Thursday, January 31, 2008

Fighting to Win ... a Lenten Pledge

Tonight on "Celebrity Apprentice," Donald Trump didn't get to utter his signature "You're fired!" Instead, Vincent Pastore (pictured, of "Sopranos" fame ... a show I never did see) stunned everyone by resigning.

Long story short, Piers Morgan (what a twit) was such a toxic individual that Mr. Pastore decided he would rather go home than continue to deal with the man's nonsense. So first Pastore tried a double-agent maneuver with the girls' team, which ended badly, then he simply resigned. (Trump seemed disappointed; I think he was itching to ditch the snarky Brit, as was everyone else on his team except the boxer, who must have taken one too many shots to the head.)

The one thing I took away from this show was a comment Pastore made shortly before he tendered his resignation. "I'm sixty years old. I want to see my kids grow up, and I don't want to risk getting a heart attack over this. This atmosphere isn't good for me, and I want to go home."

Everyone jumped on the guy as though being a "quitter" was the worst thing possible. But I kind of had to admire the guy. He knew when to say, "Enough." He knew who he was, knew he didn't have to prove anything to anyone ... and knew that he was caught in a no-win situation.

I kind of relate to that at times, don't you? Every day, we are given choices about how to spend our time and energy. Tonight, for example, I had a choice between finishing an article that was sent to me at the last minute ... or going through my son's flashcards with him, and read my daughter a story.

And this time, instead of sighing and putting up my computer and going through the motions (as I've done in the past when a deadline looms), I decided to take a moment and actually enjoy my children. I forget to do that sometimes, what with the carpooling and laundry and magazine and ... and ... and...

Instead, I noticed that when I applaud Christopher for getting his bed made perfectly, the kid lights up like Christmas. When I feel a headache coming on, and make an effort not to withdraw from the situation and continue to engage the kids ... they empathize. Sarah went and got an ice chip from the freezer and held it, dripping, against my forehead, and said, "Does this make it better, Mommy?" (How could I say no?)

Sure, I could have kept fighting to beat that deadline, but what would be the point?

There's a fight brewing on the schoolfront, too. Parent/Teacher conferences were this week, and we got the clear message that we need to do more on our end if our children are going to keep up with their classmates. This is a fight I'm not going to quit. If I don't step up, my kids are going to suffer.

And so ... tonight I told them (gulp) that we are giving up television for Lent. Yes, all forty days. With one caveat/incentive: They can earn points for each half-hour they spend reading books toward a weekly family "pizza party" -- including one video. Amazingly, Chris and Sarah thought this was a great idea! So after dinner we went through stacks of National Geographic magazines, to decide what subjects will be included in the six books they are going to get from the library this week. I tell them they can pick...

  • 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!)

And best of all ... I get to do the assignment, too!

At our last parent's conference, we found out that Christopher's reading scores have flatlined, and so we're hoping that this will be the incentive he needs to get back on track. At the very least, turning off the one-eyed monster will be a good discipline for me. My parents would probably be chagrined about this, but having grown up without television, I get kind of mezmerized at times. And so ... I'm telling you about our intention, not to brag about what a great parent I am (let's be serious). Rather, I figure I'm less likely to mess up if I have to tell the whole world what a wimp I am if I blow it.

So ... I'm counting on y'all to keep me honest. NO television for forty days!

Can she do it, folks? It's going to be hard, but I'm going to try ... just as soon as my Monday night lineup is over.

St. Jude, please pray for us!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Adoption Journey and Catholic Carnival...

The Catholic Carnival this week is hosted by Kate Wicker, and is entitled (appropriately) "Feast Before the Fast" in honor of the upcoming Lenten season.

Great job, Kate!
Also, here is a link to the latest Adoption Journey Blog Carnival.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The envelope, please ... Excellent Blogger Award

I can't believe it! My first award!

Thank you to my 'blogging buddy," Kathleen, who nominated "Mommy Monsters" (she said it was for "Silent Canticle," too) for this -- my very first -- award. ("E" also stands for "elated...") I'd like to take this opportunity to thank my blogging friends -- you know who you are -- who have helped me become a better blogger, and a stronger writer.
The rules: Recipients of the Excellent Blog Award must award it to 10 more people whose blogs you find "Excellent Award" worthy. You can give it to as many people as you want-even those that have received it already, but please award at least 10 people.
Those that I nominate (including those who have helped me directly, and those who inspire me to do better):
Donna (who could use a little good news right now)
Lisa (a continual source of inspiration)
Letitia (Especially but not only for her work on Catholic Media Review)
Patrice (Especially but not only for her "Moments of Beauty" project)
Kate (Who is hosting this week's Catholic Carnival -- thanks!)
And two sites that I just find to be a continuously helpful resource:
Jim Manney (who keeps me in touch with the book world)
Genevieve Kineke (who keeps me in touch with the rest of the world)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What is your writing worth?

Have you ever wondered whether your writing was a waste of time, simply because it doesn't contribute (much) to the bottom line of your household budget, and distracts you from doing more with your house and kids? Come and join me at "Silent Canticle" ...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Blessed Mother Teresa: Waiting Room

“Put your hand in Jesus’ hand, and walk alone with Him.
Walk ahead, because if you look back you will go back.”
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

Happy (Other) Mother's Day

In honor of this other Mother's Day, I'd like to invite you to enjoy this.

