Tuesday, July 31, 2007

10 Things I've Learned About Love

Between my back going out (again), school deliveries, and trash detail, Craig managed to get all the way to work before calling to remind me what day it is.

Happy 8th Anniversary, Sweetheart.

Time flies when we're having fun ... and sometimes even when we're not!

This year, in lieu of yet another "100 Reasons I Love My Husband" tribute, I'd like to share with you "10 Things I've Discovered About Love." Some of these things I learned courtesy my kids, some since marrying Craig ... but all because of my vocation as a wife and mother. Here goes ...

10. Love is ... hearing snores, and suggesting a check-up for sleep apnia rather than simply covering my face with a pillow so he can sleep. If Craig has his way, one day we're going to have his-n-her sleep apnia gear. Dueling Darth Vadar masks, if you will.

9. Love is ... knowing there really is such a thing as too quiet to sleep (this discovered when I found myself alone in my hotel room a few weeks ago while taping a show with Johnnette). It seems my body goes on alert, rather than drowsy, when I'm not in close proximity to snoring and spinning.

8. Love is ... assuring me I do too look good in a bathing suit (when looked upon by love-goggled eyes).

7. Love knows ... the best presents are thoughtful, not expensive. It's getting up with the kids on Saturday mornings, giving me the last cold Diet Coke in the fridge, and loading the dishwasher or cleaning a bathroom without being asked.

6. Love remembers ... sometimes the best retort in an argument is silence. (Craig wins more arguments that way, since he seldom has to retract hastily spoken words!)

5. Love forgets ... whose turn it is to (pick one) do the laundry/pick up the kids/take out the trash/buy a birthday present, and just goes ahead and does it because it needs to be done.

4. Love means ... listening patiently even when the topic isn't particularly enthralling, or when you've heard the story before, or when your partner is so worked up about it that you can't get a word in edgewise.

3. Love does ... the hardest part of the job. When Missy was killed last December, Craig volunteered to remove her carcass from the road and bury her so I wouldn't have to see it. I volunteered to tell the kids, so Craig didn't have to worry about explaining it at a level they could understand.

2. Love is ... gentle and kind. This is the single most important lesson I've learned from Craig ... and one that's taken the longest to sink in. Gentleness is not a virtue that comes naturally to me, having been raised in a "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" kind of household. Truth be told, if I could have one flaw surgically removed, it would be my tendency to be rigid and demanding ... especially with my family. God knew this kind of surgery isn't possible ... and so He gave me my patient and kind gentle giant of a husband, who inspires me to lose the vice by modeling the opposite virtue (just as St. Teresa of Avila used to tell her sisters).

1. Love is ... most powerful in the "even when." Loving even when someone's being ugly. Even when someone makes a mistake or forgets. Even when a better-looking or younger model is all too available. Even when someone is (let's be honest) not being particularly loveable. The power of love is demonstrated in the "I choose to love you, even when ..."

Women in Art

Mary Kochan at CatholicExchange.com sent me this link to YouTube, featuring the breathtaking complexity and variety of womanhood. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Inconvenient Love


The tiny voice erupts inches from my ear, jolting me awake. I crack one eye open – 3:15. Sandman is playing tricks again. I get to choose between trudging the cherub back to her own bed and spending the rest of the night wedged between a snorer and a spinner.

Reluctantly, I slide over and doze off again for thirty whole minutes, until … “Mom?” It’s Christopher. The deafening crash of my blankets falling over his sister awakened her brother. He wants to cuddle, too. As soon as I feed him breakfast.

In today’s Gospel, I always thought the man who wouldn’t get up to get his friend a loaf to feed his unexpected company was unbelievably rude. What did he mean, “My children and I are sleeping…?”

Now I get it.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

New on Catholic Exchange!

I'm ridiculously pleased to announce that I've (finally) been added as a columnist to the "Catholic Exchange." My book review on "The Girls Who Went Away" will appear August 9. (Happy belated birthday to me.) Feel free to stop by and add your comments when it pops up (and thanks to Patrice F.M., who was kind enough to send me some feedback on the blog, so I could tweak it before it appeared on CE).

