Busted Halo

Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft tries to balance her traditional Mexican-American cultural heritage and Catholic identity, personified by her grandmother La Lupe, with her roles as a young wife and mother.

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April 28th, 2011

Dejection: What Are You Trying To Teach Me, God?


dejection-flash1It started April Fool’s Day if you can believe it.  We’d been going to the Friday Fish Fry at our new parish all of Lent, and it had really become the highlight of our week as we loved the community we found there.  We left our house a little later than usual and  unfortunately arrived at the end of a line of about fifty people.  We had brought separate food for Olivia (who is allergic to dairy and eggs) so she and I parked our stuff at a table while Brandon stood in line with Lina.  As we waited, a man at our table with a terrible hacking cough threw the napkins he was using to cover his mouth directly onto Olivia’s plate of food.  Shoot. There went her dinner.  Brandon ended up waiting in line for an hour, after which Lina started to break down because it was so near her bedtime and Olivia because she was hungry and we had no food for her.  We dejectedly drove home with the girls crying the whole way.

The next Friday came.  Brandon had a meeting out of town but had plenty of time to drive back to Austin, pick up our car from the mechanic and get home so that we could make the Fish Fry on time this week.  I was very much looking forward to getting out of the house so I made sure everything was ready on time.  I got the house cleaned up, Olivia bathed, Lina fed, both kids in clean diapers, and Olivia’s food packed.  We were all set.  Brandon called to say he was pulling up to the mechanic.  This is only two minutes from our house, so I got Lina in her car seat, Olivia’s shoes on, set the alarm and we waited in the garage for Brandon to pull up.  And we waited.  And we waited.  Apparently after Brandon arrived, the mechanic still had to put the car back together and print out the quote before Brandon could leave.  By the time he got home, it was too late.  No fish fry.  And, oh yeah, we needed to come up with about $4000 for the car.  I stormed out of the house needing some alone time, dejectedly bringing Sonic fish sandwiches back for dinner.

Then the next weekend rolled around.  My parents had come into town for the second day of the MS 150.  It’s a big deal as far as bike races go and my parents are awesome to be able to trek so many miles.  On Sunday they left at 4am so Brandon could drive them to the starting point.  Brandon was supposed to get back in time for us to be able to make 9:30am Mass.  I got the girls all ready:  fed, dressed, diaper bag packed with Mass essentials.  I was expecting Brandon any minute when I got a call about complications.  My dad’s bike decided to be difficult requiring a lot of tune-ups.  They ended up starting the race an hour later than they wanted which also meant Brandon had to drive back to Austin in the middle of some 13,000 cyclists.  He got home just in time for me to hand off Lina and race to Mass with Olivia.  We arrived incredibly late, dejectedly grabbed one of the scraggly palms remaining and stood in the back of the church.

The MS 150 course goes right by our neighborhood so we had planned to watch my parents pass by in the late afternoon.  Olivia never naps well so I wasn’t worried about her nap running late.  Of course, that day it did.  After she woke up I grabbed her (hair sticking up this way and that from her nap) and ran both girls to the car, jumped in myself and raced the six blocks to where we were supposed to meet my parents.  I parked, put Lina into her stroller, yanked Oliva out of her carseat and ran.  Olivia in one arm, and pushing the stroller with the other, we finally arrived where the cyclists were passing — just in time to get the text message that they had already passed and didn’t see us so kept going.  All day we’d been telling Olivia how we were going to see grandma and grandpa on their bikes and she was so excited.  Shoot.  Olivia threw a huge fit.  One second she wakes up from her nap, the next second she’s standing in the blazing sun by the side of the road, and no grandma or grandpa anywhere in sight.  We dejectedly turned and walked back to the car.

We just can’t win.  God, what are you trying to teach me?  I am trying so hard.  I’m trying to find some semblance of routine and order in our life.  I’m trying to be a good mother.  I’m trying to get to church on time.  Trying to be a faithful person.  And I am shot down every time.  Every time.

Then came the next Friday – Good Friday.  The youth group at church was going to mime the Passion of the Lord at 3:30pm and we thought this was something that could really keep Olivia’s attention so we planned on going.  We drove to the church, but with traffic unexpectedly horrible we didn’t arrive until 3:55.  Brandon checked inside.  It was packed.  Standing room only and we would have been walking in 25 minutes late.  We turned around and dejectedly drove back home.

