Saturday, October 3, 2015

Sand In My Shoes

Years ago, when I was still in school, I saw a poster hanging on a classroom wall.  On it was a picturesque image of a snow-capped mountain against a clear blue sky, with a footpath in the foreground, leading towards the mountain. Under this beautiful image was this caption:

"It's not the mountain ahead that makes you tired, 
but the grain of sand in your shoe."  

For some reason, that image and caption have stuck with me all these years.  And lately, I feel like I have a shoe full of sand.

This past week was going to be one of lots of celebrating in our home.  As I try to continue incorporating  liturgical living into our family life, I became excited at the prospect of this past week's calendar.  We had four very special church feast days coming up, and I intended to make each one of them a little extra special for my family. Not only would we be celebrating angels, but we'd also be remembering two of my very favorite saints, St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Jerome. In addition, we would remember our little one in heaven this week, Francis Gabriel, as we marked the feast of St. Gabriel and the upcoming feast of St. Francis of Assisi. 

I had it all planned out.  On Tuesday, I'd thaw out some of the blackberries we picked in July and we'd have blackberry sauce served over angel food cake for the Feast of the Archangels. I'd also make a trip to the florist to buy a lovely bouquet of flowers to put on our little  Francis Gabriel's grave.  On Wednesday, one of my favorite saints, St. Jerome, would be celebrated.  I'd print off coloring pages of this saint for our boys, and we'd color them together and learn more about this wonderful saint.  On Thursday, my husband and I could finish up the novena to St. Therese of Lisieux together, and the boys and I would pick some wildflowers to put next to her statue on the mantle.  Friday would be special because it would be the Feast of the Guardian Angels.  We'd make an exception to our "no dessert on Fridays" rule and eat the rest of our angel food cake, served with extra whipped cream, while we all snuggled on the sofa watching a movie, and of course, as we do every night, say the Angel of God prayer as a family before bedtime, only this time, with extra emphasis.   

Yes, I had it all planned out.  It was going to be a week filled with flowers, food, and faith.  Our little domestic church was going to thrive this week, and the saints and angels in heaven would smile at us.  I felt holier just thinking about it.

But by Monday afternoon, my son had started to run a fever.  By midnight, he was very ill, and by the wee hours of Tuesday morning, it was obvious that he had more than a 24-hour stomach bug.  The blackberry sauce and angel food cake were replaced with ice chips and popsicles, none of which he could keep down.  Instead of running to the florist for flowers on Wednesday, I was running with him to the bathroom.  St. Jerome got little more than a casual mention during bedtime prayers, and the grave of Francis Gabriel went unadorned.  I lost count of which day of my novena to St. Therese I was on, and had to rush outside in-between rain showers to find a few colorful leaves to place next to her statue, instead of the petite bouquet I'd imagined picking.

By Thursday, my son still would barely eat, wanted only to lie on the sofa and still had a low fever.  I was becoming irritable after the nights of intermittent sleep due to a sick child, combined with being confined to the house for four days, not to mention day after day of cold rain and gray skies that dominated our week.  I grumbled when I had to cancel a long-awaited appointment; I complained about the rainy weather, and I snapped at my husband for every little transgression.  The angel food cake that I had prepared remained in the refrigerator untouched.  For various reasons, everyone had lost their appetite.

By Friday night, my son was feeling better and back to his feisty self, antagonizing his brother and asking me for apple juice and potato chips, but the week had taken its toll on me and I felt like a failure.  How could I expect St. Therese to intercede for me when I couldn't even remember to finish her novena? How were my husband and I going to grow closer in prayer when we kept crawling into bed too tired to even mention it?  How would my children know about their siblings and the other saints in heaven if I didn't take the time to remember them in a special way myself? All of my best intentions that I'd had at the beginning of the week had crashed and burned.

And then, for some reason, I remembered that poster, and I began to realize that the path to holiness that I'd mapped out so precisely for myself and my family this past week was being sabotaged by a grain of sand that had fallen into my shoe.

The week that was is over now.  The novena has ended and the feasts of the angels and those great saints will not come again for another year.  For the most part, my family and I missed all of it.   Instead of celebrating feast days with food and fun and flowers, we were simply bearing with each other.  For one week, my home became my cloister, my son's illness became my penance, and my husband's patience became my model.  It was my own Little Way and a good reminder that celebrating the saints does not make me one.   The only way to become a saint is to climb the mountain with a grain of sand in my shoe.

Angel food cake parfaits. A bit late. Still good.


  1. Beautiful! It seems things like this happen to me quite a bit. I just take longer in appreciating the grain of sand!

    And: we do that with dessert on Friday, too! The little ones never notice a meatless day, but they DO get it that something's going on, dessert-free Fridays.

    1. Thanks, Colleen. It makes Fridays feel like a mini-Lent and then we make a big deal of dessert on Sundays which makes it feel like a mini-Easter. It's a great tradition.