Blessings-- H.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Power of a Name: Review of "The Girls Who Went Away"

It took us three years to adopt our two foster children; our first official act as their parents was to have them baptized, so they could be a part of God’s family, too. As we got ready for the big day, we explained that they would each have new names on their baptism certificates (and, a bit later, on their newly issued birth certificates).

“Why do I get a new name?” Christopher wanted to know.

“You’re getting two new names, actually,” I told him. “We kept your first name to honor your birth family; your middle name will be ‘Robert,’ like your dad’s; and your last name will be ‘Saxton’ because you’re a part of our family now.”


Clearly this answer didn’t satisfy him. I tried a different approach. “Christopher, do you know that my name changed when I became a part of your dad’s family?”

“It did?” his expression brightened. I nodded.

“And did you know that in the Bible, there are lots of examples where God changed someone’s name when he or she became part of God’s family, or agreed to do a special job for God? Abram became ‘Abraham.’ His wife Sarai became ‘Sarah.’ Jesus’ special friend Simon became ‘Peter,’ our first pope. The apostle Paul’s first name was ‘Saul.’ Each of these people had a special job to do … and each one got a new name to show that something was different about them now.”

It wasn’t until a month later, at their older sister’s baptism, that I realized what an impression this made. As the priest poured water over the little girl’s forehead, my kids leaped up and shouted, “Hurray! Our sister has a new name today!”

The priest turned, startled, then smiled. “Yes, she does. Her name is ‘Christian.’ Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us were so excited about it!”

Forever Families

Names are important: “Mom,” “Dad,” “Grandpa,” “Nana.” These words are powerful by association, particularly in the hearts of children. And so when it came time for us to “name ourselves” for our children, we put considerable thought to this as well. Christopher and Sarah already had already lost one set of parents; they also had two siblings that were being adopted by other families, and yet our kids were still very much attached to them. How were we going to communicate the permanent and exclusive nature of our family unit?

And so, we became Christopher and Sarah’s “forever family.” It wasn’t until much later that I discovered how much fire this appellation draws in adoption circles, since the biological bond is equally permanent even when a child is raised by someone else. This was powerfully illustrated in Ann Fessler’s tribute to birthmothers, The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade (Penguin Press, 2006). The stories in this book reminded me that, no matter what circumstances are that led to a child being placed for adoption, and no matter how young the children were when the adoption occurred, there is a primal connection that can never be completely severed. “Mother” has been forever etched upon their hearts.

“Victim” Souls?

In TGWWA, Fessler vividly portrays what the adoption process was like forty years ago. She captures the horrific plight of the girls shipped off to “maternity homes.” We meet pushy social workers, unfeeling parents, and absentee boyfriends. The author attributes the numbers of out-of-wedlock births to a “lack of information” on one hand, and a “lack of options” on the other. (Rather than, say, a disregard for the consequences of extra-marital sex).

Adoptive parents (and adult adoptees) who read this book will find it easy to empathize with these struggling, suffering women. And yet, I couldn’t help but feel as though the book told only half the story. There was not a single story of a woman who recognized that, painful as it was, adoption was absolutely the best choice for her child. Nor do many acknowledge the debt of gratitude owed to the people who parented her child day and night; several gloss over the sacrifices made for their child with unseemly haste in their eagerness to reclaim the title of “mother.”

Most importantly, these stories illustrate more clearly than any chastity lecture ever could why the unitive and procreative aspects of sexuality cannot be separated without harming the individuals involved, and causing a great deal of anguish for all concerned. This was illustrated most poignantly by “Madeline,” who said (p.243):

I always felt like there was a huge scale and that I could never balance it. I held myself responsible [for losing my daughter]. I wanted to keep this baby. I felt powerless to keep this baby. I wanted it to be over. I wanted to go back to being a normal person. I wanted the baby out of my life. I wanted the baby. I didn’t want the baby. I think it’s that ambivalence that is so hard for people to look at and admit. People will say, “Oh, I wanted my baby with all my heart, and they took my baby from me.” And they turn themselves into a victim. Anything you get yourself into a situation like this, you have to see where you are partially responsible for it. It’s a two-way thing. I’ve been in a lot of situations like that. I’ve been in situations where it seems as though I’m the victim but in reality I’m part of the equation.
This book amply demonstrates that, even in purely secular terms, the “right” to engage in sex cannot be divorced from the responsibilities associated with it, both to one’s partner and to any life that comes from that union. However, because an authentic Catholic worldview – which reserves sexual expression to married couples on moral grounds as well as sociological ones – is missing from the book, adoption is portrayed as an unduly harsh punishment inflicted on a girl (most often by her own family), rather than a truly loving and unselfish choice made by two people who take responsibility for their actions, and who do what is necessary to give their child the stable, loving home every child deserves.