Easter Sunday.  Alleluia!  We didn’t want a repeat of Good Friday so we all woke up extra early to get ready for Mass.  I was excited about the girls’ matching Easter dresses.  Everything was going exactly according to plan.  We ate breakfast, everyone was dressed, Olivia was in a good mood, and we got to church early finding perfect seats.  Mass was going great until I caught sight of Olivia (who my mom was holding).  Her face was puffy and red and blotchy and she was furiously scratching.  Along with her food allergies, Olivia is really sensitive to fabric dyes, fabric softener, perfumes, etc.  I suddenly remembered that I never washed her new Easter dress.  Shoot.  It was the dress.  I ran to the bathroom and changed her.  I dejectedly changed her from a really cute Easter dress into a white undershirt and black pants a size too big.

After Mass there was an egg hunt right outside the church.  We were ready.  We got the basket, the camera, and Olivia was super excited — until she managed to find the candy right next to an anthill.  Her candy was covered in ants, as was her basket.  We dejectedly threw the whole thing away.

Really?  Really? I mean, really?  I keep trying to think of what lesson God could possibly be trying to teach me this Lent.  What can be learned from constant dejection?

I feel wronged.  I have been trying so hard to make things work out and it just doesn’t happen.  It’s not anything I could blame on anyone — things have unexpectedly gotten out of everyone’s control.  But I am impatient with slow progress.  I want things to work out perfectly all the time.  I don’t want trial and error.  I don’t want to slowly learn how to be a mother.  I want to know all the tricks of the trade now.

I suspect that this is not at all what God wants for me.  Instead, God probably desires a very slow, long journey down the road of motherhood.  And when I think I’ve finally reached my destination, I’m sure my kids will hit puberty or something and I’ll just be at the beginning of another long and winding road.

For now, at least writing it out has helped me laugh about it but I still don’t get it.  God, I’m still waiting to understand.

The Author : Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft
Vanessa, a Notre Dame grad, loves the Catholic Worker Movement, Catholic education, and overbearing Mexican mothers, which she may or may not be. She lives in Austin with her husband and three daughters and is a freelance writer. You can find Vanessa at v.kraft.im or follow Vanessa on Twitter @laluped.
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  • ruth housman

    WOW I have to say that like you I found myself in “tears of laughter” at the end of this long amazing litany of what could and did go wrong. I am thinking you got it right at the very end, by saying this had humor.

    I am thinking we all need to learn about Reaching for the LIght, and that means Laugh! Sometimes life gets so absurd we need to Laugh. Light has many meanings and one, is HUMOR.

    I am fairly sure your family is beloved of G_d. The message is, sometimes it gets to the Monty Python brand of absurd.
    And God is saying, please, take a look at all of this, and aren’t I, wasn’t I, really funny, in giving you so much absurdity? And now I will bring you to serious and give you a good hug. This run of bad will be followed by a run of GREAT for all of you.

    That’s life… the EBB and the FLOW, and we need this W EBB to keep living! Find the music in what’s really wild about such a story, tell it to your friends, and let them too, have a good, cleansing, laugh.

  • Agnes

    I disagree with the mentality that says, “things could be worse, so suck it up”. It IS frustrating to go through all those little things as a new parent. It takes time, patience, and prayer to get to that point where you can just bounce back (how many new mothers do? Usually it’s the grandmothers or mothers with older children..think about it). I think the challenge is finding new ways of understanding in the midst of our vocation of motherhood. Especially in our prayer lives!

    It is a bit ridiculous to think that you didn’t listen to God, as Jessica suggested, when he *told* you to wash the dress, or to watch Olivia more closely when near the ants. You won’t always get it right, and that’s okay. I think we as mothers judge ourselves so harshly, especially when we work so hard at what we do.

    Like others have said, God loves us no matter what. You are a new mother, and you are doing a great job. Be gentle with yourself. Regardless of being late or dressing in a certain way, you are teaching your girls one of the most important things in life–to go to Mass and participate in the life of the Church. I know that practice will outlast and overpower everything else.

