RoadThis past weekend my family headed south four hours to pick up our three college students and to attend the graduation of our oldest.  All six of our younger children piled into two vehicles—one driven by me, the other driven by their father.  Actually, the five girls, aged 15 to five, rode with me and Grandma, and the sole at-home son rode with his father in a mostly de-seated van, which was ready to gobble up a year’s worth of clothes, books, and other college stuff.

The plan was that I would follow my husband David, since I had never driven the route before, and had never paid attention when it was driven for me. A Mapquest print-out was my accurate-journey insurance, held by Grandma. We would arrive on campus by 5:00 p.m., the time our daughter had to be out of her dorm. My husband and son would load up her things and then we’d meet our other two boys and zip into a family-friendly restaurant for a leisurely and relaxing dinner after a day on the road. Sound fairly easy?

It wasn’t.

The complicating factor began in the third sentence of the first paragraph above: The girls were with me, and one is five years old. We had to stop after just one hour into the trip in order to visit the restroom. Since we had started our trip later than we originally planned (what big family ever starts out right on schedule?), we were also already running behind. If my husband stopped too, he would be late to collect our daughter, possibly resulting in a fine.  And so, my husband decided to keep going, leaving me with my mother, my Mapquest instructions, and my girls, who were taking turns in a slow-moving line, courtesy of an out-of-order restroom stall and an incorrectly working faucet.

A half hour after we had turned into the fast- food parking lot, we left. This is right about the time that dark clouds began to gather and the wind started picking up.  We endured road construction, a detour not mentioned on Mapquest, rain, and a treacherous Exit 52A which included a tricky left/right veer, followed by a sharp left turn, proceeded by my shaking legs and severely pounding heart. I pulled into the campus parking lot stressed, tired and cranky. We were almost an hour late. 

But that is not all. We found that simply getting from Point A to Point B with 12 people on campus during graduation weekend was challenging. Finding a restaurant that would take all of us in less than two hours of waiting took a bit of caravanning around town. We finally settled in at Olive Garden, at separate tables. We repeated this general scenario for two more days.  Although we experienced the happy reunion with our children and a proud college graduation moment, it was not the idyllic trip I had envisioned. Then again, what trip ever is? That’s just life.

Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray”.  Most families experience this axiom rather frequently. The truth is, any worthwhile endeavor…. raising a family, educating children, and even attending a graduation weekend…is hard work, and unexpected situations arise with paradoxical regularity.  We just have to be ready for them.

The Catechism of Catholic Church (Part III, Section One, Chapter One, Verse 1839) states: The moral virtues grow through education, deliberate acts, and perseverance in struggle. Divine grace purifies and elevates them.

Perseverance and struggle aids in holiness, if we handle things properly, if we cooperate with God in them. Here’s how the mundane, ordinary struggles in life can actually be an aid to our growth and maturity in faith:

We must accept the uncontrollable inconveniences and struggles that God allows in our lives. We don’t need to run towards them or even hope for them, but we ought to recognize that they can be tools to help us develop virtue, and not fight them or become discouraged when they are placed in front of us.

We must practice patience when confronted with these struggles. We must persevere.

If we handle situations unfavorably, as we all inevitably will at times, we must look back at the experience with “wise eyes” and try to determine what went wrong and how we ought to change in the future when confronted with a similar situation again.  “Offer it up” is a phrase many grandmothers said to their children, and it’s a treasure for us to remember because when we unite any suffering with the suffering of Christ it has redemptive value.

Abraham Lincoln said, “Having chosen our course, without guile and with pure purpose, let us renew our trust in God, and go forward without fear.”  Walt Disney said it simpler: “Keep moving forward”.

This morning, with the weekend’s hectic activities behind us, I tearfully waved goodbye to my new graduate, who is moving out and on to follow his own career path and dreams 2,000 miles from our home. I couldn’t help but recollect early memories of his birth and childhood, recalling the clever burglar alarm he made in the fifth grade, and his athletic achievements in high school football. In the midst of these thoughts and his disappearing car my five year old interrupted me. Could she have a muffin? Watermelon please? Here my oldest was literally driving to board a plane and fly out of my daily life and she just wanted to eat!

Deliberately, I offered her my hand and mustered up a smile. “Yes,” I said, “You can have both watermelon and a muffin for breakfast.” Then we turned to walk into the house together. Patience. Trust. Offer it up. Keep moving forward, with God.

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