The Family Factor

In Donum Vitae (“The Gift of Life,” 1987), the Church affirms the right of every child “to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up by his own parents” (par 3.) While these rights are explained in the context of the Church’s opposition to surrogate motherhood, these fundamental human rights apply equally to any child conceived (willingly or unwittingly) outside the bonds of marriage.

When this occurs, it is the child – not the woman, as Fessler contends – who bears the “full emotional weight of circumstances” caused by the parents’ actions, since the child is deprived of these rights long before he is born. Sadly, the author is too busy assigning blame on society in general and the girls’ parents in particular to consider the ramifications of the abortion “solution” hinted at in the subtitle of the book through the story of “Nancy I” (p.53).

[E]verytime I hear stories … about the recurring trauma of abortion, I want to say, “You don’t have a clue.” I’ve experienced both and I’d have an abortion any day of the week before I would ever have another adoption – or lose a kid in the woods, which is basically what it is. You know your child is out there somewhere, you just don’t know where.

This statement, perhaps more than any other in the book, reveals the fundamental flaw in the feminist position on sexual expression as a “right,” contraception as a “convenience,” and pregnancy as a “condition” to be cured rather than a gift to be cherished.

Is Single Parenthood the Answer?

This question is one that I’ve considered at close range. I’m related by birth or marriage to three women who have had children out of wedlock. In each case, these women decided to raise their babies on their own (with considerable assistance from grandparents). Two years later, one of these women became pregnant a second time; this time she attempted to place the child for adoption. The biological father, whose violent criminal record did not stop a judge from granting him sole custody over the Christian couple who had been chosen as the adoptive parents, thwarted her plan.

Unfortunately, the story does not end there. Of these three women, two quickly married men who were not their child’s biological father. Both men mistreated the children; one abused both his wife and her child. (He sued for custody to get back at the mother for leaving him, even though he was not related biologically to the child, and he very nearly succeeded in obtaining custody of her daughter because she had no medical records or police reports to confirm the abuse she and her daughter had endured.)

It is an unfortunate reality that many young women who become pregnant out of wedlock are not ready to be mothers, and are ill prepared to face the challenges of motherhood. This plays out in a variety of ways, with grandparents often caught in a no-win situation. Having offered to help their daughter raise her child, they find themselves in the uncomfortable place of feeling responsible for the child without having the power to make decisions on the child’s behalf. “I’m the mother,” their daughter reminds them … refusing to relinquish any of her “rights,” no matter how much suffering her bad choices cause both her parents and her child.

And so, the parents keep supporting, keep paying, and keep quiet … afraid that if they alienate their daughter, they may lose their grandchild as well. “At least the baby is here, where we know he’s safe,” they tell each other. It is this pressure that kept the parents of the third unwed mother in my extended family from “pressuring” their daughter into marrying the baby’s father. Despite the fact that they live together and share expenses, she just isn’t sure he’s “Mr. Right.”

And once again, the rights of the baby – to be raised in the loving embrace of both parents, within a permanent family unit – are sacrificed. For now he has his mother’s name … and we pray that, once he is old enough to understand the reason why his father left, that name will be enough.

Parenthood is inherently a life of self-sacrifice. There is no getting around it. Whether that sacrifice entails the death of a dream, or just a full night's sleep, the self-donation required in order to raise a child and turn him or her into a responsible citizen of the world is nothing short of breathtaking. I'm not sure I would have had the courage to become a parent had I known ahead of time how difficult it was going to be.

In the end, however, it's not about the sacrifice of the parent, but the needs of the child. No matter what the circumstances are that a child is brought into the world, the moment his life begins the paramount question is not, "What do I want?" but, "What does this child need?" Not "What is convenient?" but "What is in my child's best interest?"

