- One to learn something about Our World (American history, culture, or people)
- One to learn something about Another World (a foreign culture or place)
- One to learn something about Science (biology, medicine, energy, etc.)
- One to learn something about the faith (in addition to our nightly saint story)
- One "free choice" (Yes, Christopher, even Pokemon, *sigh*, as long as it's a chapter book)
- One "Mom's choice" (which means you still have to read good children's lit, too!)
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Monday, January 28, 2008
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Parting words of her mother to 18-year-old Gonxha Bojaxjiu
(the future Mother Teresa)
In Come Be My Light, we follow Blessed Mother Teresa as she begins God’s work among the most impoverished and powerless in the slums of Calcutta. Despite her urgent, repeated requests, years pass before Mother Teresa receives the necessary permissions – first from her spiritual advisor, then from her bishop, then from Rome, then (finally) her own superior. Even after the permission was granted, delays and misunderstandings (even within the Loreto community) tried and tested her resolve. And yet, she did not lose heart. She writes:
Cheerfulness is a sign of a generous and mortified person who forgetting all things, even herself, tries to please her God in all she does for souls. Cheerfulness is often a cloak which hides a life of sacrifice, continual union with God, fervor and generosity. A person who has this gift of cheerfulness very often reaches a great height of perfection. For God loves a cheerful giver and He takes close to His heart the religious He loves (p.33).
Cheerfulness, unfortunately, is not an easy emotion to summon up for mothers without children. This is true whether a woman struggles with infertility, or who hopes to adopt but is prevented from welcoming the child of her heart into her arms.
One of the most difficult obstacles to adoption occurs when a married couple is divided on the issue (one wants to adopt, the other is ambivalent or outright resistant). The reasons vary from couple to couple: financial concerns, fears of the unknown, resistance to the challenges that might surface in the child, concerns about how well a child will “fit” in the family, unwillingness to be subjected to the intrusive questions that are part of the adoption process.
The story of Mother Teresa offers some useful insight as to how to resolve this impasse. Throughout the discernment process, she both trusted in God (faith) and sought information (perseverance), especially from those who could help her discern God’s will.
“When God closes a door, He opens a window.” Here’s the catch: unless you are actively moving in some direction, how can you tell whether a particular portal is open or shut? You can’t. And so, Blessed Teresa walked down a long, dimly lit corridor of uncertainty and delay, a path of hairpin turns and crotchety gatekeepers, with ample room for falls and sidetracks. Patiently, prayerfully, determinedly Blessed Teresa negotiated each turn, refusing to give up. She was convinced it is God’s way for her, and so she kept moving forward with a combination of Faith and Perseverance.
Adoption, too, requires a kind of unshakable faith – both faith in God, and faith in your spouse. Faith in God enables us to remain open to signs and open doors; faith in our husbands -- in particular, in their concerns and viewpoints -- is what keeps us from proceeding too quickly.
By holding these two things in balance, we are able to discern God's will in the matter. The reason for this is simple: God regards a married couple as one. Assuming both spouses are believers who honestly want God's will for their lives, God will never entrust a task to one partner without moving the other in a similar (or at least complementary) way.
So, what should you do if you want to adopt, but your spouse is unwilling or reluctant? First, do some gentle poking to uncover the source(s) of the hesitation. If your spouse is otherwise open to the idea, seek out resources that can give you the answers and/or reassurances the hesitating partner needs. Go to information meetings at a couple of different agencies.
But what if the spouse is really opposed to adoption? Your first obligation is to the family you have right now. Adoption is difficult enough without going into it half-heartedly. If after praying together and talking it through, your spouse says, “I just don’t think this is for us. Sorry.” (Here’s the hard part.) STOP and LISTEN. It may very well be that this is not the right time for you to consider adopting a child of your own.
Instead, consider alternatives: raising money and/or supplies for a pregnancy counseling center or children’s home near you, or support a children’s outreach such as Caritas. Befriend a foster or adoptive parent in your area who needs support.
Above all, pray. God is able to work in a resistant heart far more effectively than we can. Dedicate a holy hour each week to your “spiritual child,” who is out there and in need of a home. Pray for his or her protection, health, and family. Even if you are unable to bring a child into your home, you can carry him or her in your heart.
