Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Greatest Gift

Dear readers ~ I wrote the following post for our church's mothers' group (St. Anne Society), and thought that I would share it with you all as well...Enjoy!

Like many of the members of the St. Anne's Society, I spent my childhood moving from one place to another, and I am also a transplant to Texas. Our closest family members (my parents) live over 800 miles away, and we have family living thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean in Germany and (soon!) in Spain. As I was growing up, my immediate family – my parents and my younger sister – was the only segment on both my mother’s and my father’s side that didn’t live in the same town that we had been born in. We were always traveling to see our extended family for holidays, and never spent Christmas morning or Easter in our own home. By the time that I entered high school I had attended eight different schools in three different countries, and these had been a mixture of public, Catholic, and international schools. As a child, this was a great adventure and I have great memories of all of the places that my family visited and explored. I feel richly blessed to have had all of the experiences that I did growing up, and I know that I would not be the same person today if it had not been for all of these experiences.

However, not every child that moves around a lot has the same positive experience as I did. Recent studies indicate that children who move often are more at risk for experiencing depression, anxiety, and suicidal behavior than their peers who have not moved. So what did my parents do differently that made my experience so positive? I truly believe that the main factor in my ability to transition from one place to the next was that my parents kept certain things constant, and they especially made a point of keeping our family’s faith life a priority no matter where we lived. I remember living in Istanbul, Turkey, where there is not exactly a high concentration of Catholic Christians, and the Catholic churches were not abundant. My parents drove us for almost an hour to the closest Catholic church every Sunday morning, and I can still remember many things about this particular church: The crowded streets outside, the ceilings inside that seemed to reach to the heavens, the little room under the main church where my sister and I attended religious education. It would have been easier for my parents to stay home and avoid the risk of driving without their weekday driver on the crowded and treacherous streets of Turkey, but they knew the importance of attending Mass as a family, no matter how inconvenient.

As an adult, I remember many of the places that I have visited or lived most poignantly by the churches that I attended while I was there. I spent a summer working long hours at a hospital in Freiburg, Germany, and was very lonely and challenged for much of my time there. I probably would have gotten on the first available flight back home had it not been for the opportunity that I had to attend daily Mass – my lifeline for those two months! – and a compassionate nun who took me under her wing and guided me through the problems that I was facing. My husband and I spent our honeymoon in Vancouver, Canada, and again had the opportunity to attend daily mass at a local church. We befriended an older couple throughout our week in Vancouver, and on our last day they gave us a beautiful “Marriage Prayer” plaque that still hangs on the wall of our bedroom. Some of my most treasured memories from college are the times spent in prayer with my fellow classmates in the university chapel. I attended a secular university with an amazing Catholic community, and a series of felicitous events in the first weeks of my freshman year truly turned my life around and pointed me back in the right direction. I have forgotten much of the material that I learned in my university courses, but I will never forget the booming voice of Fr. Tom during his passionate homilies or the heads of my classmates bowed in fervent prayer in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.

As I think about what qualities I would hope to instill in my children – self-discipline, honesty, respectfulness, kindness, etc. – I realize that all of these flow naturally out of a deep and abiding sense of connection to our faith. Our Lord is “the way, the truth, and the life,” (John 14:6) and if we can help our children to foster a true friendship with Christ, we are giving them a great gift. One of the ways that we can help our children to grow in friendship with Christ is to bring them to Mass, to the feet of Jesus Himself, to pray and to worship and to rest. No matter what challenges life may bring for our children, God will never change His promises nor will he leave them. And no matter where life may take them, they may always claim the Church as their home, their refuge, and their universal family.

God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble. ~Psalm 46:1

May God bless all of you and your families!


Right Said Red said...

Kat, this is beautiful. Bringing our children to Mass is so incredibly important. At times it can be hard, especially with little ones and so I thank you for your encouraging words!

Jennifer Frey said...

Dear Kat,

Thanks so much for sharing this. I had the opposite experience of you growing up; I lived in the same home until I left for college. But right now we are preparing to uproot our family and move because we've accepted jobs at another University, and I worry incessantly about how this will affect our kids. This reflection has helped me think through what is really important about this upcoming transition. So again, thanks for sharing it!

B-Mama said...

Kat, love this. Above all else, GG and I are constantly striving to make our Sunday mornings to be the most reliable, consistent day of the week. There is no question where we're headed and what we're about to do when we wake that morning... What a gift your parents provided you through all the transition!

Jennifer, blessings to your family as you prepare for your move!!