What this book shows most clearly is that what is in the child's best interest has very little to do with what makes the parent feel good. That too is the nature of parenthood. Convenience and personal happiness is often the standard by which our culture makes decisions ... but faith urges us to embrace a higher calling.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Prayers for boys needed

Donna O'Boyle asked me to pass this prayer request on to you. Please say a prayer for Briant and Tyler if you can. The story is on Donna's blog here.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Ten Commandments of Managing Money

In the September/October issue of Canticle magazine (a great Catholic women's magazine ... if you don't already subscribe, check out a free sample here), Francine Huff offers an excellent perspective on good stewardship. In her original article, she also offers "10 Commandments for Managing Money" that didn't make it in the final layout, so I posted them on "Silent Canticle" to whet your appetite!

Right now I'm also in the middle of a book on birth mothers that I plan to review here soon ... I need some time to process it, though. Stay posted.

Friday, July 13, 2007

ABC's of Abuse-Proofing Your Child

My article on this subject was published yesterday on CatholicExchange, and already people are writing to express how helpful the "checklist" is. Please read ... and pass it on to a teenager you know and love!

(That's my niece Kendra on the right.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The "Love Box"

Do you have traditions that go along with funerals and bereavement?
My dear friend Katy is flying back from her vacation early to be with her father in the last days of his life. I've met Mr. Clark several times (though Katy has 12 brothers and sisters, so it would be understandable if he didn't recall seeing me in with the mass of humanity).

I'm making a batch of the cookies he loved to send up with Katy to share with her family. As I bake them, I'm remembering how touched Johnnette was from the care package I left at her office after Tony's funeral. I'm wondering if any of you have a traditional gift or symbol of concern and care that you like to give someone who is grieving.

In Johnnette's box, I put:

A small box of "Good-Bye Cookies" (molasses crisp cookies that are dark and sweet, and a little hard -- just like saying goodbye.)

A china teacup and saucer (a little fragile beauty to pamper and soothe) with herbal tea

A box of Godiva chocolates (no explanation needed)

A copy of A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken (one of the best love stories of all time, written by a student of C.S. Lewis')

Some pretty writing paper (I remember how cathartic it was to write when Missy passed away, and thought Johnnette might like it, too.)

All of it in a decorated photo box that she could slide under the bed and pull out when needed.
I thought I'd share the idea, in case you need it, too.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

"In God We Trust..." A Prayer for Ryan

I was just perusing a blog listed on Catholic Mother's Online called "And Sometimes Tea...", which features all the lyrics to our national anthem (music included), including one stanza that is especially close to my heart right now.
Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

I can't sing this without tears right now. I'm thinking of my oldest nephew, Ryan, who left home two days ago, before the ink on his high school diploma had a chance to dry, to start basic training in the Army. He chose (with great enthusiasm, to his parents' consternation) to train in artillary. And so, barring a miracle, it is very likely that he will get to experience far more "action" than ever he counted on.

Last Christmas I gave him a St. Michael's medal (my sister's family isn't Catholic, yet), and Chris says he wears it always. I also gave him the Fulton Sheen's prayer book for soldiers. It was the only time I saw Ryan smile for the three days we spent with his family. "Wear it to remind you of all of us -- seen and unseen -- who are praying for your safety."

"... Then conquer we must, when our cause is just..." To my ears, this line of Francis Scott Key's magnum opus is not about the just cause of the war that sends a soldier off to fight. Not entirely. Like every other soldier who chooses to serve his (or her) country, Ryan is choosing a certain path of adult formation that will stay with him for life. He is choosing to lay down his childhood, and take up manhood. He is choosing to conquer self-centeredness, and sloth, and adolescent impulses, and become more fully the man God created him to be.

A just cause, indeed.

Of course, Ryan's choosing is forcing all of us who love him along a different path: a path of detachment and of trust. Moment by moment, we place the little boy who would swing a bat hard enough to knock himself over, back into the hands of the One who entrusted him to us in the first place. And we wait, secure in the knowledge that nothing catches our Heavenly Father by surprise, and that His love for Ryan exceeds our own.

Today as you cut into your watermelon and sit back to enjoy the sparklers, please pray for Ryan, and for all of our military families who are so very proud of our soldiers ... and who cannot make it through the national anthem without tears in our eyes. Pray that we will find the courage to stand bravely in the days ahead, for in God do we trust.