  • James Leo Oliver

    When I ran into problems like this when my children were small we quit going to Church. I came back years later. My third child, son Nathan, just got confirmed at the Easter vigil. He is thirty-five and I have prayed for this to happen for years. My second son Ian, received all five Sacraments (never having been even baptized and including Reconciliation, Eucharist, Confirmation and Sacrament of the Sick) before he died of colon cancer at age twenty-seven. Please stay the course of your faith journey for the sake of your family and for the love of Jesus Christ. You ask why? So you don’t follow in my footsteps.

  • Kathryn

    I’ll share the best piece of advice ever given to me by moms of 5, 11 and 7: lean into the chaos. As a Type A-er myself, I feel your pain, share your gratitude and relish in your life experiences. Keep on keepin’ on. And, enjoy Lina’s baptism today. YEAH!!

  • Kat

    A favorite speaker of mine, Terri Nelson-Johnson, often speaks about the value of chaos in a follower’s life. Jesus’ life was, after all, pretty chaotic. He says the spiritual life is messy, not neat and clean. Amen to that!! He also draws parallels between the events of the triduum and our daily lives, that we live the Paschal mystery. Sounds like you had some of the Passion, hopefully you get a bit of Easter soon. :-)

  • Than Saffel

    I think you just need to not expect anything to go right and set things up gently so that you know and feel what success would look like.Then you can say, “well, at least they kept their outfits on,” or whatever, and feel like SOME goal was met. Nothing is ever going to go exactly right. Life is still rich. :-)

  • Michael

    As a new parent, I see a bit of myself in this story, although I recognize that I have not had such an unlucky streak in some time.

    Jessica is correct: look at everything we have! Why should we ever be unhappy? And yet it is cold comfort when we have spent all day preparing for something that does not work out. And it doesn’t make our babies screams any less shrill to our ears. And it certainly does not make us want to spring into spontaneous worship while changing a diaper at 3am.

    I try to keep a relaxed and comprehensive view of things, I am quickly learning that it is okay to be frustrated, because parenthood does not allow someone to have full “awareness” at all times and “living in the moment” takes on other meanings (my meditation regime has taken quite the hit). But the time for reflection – as you have taken for this posting – gives us the time to reconsider ourselves and our stations in life.

  • Ann W. Turner

    Oh, Vanessa, I remember the trials of having little ones and trying to make things happen. From my vantage point–”kids” in their early twenties, I’ve learned a few things: as Paula D’arcy says, “God comes to you disguised as your own life.” R. Rohr says, “Suffering is whenever you are not in control.” I think giving up control and high expectations is the key–at least for me it was. Let go a little–choose venues with a LOT of flexibility–and know that just showing up is half of the battle. I know you’re a good mom.

  • Mary

    I remember these days all too well! And they went by so fast. (My kids are in high school and college.) I, too, got so frustrated. But by watching a couple of friends who had more kids but who were serene in the face of even more calamity (because they had more kids), I finally figured out that my opportunity was to show my kids how to be patient (so hard for me!) and to roll with the punches when these crazy days arrive. And it seems like they always come in bunches. Try to keep your expectations on the low side for these outings and events. That way you’ll be happily surprised when things DO go right (they really do–at least on occasion!) and mellow when they don’t. My dad, in particular (RIP) used to tell me not to get worked-up over my tiny son’s noisiness and activity level in church (he was about 2 y). He didn’t want him to associate going to church with constant “shushing” and disgusted looks on my face. It was good advice. Good luck to you! And ENJOY your kids!

  • Kimberly

    I laughed and I cried with you. Nothing goes unnoticed by God. Good work!

  • Gwen

    I agree wholeheartedly with Jessica – as hard as it be, try to see these “mishaps” as experiences, or even adventures! Adventures in parenthood! Though I know how frustrating that can be.

    Alternately, imagine your life if you didn’t have Brandon and the girls. You’d be free to go to every Fish Fry, every Mass, and sit in sucky traffic every day of your life… all without the company of those three most precious people in your life. Sure, maybe you’d have a few less headaches and feelings of dejectedness, but your life would also be a thousand percent less joyful. And if I know, you, I suspect you’d still end of late to most of those things! ;)

    Your are truly inspiring, Vanessa, and this is the first blog post I’ve read of yours where you don’t seem to have fully come to a catharsis with the issue you’ve been dealing with. Which leads me to believe it’s right around the corner, and you’ll soon be able to laugh every stupid little thing off like it’s second-nature.

