Monday, August 27, 2007

Do you ever feel invisible?

I do. And today my sister Kathy sent this to me, to remind me that "behind the scenes" can be a blessed place to be.


"I'm invisible..... "

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I'm thinking, "Can't you see I'm on the phone?"

Obviously not. No one can see if I'm on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I'm invisible.

Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this? Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a human being. I'm a clock to ask, "What time is it?" I'm a satellite guide to answer, "What number is the Disney Channel?" I'm a car to order, "Pick me up right around 5:30, please."

I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude - but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again.

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England. Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself as I looked down at my out-of-style dress; it was the only thing I could find that was clean. My unwashed hair was pulled up in a banana clip and I was afraid I could actually smell peanut butter in it.

I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, "I brought you this. "It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription: "To Charlotte, with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees."

In the days ahead I would read - no, devour - the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work:

  • No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no record of their names.

  • These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished.

  • They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.

  • The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, "Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it."

And the workman replied, "Because God sees."

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, "I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become."

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride. I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on.

The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.

When I really think about it, I don't want my son to tell the friend he's bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, "My mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand- bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table." That would mean I'd built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, "You're gonna love it there."

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women."

Friday, August 24, 2007

Meme-Ories (thanks, Donna!)

Donna O'Boyle tagged me on her "Embracing Motherhood" blog the other day, and while I don't think I'll tag anyone (all the usual suspects have been "tagged" recently), I can never resist an opportunity to brag about my sweetheart. And so ... without further ado, everything you ever wanted to know (and then some) about our love story.

Where did you meet your husband?

We met at the University of Michigan Ballroom Dance Club. I’d joined the club a few months before to get ready for my best friend’s wedding – and because I had recently moved into the area and was having difficulty meeting people. My life had become too predictable routine of work/church/eat and sleep in front of the TV. Shortly after I met him for the first time, Craig and I both (independently) joined a committee to write the club bylaws. I had the group over to my house for lunch, and Craig gobbled up three of my lemon tarts! The rest, as they say, is history.

What was the first thing you said to your husband?

”I’d love to!” (He had just asked me to dance.)

Where was the first kiss? first date?

Our first official date was when he invited me and my border collie, Missy, on a picnic at Gallup Park. The park is split down the middle by the Huron River, and we sat beside the water and ate our sandwiches, with Craig stopping periodically to toss Missy’s favorite pink ball into the river for her to retrieve. One toss landed in deeper water than she could reach, and she looked at us plaintively … Craig stripped off his shoes and waded into the mucky river to get her toy. Later, when she spit her ball off on the bridge, he won my heart by bringing her a replacement on our next date.

To Craig’s great consternation, we didn’t kiss on the first date. He tried, but I had a policy against it, so all he got was my cheek. On the second date, though … well, what can I say? The way to a girl’s heart is through her dog.

Did you have a long or short courtship/engagement?

We got engaged four months after our first date. Married about nine months after that. It was just right.

Where did you get engaged?

He created a website for me to broach the subject. But he actually gave me the ring at the top of the Renaissance Center in Detroit. At the time I think it was called the “Western.” It revolved and gave us a spectacular view of the city. The whole restaurant clapped when he got down on his knee!

Where did you get married?

St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Ann Arbor, MI. It was a steamy day … July 31, 1999. I don’t remember much but the music … friends played cello, flute, piano (my cousin), and my favorite cantor sang “Be Thou My Vision” as I walked down the aisle. I was a week shy of my 35th birthday, Craig was 45. Definitely worth the wait.

How did the reception go?

Great. We had one of our ballroom friends DJ the event, and teach the guests how to swing dance. Fifties theme … we gave prizes for the best poodle skirt. No wedding cake, but Barbie-and-Ken in wedding gear atop a hastily purchased Kroger cake (long story); instead we had mugs made up with our name and date, and had guests make their own sundaes. Kids had their own reception, complete with heart-shaped piƱata. It was hot … but at least we had air conditioning in the church hall!

How was the honeymoon?

Two weeks after our wedding (another long story), we left for Italy. I wore my dress, and we were presented at John Paul II’s Wednesday audience. I’ll never forget how blue his eyes were, how fatherly. After a few days in Rome, we started a bus tour that took us to twelve venues in ten days: Florence, Milan, Assisi, Capri, Venice, Sienna, Genoa, Pisa, Sorento, Pompeii, Verona and Lake Maggiore. Next time, we’ll skip Capri and Venice and spend a bit more time in the Lake region. Went to Assisi and saw Francis, but couldn’t get in to see Clare (the chapel was under construction).

In retrospect, it wasn’t the most relaxing way to spend a honeymoon, but it was an unforgettable trip! (Our guide always made sure Craig and I got the “honeymoon suite” at the hotels we stayed in. Everyone else got twin beds!