One final word of caution: As you are discerning adoption, remember that decisions made under duress or in haste can backfire, for both you and your family (including those you hope to adopt). Sometimes God sets “speed bumps” in our path in order to get us to slow down and consider whether God’s will – or our own self-centered desires – are compelling us to act. If you are feeling pressured or isolated, step back and get an objective, informed opinion (perhaps from another adoptive parent, or your pastor).
Waiting is never easy. But God uses these uncharted, uncertain moments to draw us closer to Him. In times like these, trust is the only sane option.
Monday, January 21, 2008
Comedienne Anita Renfroe captures in 2.55 minutes everything we all say a million times a day.
Kids snuck in while I was watching this classic for the first time, and said, "Hey! Is that YOU? You say that all the time!"
Sarah has watched it about 27 times today. Gee, how come she never laughs when I say these things!
Sunday, January 20, 2008
1. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE ? Yes. The Alpine maiden in the book (seriously). My middle name (before I married Craig) was “Susan” after my godmother and favorite aunt. If I’d been allowed to choose, I’d have gladly given up Heidi and kept Susan … but nobody thought that was going to fly after 35 years of “Heidi.” Schade.
2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED? Kate Wicker (with whom I may get even by TAGGING on this thing) made me cry with a post the other day.
3. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING? Only my capital “H,” which I make with lots of swirls!
4. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LUNCH MEAT? Umm… does tuna count?
5. DO YOU HAVE KIDS? Two, a boy (nearly 8) and a girl (6)
6. IF YOU WERE ANOTHER PERSON WOULD YOU BE FRIENDS WITH YOU? We took a vote, and decided … only on the days she got her full dose of Diet Coke. (I once had a secretary threaten to quit if I ever gave the stuff up for Lent again.)
7. DO YOU USE SARCASM A LOT? Not as much as I used to, thanks to my gentle giant of a husband. (It’s hard to be sarcastic with someone who tries so hard to do the right thing.)
8. DO YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TONSILS? Nope.
9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP? No, but there are days when I want to send my KIDS bungee jumping. “What’s that? You refuse to clean your room? OK, why don’t you take a few seconds to THINK ABOUT I-I-I-I-I-I-I—I-T.”
10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL? Kashi pilaf on a good day. Cap'n Crunch otherwise.
11. DO YOU UNTIE YOUR SHOES WHEN YOU TAKE THEM OFF? Now that I have inserts (for my back) I don’t have much choice. I can barely get them on and off even with the laces loose.
12. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STRONG? Better than before, thanks to my great physical therapist.
13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM? New York Super Fudge Chunk.
14. WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE? If they are story tellers, or “story fodder.” Physically? How calm they are. I like being around calm people.
15. RED OR PINK? Pink- little girl pink. Part of the fun of having a little girl.
16. WHAT IS THE LEAST FAVORITE THING YOU LIKE ABOUT YOURSELF? My flabby arms.
17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST? My dog, Missy, who died in Dec 2007.
18. WHAT COLOR PANTS AND SHOES ARE YOU WEARING? Blue jeans, bare feet (but don’t tell my therapist, who wants me to wear SHOES ALL THE TIME… can you believe it?
19. WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE? Birthday cake (chocolate, Sarah’s).
20. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW? My kids vexing each other and bouncing off the walls. I think they’re hungry … better go get dinner together.
21. IF YOU WERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE? Gold (the sparkly kind)
22. FAVORITE SMELLS? Lilac, cinnamon, my husband’s aftershave, and the strawberry-kiwi shampoo my kids like.
23. WHO WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE? The neighbor lady, to tell her that her son’s play date with Christopher was officially OVER.
24. FAVORITE SPORTS TO WATCH? Figure skating. It is, too.
25. HAIR COLOR? Now it’s brown. Was reddish(er) before.26. EYE COLOR? Blue
27. DO YOU WEAR CONTACTS? No
28. FAVORITE FOOD? Diet Coke/crème brulee/black currant tea/chocolate (not necessarily together). Certain days of the month, rib eye steaks.
29. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS? Happy, happy … life is already full of scary.
30. LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED? Meet Joe Black.
31. WHAT COLOR SHIRT ARE YOU WEARING? Orange
32. SUMMER OR WINTER? Fall.
33. HUGS OR KISSES? Hugs.
34. FAVORITE DESSERT? Creme Brulee, really fudgy nut brownies.
35. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW? Just finished “Songs of the Humpback Whale,” “Come Be My Light,” and “Silent Prisoner.” Nothing has leaped off the “read me” pile yet.
