We prayed and sang, first thing in the Vineyard, today. The Vineyard was once a dining room in the old rectory, now transformed into the parish office at All Saints. B., my fellow sojourner in the work of parish family life, envisioned this dining room as a gathering place for our intergenerational Religious Formation program for the Fall. With the help of yards and yards of lovely tulle, and grape vines, banners and a breath-taking poster, we created a space where our the small core group of families who will help lead the way to a new kind of Eucharistic experience at All Saints gather each Sunday.
After we'd finished singing, I quietly took out a bag of flour that had bran mixed in with it. Another bowl had colored sand. There was also a small damp cloth, another pair of empty bowls and a sifter. We all felt the flour and then I sifted it into a bowl. We all watched the flour gently fall in the bowl, separating out from the bran. Some more touching, some more conversation about how light and airy the flour felt now, how the bran could be used for something else, but that the flour could be used to make really fluffy, delicious cake. Then I sifted the sand. This time, the sand just flew through sifter--much finer and less time-consuming than the flour. What nobody knew was that I had placed small treasures in the sand. So after the sand had all collected in the bowl, I handed the sifter around for everyone to see. There were gasps--three year old twins, two little boys with the most mischievous sets of dancing eyes you can imagine--were particularly entranced.
Discernment comes from the Latin word that means "to sift." We spent the rest of our time together doing age-appropriate activities that allowed us all to talk about discernment, listening for God's voice, and how we sort out and make meaning of the different parts and voices that constitute our lives.
Today, doing this work was particularly poignant and challenging for me. Light of My Life went to the bad place, just as I was beginning to lead our program. I sat doing the presentation while she pummeled me, and hard, in a way that others couldn't quite see. I hoped that ignoring her and doing something that I knew would be interesting to her would pull her back into a better place. I also was aware that someone who knows even more than I do about working with an out of control child was with us. LoML has a streak of cunning so she was being careful not to get "caught". I was repressing every single bit of me that quite honestly wanted to beat the sweet b'jesus out of her. I've learned to accept that part of myself. I recognize it as a very primitive survival instinct that does not need to be acted upon. I also know, having learned by the hardest, that there is nothing gained with anything but a very detached, calm response to her acting out like this.
Fortunately for me, J finally caught on to what was going on and removed LoML from the work area. The following 45 minutes were hell for J--my child pulled all the stops out to test this new person. Spitting, kicking, throwing stuff, pulling away to try to either get at me or one of the other children. J knew what she was doing though, and she prevailed. An hour later, things were calm enough for Spouseman, LoML and I to ride home safely in our car.
The clergy conference I've just returned from had a lot to do with discernment. I have been mindful that as LoML heads into adolescence all bets are off with her behavior. We have a good set of resources in place to help her and I believe we have done a good job responding to her needs, loving her with all our being, and being faithful, both my husband and I, to our vocations as well. Can that continue? How do I sort out my responsibilities as a mother, a priest, a wife, a person struggling hard to continue on the journey to health and strength, physical, emotional, spiritual? That is sifting work for me to do, work of hard discernment.