Adoption: An Irrefutible Pro-Life Choice

Yesterday CE featured an article that compared the atrocities of Auschwitz to the American "death camps" of the preborn -- abortion mills. While the "American holocaust" theme was not terribly original, the mention of that particular death camp did spark a train of thought, which I posted as a reflection based on this article in "Streams of Mercy."

When I spent the summer traveling across Poland in the summer of 1992, conducting a series of "good-will tours" with a team of Polish and American college students, we stopped by Auschwitz. I was struck by the fact that none of the Polish students wanted to go inside. As one CE blogger pointed out, Auschwitz was built on occupied Polish territory -- to have resisted meant certain death. Some Poles did resist, of course. Most did not... the prospect of defeating such a great enemy must have seemed like a futile endeavor.

In the American battle for life, the prospect of battling such a great and deeply entrenched "death camp," perpetrated not by the government (as in China and other countries, where abortion is mandated) but by a malevolent "occupying force" -- cause many to turn a blind eye. Some of us go so far as to grouse about it to like-minded individuals. A few actually take the advice of the ironwork lettering on the front gate of the death camp: "Arbeit macht frei: work makes freedom." They choose to do something rather than simply talk by standing in prayer or counseling women outside abortion mills, perhaps, or operating crisis pregnancy centers and hotlines.

Those who choose to adopt -- in a special way, those who adopt special needs and other "unwanted" children, or "adopt" an unwed mother and give her sanctuary in their home -- are working for the Kingdom of Life by undertaking an ancient strain of pro-life activism. In his book on the lives of the first Christians, We Look for a Kingdom (Ignatius), historian Carl Sommers points out that early Christians drew many converts at least partly because they rescued and raised as their own children who had been discarded by their parents (infanticide was legal up to the age of eight days). While the Christians (hopefully, including adoptive parents) no doubt undertake the task out of love for God and not as a kind of activism, their actions profoundly affected those who witnessed it.

Whether these Christians conducted rallies against the cultural practice of infanticide is not recorded -- given that Christianity was such a persecuted sect, it seems unlikely that groups would have gathered in public in this way. But Christians were known and respected because they chose to give of themselves by saving the children themselves; it was a commitment that cost them something, not just for a few minutes, but for decades.

There are days when the choice to raise someone else's children to faith-filled adulthood is a less-than-joyful task. Not many adoptive parents talk about it, of course, but there it is. It is filled with all the challenges of traditional parenting -- plus a whole list of variables, both genetic and early environmental, that strike when you least expect it. Finally, you get to brace yourself in case one day the biological bond kicks in, and the child (usually a teenager but not always) says to you, "I don't have to listen to you. You're not my REAL mom." Or something less overt but just as painful -- the time your child says to you, "You know what the best part of heaven will be? Being with my birth parents as much as I want." Or the girl who finds her birth mom the week before her wedding, and asks the woman who raised her if she'd mind letting her birth mom walk her down the aisle and sit in the family pew.

It can be depressing, if you let it. Or it can be an opportunity to imitate Christ. "The love of God is seen in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." While we were still ungrateful, demanding, self-centered creatures, the King of Heaven undertook an unthinkable humiliation, becoming one of us so He could make us part of His family ... forever.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

What is a "Good Catholic Family," anyway?

Today I came across an excellent post by Karen Edmisten (August 16) about what it means to be a "Good Catholic Family" -- and the dangers of faulty comparisons. As an adoptive parent, I've thought about this a great deal. When we started the foster care/adoption process, we toyed with the idea of having a group home of six or eight ... Thankfully, God did not hold us to that starry-eyed notion. At the end of the day, He knew (and just as importantly, I knew) the two special children He wanted us to parent would be more than enough.

The truth is, good Catholic families come in all shapes and sizes. It's not about the quantity of people -- it's about the quality of the life they live together. I've never given birth, but motherhood has changed me in ways I couldn't have imagined when we first started this process. (For one thing, I've discovered some barely-discernable artistic talents ... don'tcha like my dancing dinosaur? Sarah and I did this today.)
Seriously, I've learned a thing or two about what it means to have a "good Catholic family."
  • I've learned that to be "open to life" (at least in my case) means to be open to whatever God wants, at each step along the way ... without trying to rush too far ahead of the moment at hand.

  • I've learned to tune out the critical voice in my head that tells me that I will never, ever tame that "Mommy Monster" that keeps me on edge and hyper-critical.

  • I've learned that sometimes the best way to raise up a child is to search out those moments when I can stop "shoulding" on myself, and remember what fun it can be to be a mother.

  • I've learned that sometimes even the most "gifted" of mothers sometimes feels like she's flying by the seat of her pants. And that she's grateful for even a glimmer of gratitude. So here's yours today, Karen. Thanks for putting into words what I've been thinking all day!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Migraine Time!!!

Today on Catholic Exchange there was a post from a poor, desperate mother with a special-needs child who struggled with migraines. If you are one such poor soul, you might like to know about the advice I gave this woman here.

There is a time to suffer ... and a time to take care of ourselves so we can be there for our families!

God bless you.