36. WHAT IS ON YOUR MOUSE PAD? Water (I think)
37. WHAT DID YOU WATCH ON T.V. LAST NIGHT? Didn’t. Worked on Canticle.
38. FAVORITE SOUNDS? Panflute (to relax). My husband’s C-pap machine (I can’t get to sleep without it now.) Kids singing. Kids NOT bickering.
39. ROLLING STONES OR BEATLES? Beatles.
40. WHAT IS THE FARTHEST YOU HAVE BEEN FROM HOME? Senegal, West Africa (unless Hungary is farther, I can't recall).
41. DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL TALENT? I used to do ventriloquism and play the organ.
42. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? Grand Forks, North Dakota (Air Force Base)
Thanks for reading! (I know I threatened to tag Kate, and she is perfectly free to follow up if she so chooses -- which she did, here -- but I know what her life is like right now. So if you’re reading this, just say a little prayer for her, that she gets a good night’s sleep tonight.) Otherwise, I think most of the people I know well enough to poke have already done this ... but if you see this and decide to participate, please send me a link so I can see your answers!
Elena Maria Vidal posted hers here. Thanks, friend!
Thursday, January 17, 2008
She was silent as she stood in the yard of the orphanage, exposed to the elements, nearly dying of pneumonia. Silent as she endured unspeakable verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. Silent as the only family who had ever shown her kindness died untimely deaths. Silent as she married hastily to escape her childhood horrors, only to find the nightmares multiplied. And now the eloquent silence served her again as she faced a phantom of childhood.
April looked into her aunt’s eyes … This woman had done as everyone else had done years ago. She had closed the doors of her beautiful home while her nieces begged on the street for food. April did not want this woman to touch her, and she sensed that her aunt felt it.
“I hope you can forgive your mother,” her aunt said, carefully touching her perfectly styled hair.
“It has not been a concern of yours, how I feel now or have felt. Am I correct?”
Her aunt stepped back from [April] and looked as if she had been burned with acid. She pulled her collar again in a nervous manner. April stared at the woman and felt as if she wanted to say more, or ask why she hadn’t put her mother in a hospital, especially since her aunt’s ex-husband was an attorney and could have helped her mother. She held back and simply stared at the woman in silence (p.297-98).
Silent Prisoner is not easy reading. Yet woven throughout are silvery threads of hope: distant relations and other strangers who showed momentary kindnesses. A little boy, the product of a loveless marriage that became for her a promise of a better future. Above all, the comfort of angels and glimpses of God … not overt and overwhelming, but beacons of something better, urging her on. It is the portrait of someone truly powerless, yet ultimately unbeaten.
Foster parents and those hoping to adopt older or difficult-to-place children will particularly benefit from this unforgettable story. Even the grim details of this young woman’s life offer a glimpse into the secret burdens that are common to many of the children in the system. Some details particularly struck home:
- April kept her things stored in the paper sack she came with, not trusting that she would be able to stay anyplace “for good” – or for long.
- The emotional reserve that kept her from joining in family activities unless explicitly invited – even watching television – because she was unsure her presence would be welcome. April's resolve not to tell when someone was hurting her, fearing no one would believe her – or care enough to help.
- Her rich imagination, inventing a friend and a mountain of treasure to tide her over in the darkness.
- The pressing need to find some area of control – what she ate, where she hid, to whom she spoke – when life seemed most out of control.
- Sadly, the patterns begun in childhood continued into adulthood; on three separate occasions she married men who began to abuse her.
Like many victims of domestic abuse, “April” becomes disenchanted with organized religion. And, like many victims of domestic violence, she has reason to be. Instead of defending her against her abusive husband, religious figures in her story – particularly one priest, “Bill” – side with the perpetrator, urging her to be a better wife and even testifying on her abusive husband’s behalf.
While the Church has made some significant inroads into understanding the dynamics of domestic violence, such as their pastoral letter released in 1995 entitled “When I Call For Help”, stories like April’s are grim reminders that there is still much work to be done. Catholics of all stripes – laity as well as clergy – need to be aware of the realities of this particular offense against the dignity of women and the sacrament of matrimony, so that they might be able to assist these prisoners from their dungeons of silence.
Based on the author Amanda Young's true story, Silent Prisoner is valuable (though difficult) reading for all those who wish to identify with the poor and powerless. Excellent Lenten reading.
