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Parting words

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I wish I lived it all better, and by "all," I mean just about everything. If I had, or if somehow the deepest intentions of my heart manage to take a more definite and discernible shape between this day and my last, my words would carry more of what they're meant to. But as we get ready to travel to our oldest son's wedding amid the flurry of three family graduations, my grandmother's 100th birthday, and the dull roar of activity we regularly sustain, I can't help but reflect. And, of course, I can't really keep myself from sharing what I've been thinking, especially with those of our children whose lives are at a moment of choice and change -- those moments of growth when everything seems possible and impossible all at once.

No one is perfect. I know I don't fall any closer to that standard than anyone else does. I also know that you won't be perfect either. I don't expect you to be perfect and you shouldn't expect that either. Though you may find it hard to believe, I never did. No wife or husband, no mother or father, no teacher, or worker, or student ever fulfills every ounce of his or her potential. You are enough. What I hope, however, is that you won't ever stop trying to be fully who you are. That is the best gift you have for the God who made you and for the people you love and who love you.

Life can be scary. It isn't nearly as secure as we want it to be or tell ourselves that it is. You can't really count on what you have any more than you can count on what you hope to have. Jobs can be lost. Friends can move away. Neighborhoods change. Your parents will age. People and things will turn out much differently from what you thought they would. But don't be afraid. God is still in charge. Difficult times pass. It is easier to make it through if you pray it through. If you have to choose between a wing and prayer, choose the prayer.

Give your whole heart. You may think you are already doing this, but chances are you don't know how much more of your heart there is to give. Not yet. It hurts to give it all, to make yourself a total gift to someone, and lay down your life in love. But when you try to do it, you begin to discover how much you've still managed to withhold. When you love someone or try to, you end up finding out just how selfish you really are. Don't be discouraged by that. Just recognize it. And try again. Remember that you can only give to someone else what you accept in yourself. Remember too that God can make good use of it all -- even the things you wish you hadn't done or been.

Forgive. That doesn't mean being walked on. It also doesn't mean that your worst enemy will somehow magically become your best friend. But relationships with family and friends are mostly more important than the negative things that can and do happen in them. If you can bring yourself to a place where you can forgive someone even before he or she asks, then you will able to truly forgive them when they ask, but don't kid yourself into thinking that there aren't a whole lot of things you need forgiveness for, too. The people who are closest to you are usually the ones who hurt you most. They are also they ones you hurt most.

Laugh about everything, especially the things that are the saddest, most frustrating, aggravating, and annoying to you. Laughing in the face of danger is possible when you know how to laugh at yourself. But try not to laugh at anyone else. A smile is enough.

Be truly present. Put down the newspaper and the cell phone, turn off the music and the television, stop thinking about what you're going to say next, get out of your own head, and listen. Listen to the music of your commute. Listen to what you know is the right thing to do. Listen to the baby breathe. Listen to the kid in the back row who asked the question nobody else had the courage to ask. Listen to the homily at Sunday Mass. Listen to the needs the person in front of you is trying to hide. Listen to the sounds of the outdoors. And yes, listen to that very small voice of God inside you. Don't worry about whether anyone listens to you. When you listen to others, they will know you have something worthwhile to say.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.

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