** This is a guest post of sorts. My therapist wrote this article for the Catholic newspaper for my Diocese. I was humbled when I read it and I wanted to share it on my blog because it’s beautiful. When I first read it I wondered what exactly I had lied to her about to make her see me this way. I told her that and she said that I have a really hard time accepting compliments or praise. So I am sharing it to try and break that pattern. Everything in me says that I don’t deserve to be spoken about this way at all, that I am not the person my therapist thinks I am. It is a old pattern of thinking that creeps up here and there and I have to fight it. I will say that being in therapy with Michelle has helped me heal in a way that I never thought was possible. A year ago I prayed for God to send me a therapist and she is the answer to that prayer. **
Michelle Browning, LMFT-A is a family counselor and member of the diocesan Family Life Committee.
“I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.” John 12:46
She found Christ in a field on a vacation trip. The picture she saw, the emotions she felt, changed her life forever. It is dull to say she has a strong conviction. It is more accurate to say that her faith is so intense, that it burns her hands and hair and leaves an open wound of scalded skin. The raw, fierce love that she has for our Lord can be felt through walls and doors.
Her voice is piercing and distinct. When attacked for her faith, she has been asked, no forced, to leave. If anyone questions whether there is a God, have him or her sit with this woman for 60 seconds. Her faith will burn holes in their disbelief.
Christ gave her a simple task list: love Me, love your family and see that they find me.
It is an honor and it is humbling to experience her children. They are all teenagers now, but these middle schoolers and high schoolers wear their faith proudly. They are challenged on a daily basis on usual teen issues – relationships, acceptance, community, tolerance, success, rules and family. They accept and even invite challenges. Growing up, they have felt the singe of Mom’s intensity, once laced with rage, alcohol or drugs but now drunken with truth, love and promise.
These kids know the rules, these kids like the rules; they even help create the rules. They teach their friends the rules. And where does their conviction come from? These teenagers and their fearless Mom have a distinct sense of family. Each one has a personal relationship with Christ, His Holy Spirit and His mother, Mary.
Her kids see how the rules work or don’t work, how the consequences play out and, most importantly, the love & forgiveness that follows.
One rule: no sex before marriage has been stated loudly in the home from birth, everyone knows how Mom feels about this… and then, the oldest brother had a baby out of wedlock. The younger ones get to see first-hand, how hard it is and what it means to be human. Life doesn’t end when we make mistakes or make choices that change the trajectory of our lives. When we invite God into our mistakes – love happens, light happens.
As Catholic families, we have a job to do in this world; to be the light of Christ for all to see. To be our true selves, imperfect, human and sinful as witnesses in the world. We have the task of creating a school for our children (the home), to learn about the world and how to be in the world, living a Catholic life – daily sin and all.
We can easily tell our children that there are evils in the world and that they need to avoid them, “Make sure you avoid any/all destructive habits and practices”, as if that takes care of it and parents are done with their jobs. As for our Mom, she prefers to say, “You’re going to screw up, just like I did, but in your own way.”
“And when you do, don’t beat yourself up. Everyone else is going to do that. Go to God and leave your crown at his feet and say, ‘Lord, I screwed up, help me.’ … And He will!”
One key is to listen to our teens and tweens. Listen to them and let them ask questions. Open a dialogue. Allow them to fail. When they can do that, they can begin to figure out their own way of learning what it means to be Catholic and human at the same time. Teenagers who have parents that allow them to fail at something are given a gift. Parents who let their kids make mistakes, give their children the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, forgive themselves and most importantly, see God’s grace and receive His unending forgiveness. Every sinner that repents might agree: feeling God’s love and forgiveness helps us all feel lighter and it helps us shine brighter in a dark world.
All of us work with people that are not Catholic. All of our children have a classmate that is not Catholic. And Catholic or not, we all know someone this is unhappy, angry or bitter. Offering a sincere gaze and a listening ear (free from advice or judgment) brings light to anyone. But how do parents teach these two things to their children? By modeling these in the home, in the car, at bedtime and at the start of every day, children will see it in action. Kids and teens are more aware of us than we think. Look them in the eye and listen with a loving heart.
We can learn from the Mom and her kids. Through Mom’s vivid and outspoken devotion to Christ in all of her trials and triumphs, the family has created a culture that is private and sacred, no one can disrupt it but anyone can join in. That one hour, every day, the kids get to open up the most private parts of themselves – their true selves (away from what teachers and friends want to see) and share anything and everything. Each person at the table knows they are accepted, loved, and needed to make this circle complete; to fulfill God’s intention of community, family, and breaking of bread.
The kids in this family defend that hour and relish it, they tell their friends not to call or text during that time because they love it so much. Each has reported that this time is so important to them; it is above all and nothing can come before it. They love that they get to come back together at the end of the day and discuss how hard it is to be light in the world, where they succeeded that day, where they failed… and they get to be light for one another as a family. They practice at home, what they can be in the world, which reflects what God asked Mom to do – to see that her kids find Him.
Written by Family Life Committee member: Michelle Browning, LMFT-A