Monday, January 14, 2008
The impetus is qualitatively different: While Catholic moral teaching requires each married couple to be open to life and totally self-giving, no such obligation exists for adoptive parents. Therefore, it is this calling alone that compels us to act, to give of ourselves as representatives of God's redeeming love at work in the world.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Persistent. Fearless. Noble. These are words frequently associated with Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her sisters, the Missionaries of Charity. I had heard (who hasn’t?) that an oppressive spiritual cloud had plagued her during all but the earliest years of religious life. Some (hack journalist with ulterior motives, mainly) were quick to denounce her when these letters first surfaced, claiming they were proof of Mother Teresa’s lack of sanctity. Fortunately, wiser and more discerning heads prevailed, as this lack of consolation is not unprecedented among Catholic mystics.
So when I began to pore over Brian Kolodiejchuk’s Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta” (see Resources), I was expecting the darkness.
What surprised me was the light … the sense that I had found a kindred spirit, someone who could help me to make sense of my own vocation.
In fact, as I delved into the book it occurred to me that Blessed Teresa of Calcutta is the perfect patroness for adoptive and foster mothers. She embodied a number of qualities and gifts that foster and adoptive parents need to emulate in order to succeed:
- A heart for the poor and defenseless, and a desire to serve them wholeheartedly,
- An ability to wait patiently, despite multiple and seemingly interminable delays,
- The ability to love, regardless of the cost,
- A willingness to look ridiculous, if necessary – and to stand by one’s convictions even when it flies in the face of popular opinion,
- The wisdom to draw strength from others when our own inner resources are depleted. (I was particularly struck by the concept of “second self”.)
In the early chapters of the book, the thing that struck me is that when she received the “call within a call,” she responded to it despite the fact that (1) she was perfectly happy where she was and (2) her perseverance nearly ruined her reputation with her superiors (who had difficulty reining in the diminutive Albanian) as well as her own sisters, and caused great consternation within her religious order.
Mother Teresa had every reason to ignore the call, and only one reason to persevere: to satiate the thirst of Christ for souls. She writes:
I used to get goose bumps at the thought of suffering – but now I embrace suffering before it actually comes, and like this Jesus and I live in love. Do not think that my spiritual life is strewn with roses – that is a flower which I hardly ever find on my way. Quite the contrary, I have more often as my companion “darkness.” And when the night becomes very thick – and it seems to me as if I will end up in hell – then I simply offer myself to Jesus (p.20).
When Craig and I first started the process to become foster parents, Johnnette reminded me that spiritual motherhood (which is what she saw me doing with Christopher and Sarah, as I had not given birth to them myself) was an important component of the feminine vocation.At first I resisted this strongly – there was nothing “spiritual,” I thought, about changing dirty diapers and wiping down walls. I felt that by calling me a “spiritual” mother, she was diminishing the role I was going to play in the life of these kids. As far as I was concerned, I was their honest-to-goodness real mother, especially after the adoption came through.
As I make my way through these pages, however, I’ve come to see this differently. Despite the fact that her work was as down-and-dirty as it could possibly be, bathing and feeding the indigent and dying, and educating the children left in the gutter, the primary battle Mother Teresa fought was an intrinsically spiritual one – one within herself, and often by herself.
She and her sisters went into the worst slums and gutters of Calcutta to touch the lives of thousands of men, women, and children who had known only suffering, in order to break the bonds of the spiritual forces that enslaved them. She believed her most important task was to “bring souls to Jesus, and bring Jesus to souls.”
And it is this that takes my breath away: She did it all with a smile. She smiled at Jesus, no matter how the darkness raged, how the isolation threatened to smother her. She gave Him everything she had, and then she gave even her poverty.
She did not worry, or look for escape clauses. The work was not hers, but God’s. She had only to give it her all … and trust God for the results.
And, I need to do the same. What a challenge ... and what a relief!
Blessed Teresa, Mother of Calcutta and of all the poor and powerless,
You saw America as a land of desperate poverty, despite our wealth.
Hundreds of thousands of children are neglected, abused, unloved.
Pray, please pray for them and for us, that the Lord of the Harvest
Will wake up His servants, who will gather the harvest not into barns
But into our very hearts and homes.
Blessed Teresa, Patroness of Spiritual Parents, Pray for Us!
Friday, January 11, 2008
Once upon a time, there was a lady who was very lonely. So her angel went out, and searched far and wide to find her husband, someone who had a special place in his heart that was just for her. They fell in love and got married, and their hearts grew and grew, until they had two special places in their hearts: One for a brown-eyed girl, and one for a blue-eyed boy.
