All posts by Maeve Smith

A Beautiful Woman – Part One

My (Maeve’s) mom died suddenly this past January.  I’d like to tell you about her.  She had beautiful, long, red hair, fair skin and freckles.  She was one hundred percent Irish and her name was Teresa.  My dad always said he loved the sound of her voice on the telephone.  Warm, deep, rich.  I liked the sound of her voice too.  Happy to be talking with me, comforting, empathetic.  Her nickname for us was, “lovey.”  When we were younger, she called my brother and myself her “bummies.”  I joked that Glenn was an adopted “bummy.”

In public, my mother preferred to be in the background and was happy when my more outgoing father was talking.  But she was comfortable in more intimate settings and would often tell us about her childhood, most of which was spent on a farm in Ireland.  Her Irish-immigrant mother traveled frequently with her between Brooklyn, NY and Ireland.  My grandfather, who helped Ireland gain their independence from Great Britain, remained in Brooklyn and faithfully worked at the Post Office.

Mom, Grandma Ireland (our family name for her) and Aunt Annie lived on a farm near Castlebar, Ireland.  They had a cow named Love Dove, a dog named Topsy and a duck, Goo Goo.  She told us about boiling Guiness with butter and sugar and how delicious it tasted or eating dilisk (a type of seaweed) boiled in milk.  She went to a one-room schoolhouse in Snugboro.  Her older brother, John, biked to the town of Cong, to watch the filming of “A Quiet Man,” with Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne.  Her memories made Ireland sound like an idyllic and charming place, which it is.  (My maternal grandparent’s names’ were Patrick and Bridget, two great Irish saints).

When I first met my husband, Glenn, he told me that one of the things he appreciated about me was that I was receptive.  This puzzled me and seemed to go against the grain of feminism, which is part of the air in which I matured.  Didn’t he appreciate my wit, my intelligence?  Yes, he did.  But I was also able to receive him and others.  To give space.  To leave room.

Mom did this.  With dad and my brother and myself, with Glenn and our relatives.  She accompanied us on our journeys.  She listened and empathized and tried to help.  She laughed and cried with us and she and my dad gave us money to support our dreams and current interests; buying me skis, an electric piano and a guitar.

Since returning from teaching English in South America, she encouraged me to practice my Spanish.  Consequently, we’re close friends with a Mexican-American family with whom we speak a blend of Spanish and English.

Mom was super-generous and she loved to have a feeling of bounty, whether it was at our Irish-style brunches, Christmas Eve buffet or going with me to Pizza Hut after a high school day or as adults to tea shops.  “Have whatever you like,” she liked to say with a flourish.

Whatever Mom tackled, she did well.  She had neat handwriting, was organized and very punctual, preferring to be a half-hour early than cutting it close.  She didn’t learn to drive until I was four (having lived most of her adult life in New York City) and was a cautious driver.  She didn’t like highways and instead of traveling on one, she’d find an alternative, circuitous route.  But she was steady and measured and I enjoyed weekend trips with my parents to Vermont.  She’d have her map highlighted with her route, although every once in a while she liked to explore a new road.  It took me a while to see that although a trip on these slower, quieter roads took longer, it ended up being a more peaceful trip.  I find myself traveling them more and more.

As a young adult, I was thinking of going to law school.  I bought some formal dresses to wear to my summer job in a legislator’s office.  Mom had trained as a nurse and had worked for a short period of time but was mostly a homemaker.  As I thought about my future career, I wondered what she would think if I were to wear heels and suits to work each day and my domain was more in the workplace than the home?

I’ve ended up working in education, both in school and through the Church.  The day my mom died, my dad and I stay over at the hotel where my parents had stayed near the hospital.  At breakfast the next morning, I looked out and saw a law school campus.  I thought about how mom didn’t make a seemingly huge impact on the external world but she made a HUGE difference in her family’s life.  It felt cozy to be with her.  We felt loved and everything felt right, regardless of what may have been happening in our personal lives or on the world stage.  I miss hearing her perspective on things but imagine what she’d say.

A few last things I’d like you to know about mom is that she was funny.  She had a dry wit and made interesting and astute observations about the world around her.  When I was in a pressurized situation at work in which I was being blamed for a student’s behavior, mom quipped, “I wonder if ______ knows how many problems he’s causing?”  Being able to laugh with her made it better.

