Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Life Lessons Worth Remembering

OK, this is the second time this week I've come across something somebody else wrote that was so insightful, I just had to share it. Today I received this from my friend Deacon Jene Baughman. It is a copy of a column penned by Regina Brett, columnist for "The Plain Dealer" in Cleveland, Ohio. You can read more of this breast cancer survivor's wisdom here.

As we start the Advent Season (ready, set ... go!) I'd like to pass along some of these life lessons. I wish I'd read them years ago! I've highlighted my favorites.

Lessons in Life By Regina Brett

To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 45 lessons life taught me. It is the most requested column I've ever written.My odometer rolls over to 50 this week, so here's an update:

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good. 2. When in doubt, just take the next small step. 3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. 4. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does. 5. Pay off your credit cards every month. 6. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree. 7. Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone. 8. It's OK to get angry with God. He can take it. 9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck. 10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile. 11. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present. 12. It's OK to let your children see you cry. 13. Don't compare your life to others'. You have no idea what their journey is all about. 14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it. 15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don't worry; God never blinks. 16. Life is too short for long pity parties. Get busy living, or get busy dying. 17. You can get through anything if you stay put in today. 18. A writer writes. If you want to be a writer, write. 19. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else. 20. When it comes to going after what you love in
life, don't take no for an answer. 21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special. 22. Over prepare, then go with the flow. 23. Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple. 24. The most important sex organ is the brain. 25. No one is in charge of your happiness except you. 26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words: "In five years, will this matter?" 27. Always choose life. 28. Forgive everyone, everything. 29. What other people think of you is none of your business. 30. Time heals almost everything. Give time, time. 31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change. 32. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch. 33. Believe in miracles. 34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do. 35. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger. 36. Growing old beats the alternative -- dying young. 37. Your children get only one childhood. Make
it memorable. 38. Read the Psalms. They cover every human emotion. 39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere. 40. If we all threw our
problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back.
41. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now. 42. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful. 43. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved. 44. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need. 45. The best is yet to come. 46. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up. 47. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind. 48. If you don't ask, you don't get. 49. Yield. 50. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift.

Calling all writers!

There's a "wish list" opportunity at "Silent Canticle" for those who are interested in a paying gig...



Monday, November 26, 2007

Memento Mori

This was a difficult Thanksgiving for my family. We had funeral services for my paternal grandmother on Tuesday, interred her on Wednesday … then sat down Thursday to remember her favorite holiday, Thanksgiving.
I held down the fort at my aunt’s house while the others traveled five hours away for the burial. Small children ran amok while I made deep-dish pumpkin pies that, a day later, collapsed in a depressing pile of goo instead of gleaming slices of custardy goodness. Clearly, I had been off my game that day in the kitchen.

For me at least, the difficulty was not the funeral itself – Grandma was 92, had not been in her right mind for some time, and we were not especially close. I write about my last encounter with her here. And yet, she had mothered three of my favorite people: my father, my godmother Aunt Susan, and my Uncle Pete.

As I looked over the sea of faces at the funeral, the raw grief of these three beloved people, sitting side by side in the front pew, struck me hard. They had lost their mother; nothing – not even their conviction that she was at that moment cooking Thanksgiving for her husband in heaven – could mitigate their anguish.

Then it hit me: In all probability, the next funeral I attend would likely be one of theirs. Only then did the sadness overwhelm me … not the finality of hers, but the certainty of theirs.

In the Gospel this weekend, Jesus warns his disciples of the uncertainties and vicissitudes of life – and of the inherent dangers of getting caught up in what, in the final analysis, simply doesn’t matter. Even those of us whose days of “carousing and drunkenness” are a hazy, distant memory are sometimes lulled by the incessant grind of “daily life.”

* Late nights at work that leave empty places at the dinner table.

* Hours of television that fail to reduce the pile of “unreads” on my bookshelf.

* The early morning rush, hustling children and husband out the door with lukewarm efficiency.

* Sunday morning “devotion,” one ear on the priest and the other trained on the movements of my restless children.

With the approach of the holidays, the temptations arise anew. Which will find its mark first, the intoxicating highs of the partying and gift-giving? The anxiety-producing lows of unpaid bills and family dramas? How would it change things if we knew that this was to be the last Christmas together?

“Memento mori” (remember your death) was a recurring theme among the early Christians. Even in times of great joy and celebration, the knowledge of their immanent mortality lent a balance and intentionality to their living that we do well to emulate not because of the dread of death, but because we are certain of a greater celebration to come.

In these weeks ahead, as we anticipate the Light of the World to come, may this sentiment of the early Christians direct our steps and restore our sense of balance as we wait for the encroaching darkness.