  • Spongemom Squarepants

    I agree with Jessica. You have health, you have food
    And shelter. Gratitude helps. I’m in a different place in my life with my own children after reading this blog http://www.rockstarronan.com Read today’s entry, it’s a doozy. I have other questions for God today too,
    Gratitude and a sense of humor helps me in the situations you mentioned.. If I couldn’t laugh when things go wrong with my household and my children I would go mad!!

  • Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft

    Great prayer, wise Mama Cueva.

  • Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft

    I could not agree more with all of the comments. I am extremely blessed to have all the things that I do in my life. And, yes, I should definitely be more grateful for all my blessings. I did not intend to come off as whiny, but rather cathartic. I am a person who really likes control and after having kids, I realize this will probably be the biggest trial I have to overcome. But I like how you put it, Jessica, these “aren’t problems, just experiences”.

  • Mama Cueva

    Things rarely go as planned in our house. After the miscarriage of our second child, a priest shared a powerful prayer with me that helps me focus on the eternal blessings in the midst of chaos and confusion.
    Lord grant me the grace to accept all that comes today, be it the resurrection or the crucifixion.
    In the most difficult of times I think of Mary at the foot of the cross, surrendering completely to the will of God.

  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    I second Jessica’s comments about remembering the good things in your life, and that the difficulties mentioned in your article are not important. That said, I understand how frustrating it can be when time after time, things just seem to go haywire, despite our best efforts. And yeah, maybe there could have been more you could have done, but to always second guess yourself is a good way to make yourself crazy. If you goof, learn from it, try to avoid that mistake in the future. You have a house, husband, children… right there, that’s a complicated life to manage. You do the best you can. Sometimes you forget something or screw up, and sometimes you don’t, and crud happens either way. Think of it this way: a gardener plants 100 seeds, gives them the best possible care, and some still don’t sprout. No negligence, no evil plot, stuff just happens. What do you do? You just keep going. And take your vitamins. The better care you take of your own health, the better you’re able to manage things in general. Good luck.

  • Meagan F

    Oh Vanessa! These kinds of things can be so frustrating! I don’t know what God is trying to teach you, but I’m proud of you for your effort. Your two little girls are so lucky to have a mom who loves them, loves their dad, cares about her Church, brings them to Mass, and dresses them up for Easter! Plus, Olivia will never remember about the ants :-)

  • Angie

    I think you are right that God wants you to slow down and be present. At least that’s what I tell myself. As the mother of two girls (3 and 6), I can absolutely relate to these scenarios. I strive for control in spite of God continously showing me that I can’t/shouldn’t have it. And I forget to celebrate the small victories (instead of celebrating my girls making it 15 minutes through Mass, I focus on the lost 45 minutes). So I also try to practice gratitude. It is so easy to get dejected by normal day-to-day life (all the minutia and pointless errands!), but that isn’t what we are meant to get caught up in anyways. I think we’re here to expereince each day and serve others with a patient, grateful heart. I’ve begun to try to see these trials as a way to disconnect myself from a life built on comfort. We are unspeakably blessed to have families, houses, friends–I use these small bumps to bring me back to thinking of how hard others have it and on ways I can help.

  • Jessica Nielsen

    You have a family. You have a house. You have food. You have health. You have clothes. You have the ability to walk. You are not covered in sores. You have children who are not handicapped. You have…you have… you have…

    Need I go on?

    Do you need to look at these mindless, silly little things? They are unimportant in the eyes of the Lord creator. Child, you do not need to worry about them either. God loves you and will care for you so long as you love Him. But you have to give Him every part of yourself. Did you listen to Him when He tried to remind you to wash that dress? To watch your child when she strayed too close to that ant hill? These are the things that avoid those little complications. These are the things that will bring you more happiness. But also, when things go ‘wrong’. Worry not. God gets you through. Because there are no problems. Just experiences.

  • Kim

    I’ve been reading Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation. It’s really deep, so I only read a little bit at a time. I think the most important thing I’ve learned from it so far is to at least try to accept whatever happens as God’s will. If we can do that, then the happy times will be blessed and the sad and frustrating times will, strangely enough, also be blessed since whatever happens has gone according to God’s loving plan for us to bring about His Good Will.

    My husband and I are expecting our first child in Novemeber. I’ve really appreciated your articles about the challenges of motherhood. Hopefully I can be as accepting when things like you’ve written about happen to me! :)

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