When no babies came to fill those spaces, their angel went out again. One day there was a knock on their door (knock, knock, knock). “Come with me,” said the angel. “I’ve found your family.” So we got in our van and drove and drove, and there you were at your foster family’s house. Christopher was watching “PowerPuff Girls” with his sister, and Sarah was sitting in the baby swing. We walked in, and the brown-eyed baby laughed and kicked her feet. The blue-eyed boy jumped up and hugged me. “Mommy!” he said. And then we all went home.
Your big sister needed a family, and so we took her with us, too. But God had put a space for her in the heart of another mommy and daddy, and soon their angel came looking for her. It took a while for your big brother’s angel to find his family – but we kept praying, and God always listens to the prayers of children. Now you all have a forever family that will love you no matter what, as long as you live.
We are your “forever family.” No one can ever take you out of our hearts, because God put you there. No one can ever take you away, because the day we adopted you the judge said you belong to us forever. Even when you are old, we will still belong to each other. You and your siblings will always love each other, because you were born into the same family. Your birth parents love you too, even though they couldn’t take care of you. So God gave us to each other, to fill our hearts to the top with love. He gave us to each other to care for each other, and to share God’s love with each other and with the whole world.
Here’s the best part: We are all part of God’s “forever family,” too! Jesus came to earth to make us part of God’s family through adoption. You became part of God’s “forever family” the day you were baptized. One day we will all go to be with our family in heaven: God the Father, and Mother Mary, and all the angels and saints. One day our angel will come and take us to heaven, where we’ll never be sad or lonely ever again. (“And where we’ll get to play Frisbee with our dog Missy again, and see our birth family as much as we want,” adds Christopher.)
I share this story with you first because – well, because I love to tell this story as much as my children love to hear it. The second reason is to give you an idea of how simple the story can be. Here are some additional tips to help you create your own story:
- Children need to know adoption is permanent, and that they were loved from the very beginning. They never have to worry about your disappearing like their birth parents did.
- Acknowledge the bond that the child will always have with his or her birth family (though he may have conflicted feelings about that bond). This is difficult, but important simply because it is the truth, and the child knows it instinctively even if we'd just as soon forget about it. Try not to vilify the first/birth parents: If the child believes his first parents were “bad people,” the child will think of himself as “bad,” too.
- Tell the gentle truth about why their birth parents didn’t keep them – but make it clear that it wasn’t the child’s fault that he needed new parents. He wasn’t bad, or ugly, or too much trouble. Focus instead on the fact that the birth parents loved the child, even though they couldn’t take care of him (or her).
- Integrating faith and fact will help child see the “big picture” of adoption. God had a plan for that child – just as He has a plan for each of us – before she was born (Ps 139:13).
- Don’t gloss over real feelings. There are going to be times when your child feels lonely, or angry, or misses his birth family. Use the story as a “jumping off” point to talk about these feelings, as Christopher does in this story to express his feelings about losing his beloved dog (who died a year ago in an accident) and his birth parents.
- As storyteller, you step outside the story and give child an opportunity to react to what’s going on. Consider having your children draw pictures or create a special scrapbook with their adoption story, to revisit again and again. Consider getting a copy of the "Illustory" resource for your own family (see "Resources," left).
- Create your own picture book. Draw from your journal from those first months. (If you didn’t keep a journal, start one now and try to recapture as many images and stories as you can, before they slip away!) This is especially helpful for those who aren't confident storytellers, or who aren't sure they will remember the same details again and again (which is how children want to hear the story). You might consider getting a copy of "Illustory" (see "Resources" on left).
- Always draw the child back to his relationship with God. That is the one truly permanent relationship the child will ever have. As we cultivate that relationship with God in our own lives, we find it easier to strike a balance between the roles we have been called to play in the lives of other people.
At the end of the story, close with a simple prayer, thanking God for each other, and thanking Him that we are part of His family, too.
Friday, January 04, 2008
In a commendable showing of creative, constructive outrage, a group of faithful Catholic bloggers have banded together to create the Catholic Media Review. Check it out!
(This covers books and television as well ... just today CMR took a justifiable swipe at two late-night talk show hosts, Jay Leno and David Letterman. Enough with the Catholic-bashing, Jay. And note to Dave: get a shave!)