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!

'Nuff said.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Meme ... Me!

Thanks, Kathleen, for the poke. Here goes...

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.)


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.


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


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.





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.


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

Painful Truth: A Review of "Silent Prisoner" by Amanda Young (BookSurge Publishing)

From the angry, drunken brawling of her parents’ house to the soul-chilling austerity of a children’s home, eight-year-old April learned early in life that her best chance of survival involved keeping quiet and making herself useful. And so she cultivated a habit of silence.

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

Tough Love?

Editor's Note/Disclaimer: In light of the high volume of parenting advice that has been going around Catholic cyberspace as of late, I decided it was time to post some valuable parenting advice someone recently gave me, in hopes it will make you chuckle ... and thank God YOU never feel like doing this.

Warning: PLEASE do not scroll down if your "Mommy Monster" hasn't made an appearance since the first Bush administration. This is only for "regular" moms. Also, for the record, I can positively guarantee that the child in question is no one in our immediate family, and that my sister (who sent this to me in the first place) is in fact an outstanding parent. Most days, better than me. Which is why I let her send me parenting advice.

Tough Love vs. Spanking (a psychological conundrum)

It seems that these days most Americans think it is improper to spank children, so over the years I tried other methods to control my kids when they had one of "those moments." One that I found effective is for me to just take the child for a car ride and talk. They usually calm down and stop misbehaving after our car ride together. This worked so well for my children that I now use the method on my grandchildren. I've included a photo below of one of my sessions with my grandson, in case you would like to use the technique. Sincerely, A Friend

Blessed Mother Teresa: A Heart for the Poor

In a previous post, I began my review of Come Be My Light, observing that Blessed Mother Teresa had (still does, undoubtedly) many virtues that adoptive and foster parents need to cultivate in their own lives.

The first, and most obvious, is a deep-seated desire to serve the poor and powerless (or at least a specific child who needs a family). This desire is not grounded in how cute, or quiet, or grateful the child might be, but in a sense of calling. This was the "call within a call" that Blessed Mother Teresa pursued relentlessly: to bring souls to Jesus, and bring Jesus to souls.

As we approach the sad anniversary of the "Roe v. Wade" decision, this is an especially apt time to reflect upon the five hundred thousand children in the United States who do not have a home to call their own. Over 125,000 of them are available -- today -- for adoption. In many cases, it costs little or nothing to adopt these children -- indeed, many of them are eligible to receive a variety of benefits from medical insurance to free college tuition. In many cases, all expenses associated with the adoption are fully tax deductable (ours were refunded by the agency).
Would you like more information? Click here or here.

When you become the "forever family" of an older or special needs child (including sibling groups, biracial children, and those with physical or mental challenges), you also play an important role in the redemption of a human soul. Like Mother Teresa, we bring them to Jesus ... and bring Jesus to them!

Adoption: A Call within a Call

I've sometimes caught flack for saying this, but I believe it to be true nonetheless: Adoption is not for everyone. Adopting children who have been neglected and abused, and who may have difficulty forming a bond with another family, requires a sense of calling that is qualitatively different from biological parenting.

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.

The bond is also different. While adoptive family members can and do love one another wholeheartedly, this bond is an act of will -- from both sides. Furthermore, this will to love does not always come immediately or instantaneously. This is especially true for older children who are adopted after having experienced abuse or neglect from their first caregivers. Challenges such as RAD (reactive attachment disorder), ADHD/ODD (oppositional defiant disorder), and FAS/FAE (fetal alcohol syndrome/exposure) present real, often permanent challenges both to the child and his family.

Finally, the family dynamic can be very different. Foster parents especially experience this through their interactions with birth parents and siblings, social workers and others in the family court system. For example, my children have two older siblings who were adopted separately by older couples -- each of whom have adult children. When one couple adopted a second child, I found myself floundering as I tried to explain to Christopher and Sarah their relationship to Kenneth's new brother. Our children had strong feelings about their brother getting a "new" brother, one more development that required a fair amount of patience and understanding. As their parents, we had to acknowledge that our children continue to feel a bond with their first family, even though Craig and I have no real connection to them.

And so, when I talk to women (it's almost always women) who long to adopt, but whose husbands are not yet open to the idea, I almost always encourage them to wait and keep praying. Gather information. Talk with other adoptive parents. But do not proceed until your family is at peace with the decision. In my next post, I'll explain why.... God bless you!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Come Be My Light: Thoughts on Spiritual Motherhood

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:

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

Story Time!

Come see the Carnival! Catholic Carnival #155 has now been posted here. Thanks to Deo Omnis Gloria for "posting in the wilderness."

The other day Lisa sent me a request from an adoptive mother, who wanted to buy a book to help her tell her adopted child how he entered their family. I found some good pointers for parents at this site, which includes a number of books for children and adults. My personal favorite is Max Lucado's You Are Special (left, see "Resources"), which is great for all children.

To be honest, I haven’t spent much time researching this particular area of adoption for one simple reason: From the beginning, my children wanted to hear their own story, over and over and over again. The most requested one begins: “Tell me about the time you were lonely.”

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

Movie Time!!!

Break out the popcorn (well, maybe just a cup of tea as the kernels tend to get stuck in the keys) and get ready to check out this outstanding, much-needed resource for Catholic families who have been more than a little chagrined by the recent media review efforts of the USCCB office.

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!)