My life has been transformed, in 11 days.
The past 12 months have been the hardest in my 20 years of parenting. I was running at full speed but struggling to keep all the balls in the air.
People assume that because we have a big brood and they generally look happy, we are awesome mums and are naturally nailing it. So not.
It is a huge challenge finding enough time to see to the individual needs of the kids. And I can’t say it enough, but the teenage years are a very trying time and we are back to square one, figuring out how to parent them. Add to that the stress of their PSLE, Os and As coming up, along with emotional crises and the daily squabbles of the 2 younger ones and my hands are full ensuring everyone stays sane.
It doesn’t help that with your own business, your mind is never switched off and the work doesn’t end. I’ve been fighting fires at work, at home, and dealing with family conflicts. I was exhausted and heavy-hearted.
|Silence in the wee hours of the morning|
I went on a pilgrimage to Italy where we traced the footsteps of St Francis of Assisi and his mission of peace. He was the son of a wealthy merchant but was disillusioned with a rich superficial lifestyle and yearned for something deeper. He gave up everything to dedicate his life in the service of the poor and needy, following the example of Jesus Christ.
I woke up at 5am and went for a morning stroll. No kids to tend to, no work to rush off to. I do so love the early mornings! The unbroken silence and stillness in the air. I walked out of my hotel to find a beautiful sight before me. Green grass stretching freely on both sides and the majestic basilica in the distance. As I sung hymns, something stirred in my soul and the tears flowed freely. I could feel God’s presence intensely and knew that for the past months, I have been so burdened that I was unable to let go and trust in God to provide.
Time in nature
Our lives are fast-paced and noisy and we need to detox our mind and spirit from all that clutter. Wish I could spend more time in solitude, to reflect and recharge.
As I pondered our lives, I wondered why we have allowed ourselves to buy into this Bigger and Better rat race. We have moved away from leading authentic fulfilled lives and it doesn’t seem wrong anymore to live superficial glossy lives for the world to see.
What has life become for us? We are so distracted by LIFE itself and have lost the courage to go deep within ourselves to search for its meaning. It scares me to think that I am running at breakneck speed, but at the end of it all, what kind of a life do I have to show for it?
Was it real enough? Have I touched people along the way? What legacy am I leaving to my children? Have they learned how to love, give and serve? These were the ideals I held on to, but have I been waylaid by the busyness of life and things that don’t matter?
|St Francis’ bare room|
St Francis’ message of peace, love and poverty is still so relevant today. Coming face to face with his bare room, and how he and his brothers lived in extreme poverty yet were ever joyful, it was stark how far we have come in this material world that when things are taken away from us, we feel upset. Though we may begrudge not having enough, we already have too much. Yet we chase after more, but at what cost?
I’ve always had this dilemma at the back of my mind, wanting to live a simple and minimalist life yet finding it hard to give up material comforts and excesses. The past few months have been very rocky for us and I feared the uncertainties of the future, but I’m not worried anymore.
Who am I?
We had time to sit in the caves where St Francis and his brothers spent days in prayer and contemplation. I used to seek out secluded spots to spend time alone when we take the kids to beach resorts and now I know it’s not an odd thing to do, but precisely what my soul needed!
As we did our Camino walk in silence, I contemplated the question “Who am I?” Surrounded by bare nature, nothing of our modern lives mattered. Not our titles, where we lived, what car we drove, what bling we wore.
I was reminded of my time volunteering at Assisi hospice where witnessing the experience of those close to death helped me to put life into perspective. Yet we forget easily and need constant reminders about what life is really about.
It was a tough trek on our long walk, and just as I was feeling tired and wishing I was back on the bus, I came to a fork and a fellow pilgrim was waiting for me with a bright smile and a flourish of her hand to wave me down the right path before hurrying off to catch up with her friends.