She loved Agatha Christie novels and true crime stories.  She was curious about what makes people tick and wondered about the darker side of human nature.  She was an avid reader and even as a teenager, would spend afternoons in the library reading.  The Irish have a long, literary tradition and her father gave her a love of reading.  As an adolescent, she recommended some wonderful books to me, such as “Cheaper by the Dozen,” and the Betsy Ray series by Maud Hart Lovelace.

Growing up, she and my father would often sit companionably, reading their respective books.  In later years, they switched to books on tape, listening while driving in the car or walking on the treadmill.  They also loved watching old movies and shared many with my brother and myself.

Mom had a strong, sociological bent and could tell you populations of different cities and national trends in different countries, the workplace, etc.  She had a thirst and love of learning.

We miss her greatly but look forward to reuniting one day in heaven.

 May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace.

 

THANK YOU for the many wonderful expressions of sympathy so many have shared!!  And Happy Fourth of July to you and your family.

To Confront or Not to Confront

Next time you watch a movie, pay attention to the first image you see.  This is called the “central image” and should give you a key to understanding the main character and their journey.  A “central question” about this character is also posited,  i.e. “Will Dorothy find happiness in her drab, Kansas existence?”

If I were a movie character, my central question would be, “How do I deal with conflict?”  You might find this surprising since I’m a fairly gentle person and yet, I’m a sinner who encounters other sinners.  “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  (Rom 3:23)  Thus, conflict occurs.  And the question of how to deal with the conflict also arises.   “Welcome to the human race,” you may be thinking.   But seriously, I’ve encountered a series of strong characters from a young age.  And thus, I’ve pondered this question from a number of angles.

I’ve had many life experiences – living, studying, or serving as a missionary in Ireland, England, and Bolivia.  My ongoing question in life has been, “How would Jesus handle this?

I went to counseling in my twenties and realized that I was walking away from relationships because of unresolved conflict.  When confronted with fight or flight, I usually flew.  But sometimes, I’d find myself more lonely or disconnected.  So I began to deal with interpersonal conflict in a different way.   Oftentimes, I write people how I feel, but sometimes, I talk things out with a person.  I still find the latter way scary and continue working on skills in this area.   I’m very grateful to family and friends who have listened to my feelings, apologized and expressed care for me!

I try to care about others in the same way I’d like them to care about me.  Glenn and I consecrated ourselves to the Blessed Mother and I’ve felt her maternal love soften my heart.  I want to work things out more, maintain relationships, and care more about someone’s feelings than justify why I’m right, aka, let pride rule my actions.

Sometimes, the way I’ve viewed how Jesus might handle a situation has made it harder for me to confront others.  I thought He didn’t get angry and to get angry was – not exactly a sin – but not the best thing either.  The phrase, “turn the other cheek,” is not easily understood.  My husband, Glenn, (and my own Bible reading) has pointed out more places to me where Jesus did get angry or confront; such as when he drove the money changers out of the temple shortly before Passover and His crucifixion (Matt. 21:12).  He wasn’t getting angry to blow off some steam but rather, to protect the sacredness of His Father’s house.  And often, His confronting was calm and measured, as in the case of the woman caught in adultery.  Jesus protects the vulnerable by simply stating the truth; that all have sinned and none have the right to sit in judgement (Jn 8:1-11).

One fear I’ve had is:  where will the conflict lead?  Sometimes, it works out fine.  Other times, it leads to death, as in the case of our dear Jesus.  I’ve seen conflict turn ugly and as a sensitive soul, have felt the painful effects of anger.   Anger comes out in many ways.  Sometimes it’s helpful – we get in touch with our feelings or make needed changes.  Unfortunately, it comes out in many ugly and hurtful ways: tone of voice, dirty looks, sarcasm and cynicism, snapping, yelling, violence, etc.

Jesus didn’t confront because anger had hurt him personally, the way it does with us.  Jesus confronted sin because it hurt the person committing it, or it hurt someone else.  In a sense, He had to confront sin by the very virtue that He defined himself as “the way, the truth and the life”  (Jn 14:6).  Sin is an untruth, in that it violates God’s natural law and when we commit sin, we’re not being our truest selves.  Yet, much of the time, Jesus confronts sin gently.  We don’t know we’re sinning and need it pointed out to us softly.  It’s the devil who points the finger at us.  After all, the name Satan means, “the accuser.”

This is why it’s better to tell someone, “that hurts my feelings,” or “when you do this, I feel this way.”  My dad uses the example of telling someone, “you’re stepping on my toe,” which they probably don’t realize they’re doing.  When we accuse or point fingers, the other person feels angry, defensive and hurt.