Eternal rest grant unto us, O Lord,
and may perpetual Light shine upon us;
may the souls of the faithful departed, and all of us,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Family We Don't Get to Pick

If you enjoy this post, check out more quality Catholic reading at the Catholic Carnival #147, hosted this week by our fearless facilitator Jay at "Living"

The other day I talked with Maureen, whose granddaughter “Janie” – her son’s child – was a ward in another state. Little Janie has two half-siblings (by a different father) who were also in the system, and were about to be adopted by a gay couple. Because the older children were unrelated to her, Maureen wanted to adopt only Janie.

Maureen was upset because the agency had recommended to the family court judge that Janie be placed with the other two children, rather than sent to live with Maureen. They didn’t want to separate the siblings unless it was absolutely necessary.

Maureen thought this was ridiculous. “Why should I take the older two? They aren’t my grandchildren, just a reminder of their no-good father. Besides, that judge should choose family over a gay couple!” Clearly there was a long, sad story behind Maureen’s words, and my heart went out to her. But I was pretty sure the judge wouldn’t rule in her favor.

What I really wanted to say to her was, “Are you sure you can’t find it in your heart to take in the other two children? They can’t help who their father is.” We use the same reasoning to explain why a woman who has been raped should not abort her child: Children should not be forced to pay for the sins of their parents.

Maureen has a difficult choice to make: relinquish her grandchild or welcome Janie’s siblings as well. Not to thwart the adoption plan of the gay couple, but because it is in the little girl’s best interest to stay with her brothers. If she were to be separated from them now, Janie may forget them for a while. However, her brothers’ grief would be compounded … and one day, when Janie finds out what happened, she could very well come to resent her grandmother from pulling her away from the rest of her family.

There are situations when there are serious reasons for siblings to be separated – my own children have two older siblings that do not live with us. We’ve done our best to keep the kids in touch with one another through periodic visits, though it isn’t the same as being able to run down the hall and jump on a sibling’s bed every morning. But in order to keep them safe, we had to make a tough call knowing that one day we will have to answer for that decision.

In the world of adoption – particularly with the prevalence of “open adoption” – the traditional definitions of family become rather fluid. Yes, our children are really ours … but the relationship between other family members is less clear-cut. We find ourselves being tangentially related to people we would just as soon disappear. The temptation, of course, is to ignore the connection and write them off – after all, these people mean nothing to us.

But it isn’t that simple. Even when the bonds of birth are stretched, they are never wholly broken. Separation may be the better of two bad choices. The pain and longing remains. Periodic visits are no substitute for being able to giggle over Cheerios every morning.

We do not choose to have these people in our lives. But in a very real sense, they are the “family we didn’t pick.”

“We’re going to see birth-mom and dad,” I tell my noisy bunch.
They squeal and jump in car seats, ready for their junk-food lunch.
I’ll pay for their indulgence; As they bounce till they get sick.
Thank you, dear birth parents, family I didn’t pick.

Time for Christmas with some people who are clearly less than glad
“those children” are still with us since we’re not “Real Mom and Dad.”
Hand-me-downs and garage sale finds will have to do, St Nick.
Give me patience,” I pray gamely, “with these folks I didn’t pick.”

When asking for a sibling group, we only wanted two.
The social worker asked us if instead we would take you.
Who’d have guessed it? It was madness! What a dirty, rotten trick!
That we should fall so much in love with three we didn’t pick!
H.H.Saxton, 2004

Friday, November 16, 2007

Heidi on "Relevant Radio" Monday...

Tune in to the "Drew Mariani Show" on Relevant Radio on Monday, November 19 at 4:45. I'll be talking about ... guess what?

A. The Green House Effect (not likely, unless you're talking about mildew in our shower)

B. Why I Heart _____ (insert safest candidate of the moment)

C. Adoption: The Definitive Pro-Life Choice

Right. It is a call-in show ... so feel free to call in! The number is: 1-877-766-3777

Are you interested in adopting a child from the foster care system (or a ward of the state, immediately available for adoption), and want to know where to start? Click here!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Sounds of Sweetest Praise

Last week the kids started our parish children's choir. I sat with Sarah during the rehearsal, at her request, and enjoyed each little tune. She barely sang above a whisper, which surprised me to no end; at home she sings loud enough to peel the paint off the walls.

At the conclusion of each song, I noticed that she turned and gazed expectantly at the mothers who were sitting in the pews, waiting for their children. "Why don't they clap, Mommy?" Sarah wanted to know. "I don't think they usually clap at rehearsals, Sarah," I explained. She pouted.

I tried another approach, and when the next song concluded I clapped my hands together enthusiastically ... just loud enough for her to hear. "Hurray!" I whispered.

Sarah was not amused. "No, Mommy! YOU don't clap! You SING!"

Fair enough. (*sigh*)

Meanwhile, Christopher was carrying the tune manfully in the second row. He kept turning and looking behind him; the organist had caught his attention with this "king of instruments." After the rehearsal was over, he made a beeline to the organ and got an impromptu lesson about how all the pedals and stops and keys work together to create the sounds of a symphony.