The uphill walk was a mirror of life. We are pilgrims on this journey and as we face the vicissitudes of life, we are here to make that journey that much easier for one another. Be gentle. Be kind. Be helpful. If we may be blessed with abundance, extend a helping hand to those in need.
Our response is Love
On the last day, my kids texted me an SOS! I called them and they told me what had transpired with a neighbour’s dog. Our dog saw a passing dog and ran out of the gate. She must have been excited and nibbled too hard, drawing a bit of blood. The neighbour went home and brought her mum back and they had a row with my kids. A few hours had passed since the incident, but my girls were still riled up about it. #1’s response was anger, and she argued back when the lady shouted at them. #2 attempted to use logic to win the argument while my mum was trying to keep everyone calm, saying that my kids were just kids and the dog was just a dog.
I listened and was surprised that I felt no anger towards the mum and did not feel the urge to take sides or retaliate. I simply repeated, “Peace be with you, girls.”
I told them that instead of responding in anger or making excuses, let our first response be love. They were stunned into silence hearing something so radical.
I was sharing the stories of my pilgrimage with my staff and they said, “Wow, even for us adults that would be hard!”
Back to Reality
The hubs took good care of Kate and the older kids left me alone for the entire trip and did not bug me with any problems except to ask if I was enjoying myself.
But it seemed like they had saved all their troubles till I returned and on my first evening back, one swallowed a fish bone, one had her wisdom tooth pushing out and her gums had split, one came down with a fever and my helper cut her finger.
Instead of going into a frenzy, I was surprised how calm I was. It was as though I was wrapped in a bubble of peace. I got them to say a prayer, then walked them through the steps. And in my heart, I knew that everything will be alright.
For 11 days, time stood still. I am going to take a long hard look at our lives and eliminate everything which is unnecessary. I have decided not to continue looking for tutors for #5 as he has been showing improvement this year in a smaller banded class and whatever PSLE score he will get, we are prepared for it. The time saved rushing him to and fro will be used to live life at a more leisurely pace.
I will be guided with a different compass, and though life will continue to be messy and problems will arise, more so in a huge family like ours, I have found renewed strength to walk this path. The world as we know it could crash but we will be fine.
|Wonderful lunch stop|
Our Camino walk ended at La Verna, where an extraordinary event happened. St Francis had followed his calling closely and at the end of his life, he prayed that he would experience the same immense love that Jesus felt when he suffered and died on the cross. He received the stigmata – the same wounds pierced in his hands, feet and side.
As mothers, from the time of labour, we go through pain and suffering for the love of our children. And through the lifetime of our children, their pain will be our pain multiplied manyfold in our hearts. My whole perception of pain has been reshaped.
Finding our Calling
Not many of us have found our calling, but as long as we do something about it and start moving towards it, clarity will come.
I get lots of emails from mums telling me how inspired they are but I don’t usually get much encouragement. I have been blessed by many on this trip who have shared their words of advice and stories of similar adversities and I am uplifted.
I now know how much my sharing could mean to another new mum struggling to make sense of this parenting journey or be the beacon of hope that there is light at the end of the very long tunnel.
Let us support one another in this journey of life.
|Rainbow in a bright sky|
It is so good to get away every year or so to rest our body, mind and spirit.
This sense of deep peace.
With stress lifted from your shoulders.
Of feeling connected with people around you.
With joy replacing worries.
Contented with what you have.
Your mind completely free to be present in every moment.
It is so elusive but I’ve found it.
And I hope you will find your peace too.
Lesson #5: Passion vs Family
Lesson #6: Finding our children’s gifts and talents
Lesson #7: Teach our children compassion by little actions
Lesson #9: What must kids do for us to stop pushing them over the edge?
Lesson #10: Who’s selfish? The kids or me?
Lesson #11: Confronting death teaches you about life
Lesson #12: To measure our lives in love
Lesson #13: The day they fly
Lesson #14: Do our kids even know we love them?
Lesson #20: What does it take to keep a marriage going?
Lesson #21: All that glitters is not gold