This past year, I found myself in a tough situation where I was on the receiving end of a lot of anger.  I had a supervisor who didn’t communicate well.  I could read frustration on her face and hear increasing irritation in her voice.  I tried asking questions and sometimes got answers but more often, annoyance.  Then, a co-worker who had been supportive began expressing strong anger for seemingly minor things.  I increasingly felt anxious, angry and hurt – and a sense of dread on Sunday nights.

A friend asked if God might be trying to purify me of my own sin.

This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold.  (Zec 13:19)

I don’t enjoy this part of the spiritual journey but I know God needs to prune me and help me to grow.  In light of this, I tried practicing more humility, patience and acts of charity toward my co-workers.  At times though, I felt angry at God for allowing me to be in this difficult situation.   Another friend sent a helpful book,  The Christian Employee.  Things got better or at least held steady.  But then, they both expressed their anger towards me in ways that were so hurtful.

I had prayed a lot during the year and although I hadn’t received a direct sign, a few scripture verses were very helpful.  Glenn and I often prayed them together.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”    (Rom 8:15)

 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your kindness be known to all. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(
Phil 4:4-4:7)

It’s good if one can find small ways to address the situation or assert.  Believe me, I work at this but it’s not always easy for my heart and mouth to connect.  Some people use a tone of voice or put up boundaries or communicate in subtle ways that what a person is doing is not acceptable.  I admire this.  Boundaries is a good book that helps with these skills and I’ve tried to apply them to my life.

Around this time, we heard a talk by Sr. Miriam Heidland, SOLT.  She’s delightful and the talk was informative and empowering!  Based on a book, Be Healed: A Guide to Encountering the Powerful Love of Jesus in Your Life by Dr. Bob Schuchts, she proposes that underlying the seven sins are seven wounds.  One of the wounds was powerlessness.  I’ve struggled with this at times, in part because of my own makeup and also, because I simply don’t know how to respond to meanness.  And although I’m hurt or angry, I don’t want to sin against the person in turn.  This feeling of powerlessness is something that Jesus has been healing in me for a LONG time.

Granted, people don’t set out to be mean.  They’re frustrated, having a bad day or have been parented in a certain way.  Lately, I’ve heard it described as a “character flaw.”  They may or may not realize their behavior hurts others.  And sensitive people like me may take it more personally.   To be able to correct or address others’ trespasses, while respecting their dignity, is a skill that few have.  It takes a lot of love, wisdom, patience and self-control.

Around this time, I relayed the current situation to the friend who had asked if God was purifying me.  This time, she commented that  we all have an inherent dignity as sons and daughters of God and mine wasn’t being respected.  I was hearing the Lord’s call to make a change in this situation whereas, I hadn’t previously been sure of His will.

So I made a change  that I’d been very afraid to make.  It was a small workplace and I feared people’s reactions.  A strong supervisor helped me to make the change so that I spent much less time in my current situation and more time working with other children.  It was scary, awkward and bumpy at first.  But as the days and weeks went on, it got better. I emailed one co-worker some of the things she had done that had been hurtful.  She didn’t address the email but our relationship improved.

I’m very grateful to God for being with me in this situation and for the love and support He showed me through Glenn and my family and friends!  Confronting is hard but sometimes necessary.  Some situations have to get worse before they get better.

I’ve heard homilies that challenge people to forgive but don’t mention communicating feelings or standing up for oneself.  It’s always God’s way to forgive but so is honesty.   I’m trying to understand better the difference between being assertive and being aggressive.  I believe we need much more encouragement, especially since verbal violence has become more acceptable in the public sphere.  We can try new ways to express ourselves,  be patient as we grow and forgive ourselves when we’re not perfect.

Another resource is the book, “Don’t Forgive too Soon: Extending the Two Hands that Heal.”

Some people may have a different system of values or not value who you are.  Yet, God loves us and ALWAYS wants us to walk in the light and knowledge that we’re sons and daughters of a Father who loves us dearly and wants wholeness for us.  (See my post, “Our Deepest Identity,”  from Oct. 17, 2016).

The “movie character,” Maeve, is understanding each day that she can stand up for herself and others.  She can communicate directly, as Jesus did.

I often ask the Holy Spirit to guide me in each situation.

I welcome any insights, ways of communicating, or resources you might have in this area.