of magnificent beaches.  But I had simply never seen anything like the beach at Newport, Oregon.  After parking on a bluff, descending several sea stairs, and climbing over an enormous dune, you are faced with a landscape of 3-4 feet high mini-dunes rolling (is that the right verb to describe dunes?) down to the Pacific.  It looked like a half or quarter scale Tatooine desert (Star Wars reference for those who have no 30-50 year-old men or Lego-addicted little boys around).

We plodded through the warm sand over the ridges of one dune after another until we chose our spot in the middle of nowhere.  We were surrounded by nothing but sand and water. (Seriously, there were so few people, it was amazing to feel so alone on a public beach!) The children were as completely fascinated with the landscape as we were.  Oscar started exploring, Simon was discovering how to slide and jump down little dunes, and little Lucy treated them like rock walls she wanted to climb. 

Which left us with very little to do besides Joshua laying his head in my lap as I sat on our blanket.  There we were: watching our children, marveling at the beautiful late afternoon light, the piercingly clear day, the soft warmth of the sand through our toes, the relentless waves of the Pacific, the complete and utterly gratuitous gift of it all. 

It was one of those moments: at peace with yourself and your life; fully conscious and aware of what a precious gift you are experiencing and thankful to God for it.  In the face of such an abundance of grace, could a person want anything more?  Then I realized, in addition to all the blessings of nature, a healthy happy family, a surprise getaway, and remarkable weather in Oregon…I get to share it all with Joshua, the love of my life.

Some people search and search for love, for someone with whom they can share life.  I was given Joshua at a relatively early age and we share so much that it is almost easy to take it for granted. But not in a moment like this. I can sigh in contented wonder at this utter gift of a moment, and he can touch my leg to let me know he knows.  Without a word from him, I am no longer a solitary being in my reverie, but part of an indwelling community of love.  I am known.  And the only response to that is gratitude.

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Family Pilgrimage

Family Pilgrimage

As soon as Stacey and I learned that the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) was coming to Philadelphia, we decided to attend with our three children. It was a no-brainer for us.

Since it was first convened in 1994 by Pope St. John Paul II, the WMOF is held every three years and is the world’s largest Catholic gathering of families. We both had moving experiences attending World Youth Days, so we had great hopes.

My experience of World Youth Day in 1993 profoundly shaped my understanding and relationship with the universal Church—simply being in the same space with thousands, even millions, of Catholics from around the world changed how I thought about being Catholic. I think that when we look back at the WMOF, we will say the same thing about its impact on our family.

At every turn this past week, we were surrounded by Catholic families from around the world. Our children met kids from Paraguay, Brazil, Louisiana, California, Argentina, and Texas. We heard world-class speakers while sitting next to parents changing diapers. Above all of the theology and Scripture and ideas that were shared, we were most moved by simply being with so many other Catholic families. We were pilgrims, but we felt at home.

Pilgrimages are a way to invest our lives and bodies in our faith. This week, we set out on a journey, put our feet on the road, and sought a deeper connection to God and others. Our main goal in this experience was to spend time together encountering the Church. Our time has not been without its share of meltdowns and angst—what family travels perfectly?—but we returned with good memories and a recommitment to one another.

Though we took in the sights of Philadelphia (we liked Pat’s cheesesteaks over Geno’s, viewed Van Gogh and Monet paintings, and studied Ben Franklin’s experiments), we traveled first as pilgrims. We packed lunches and walked long distances. We ran out of peanut butter and band aids. Our hotel room smelled of sweaty socks. We all had our moments of frustration and discomfort, but it was enriching to be on the same journey together. We returned more seasoned in the faith and bonded to one another.

There were two refrains in many of the talks we heard—including Pope Francis’—and they offered a solid theological grounding for family life. First, the Trinity: God is a communion of persons; we are created in this likeness; therefore, we are created for love and relationship, which is most fully realized in family life. Second, the Book of Genesis is rich in imagery that proclaims who we are and how God made us for one another. Relationship—especially in the family—is how we learn and practice love.

“Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love,” Pope Francis said in his homily at the concluding Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. “That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith.”

I’ve been savoring that last line for a few days now: the family is where faith becomes life, and life becomes faith.

The motto for this WMOF was, “Love is our mission.” Our family took this to heart by huddling several times a day, placing our hands together, and calling out, “What is our mission?! Love’s our mission!”

The best advice I took from the meeting came from Greg and Lisa Popcak. They are well-known Catholic authors and speakers, and we’ve come to rely on their books in navigating parenthood. They said that every family should play, pray, work, and talk together. They suggested doing these four things every day for at least 10 minutes, and for an hour each at least once a week.

Talking, especially, is fundamental—on average, families share only 15 minutes a day together. Spending time together having conversations of depth is essential in grounding the family as the primary relationship in our lives. That is how family becomes a school of love, a “factory of hope,” in the words of Pope Francis.

Speaking of the pope—it was thrilling to see him. I was excited that our kids were so excited. We held our two youngest on our shoulders to see him drive by in his pope-mobile; we all waved and cheered. I was grateful for our children to have a personal connection—even if quick—with the head of the universal Church. It unified us with the crowd and with Catholics around the world.

At the opening of the World Meeting of Families, Archbishop Chaput (who confirmed me) said that the gathering would accomplish the purpose God intended for it if it renewed our commitment to one another as a family, and our awareness of the fundamental role of the family in society. It has certainly done that.


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