"Can I play it?" This request caught me by surprise. I had started lessons at the tender age of five, and was hired by a local Lutheran congregation seven years later as their organist. It was there that I cultivated a taste for liturgy.

I must confess, I felt a little thrill when I saw that Christopher wanted to learn to play the same instrument that I had studied as a child. In the same way, I feel my throat get tight whenever I hear Sarah's voice echoing in my ear as we sing together at Mass. Although they do not have our "music genes," they have obviously caught our love for music.

Adoptive parents often wonder whether nurture or nature is the stronger indicator of how a child will turn out. I suspect the answer is, "both." But today, I was so grateful to find one more way that our children are truly, "ours" -- that is, that they are like us. We would love them even if that was not the case, of course. And yet, such unexpected gifts make the loving that much easier, that much sweeter.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A Birth Mom's Story

I was on YouTube a while back and found the video (shown below) by "Cari," who shares with unflinching courage the story of how she made an adoption plan for her daughter. In another video, she gives us a bit more background of herself -- an account of abuse and neglect that is as painful to read as it must have been to make.

Although she is still clearly finding her way out of the darkness of the past, I couldn't help but admire her desire to find a more hope-filled future for her child. Have a look ... you'll never forget it.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Real-Life Love

“Are you the Mommy?” He was just two years old, and already he understood “Mommy” to be as much about function as biological fact.

I hesitated, then smiled. “Yes, Christopher. I'm the Mommy. Would you like to come and see where I live, and stay with us for a while?”

With a confidence that took my breath away, the little boy slipped his hand into mine and we set off toward the McDonald’s Playland. I was the Mommy who was going to play with him, at least for now.
That was five years ago. Two years ago, my husband and I adopted Christopher and his little sister, Sarah. I love them fiercely, more than I thought it possible to love another human being. Frankly, I think I got the better end of the "love deal," since on most days they are infinitely easier to love than I am.

The other day in an adoption forum, the question came up, “Is it possible to love an adopted child unconditionally?” Now, most people put a comparative spin on this particular question (i.e., “Is it possible to love an adopted child as much as one that is biologically related?”).
However, since I’ve never given birth and can’t address that question with relevant first-hand experience, my first instinct is not to compare it to biological parenthood. I have spoken to many people who have both adopted and biological progeny, and believe the core parent-child bond feels the same no matter how a child enters your family. Some people believe this quite passionately. I find that inspiring.

I just don’t come at this question from the same direction. To me, the word “unconditionally” has a magnanimity that I’m not entirely sure I possess. I mean, couples pledge “unconditional love” on their wedding day ... and fifty percent of them wind up in divorce court. Parenthood would seem to require a higher standard, because there are higher stakes. And so, I promise my kids something that doesn’t sound quite so flowery, but fits the bill just as well, and perhaps even better. Not “unconditional” love, but “every day” love.
  • Every day … I promise to start the day by putting your needs above my own.

  • Every day … I promise to give you the security and affection you need to overcome the past and set your sights on the future.

  • Every day … I promise to be there – good, bad, or indifferent – even when no one else in the world is on your side.

  • Every day … I promise you will be in my thoughts as I go to sleep, in my prayers when I arise, and in my heart everywhere I go.

  • Every day … I promise to love you with every fiber of my being, just as I promised to love your father.

  • Every day … that I don’t feel up to the challenge, I promise to call in reinforcements knowing that there is always One who loves us all … unconditionally.
It’s a real-world choice, made in real-world time. God in His infinite perfection can truly pledge “unconditional” love. Me, there are days when I aspire to “adequate.”

I know my own limitations. The best I can do is one day at a time. God knows just how pitifully flawed and frail I am, how far from perfection I fall in my capacity to love. My children do not have the perfect mother ... but they do have a Heavenly Father who always fills the gap.

And so, they call me “Mommy.” I tickle them, and we fall in a heap of hugs and giggles. It’s not perfection, but it is real-life love.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

For All the Saints

One of my all-time favorite hymns is "For All the Saints," byWilliam How (d.1897). He was ordained an Anglican minister in1846, and served as rector of Wittington, Shropshire (England), where he served 28 years and wrote more than 50 hymns. How was known for his work among the indigent and industrial workers.

Claves Regni, an online magazine, observed that verses 3,4, and 5 of the original hymn (which had eleven verses, reprinted in their entirety here) were omitted from most hymnbooks because of their references to the Te Deum, an ancient hymn attributed to St. Ambrose. (For lyrics in English and Latin, click here.)

My very favorite verse (which again I sing with far more conviction as a Catholic than ever I did before, and which is especially appropriate today) is verse six:

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine:
Alleluia! Alleluia!

From Great Hymns of the Faith, 508

Today, as we remember our spiritual mothers and fathers who precede us to heaven, and who are there even now praying for us, let us never forget that "blest communion" that holds us close to the Sacred Heart.