Monday, March 31, 2008
Today over at "Connecting Moms," you'll find a familiar face in the "Featured Moms" channel. I was flattered ... and delighted ... when Sandy (one of the co-creators of CM and author of "Momisodes") asked to interview me about Raising Up Mommy. They also posted a review here.
During the interview, her questions about the writing process got me to thinking about how our lives are very much like a book ... so many chapters, so little time. The challenge .... and the secret ... is learning to live in the present chapter. Right?
Anyway ... if you're not already familiar with the Connecting Moms network, why not check it out?
Why? I once heard a priest/professor at seminary talk about the "Prayer of Abandonment" that St. Charles de Foucauld wrote, a prayer based on the Lord's Prayer.
Let only your will be done in me,
These words sum up the poignancy that is the journey of adoption. We do our best, hope for the best, pray like there is no tomorrow. But at the end of the day, we have no real control except how we will respond to the circumstances that present themselves to us.
Then I found this little sweetie, and it clinched it. So... without further ado ...
The "Prayer of Abandonment"
Sunday, March 30, 2008
So I was happy to come home and find Sarah's "The Loveliness of Staying Connected" carnival. It was a happy reminder of how feeling connected can take something as simple as a box of bathroom soap "crayons" to keep the love alive.
Do YOU have a secret for staying connected?
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Monday, March 24, 2008
Some of the food was left over from a funeral my parents had organized the day before. A member of their church had committed suicide in the church parking lot (thankfully the pastor found him). It sounds as though this man had suffered from mental problems for quite some time -- and that on more than one occasion he had been extremely rude to both my parents, so that they personally were not greatly affected by his death. However, as a "deacon" in her church, Mom organizes the funerals and practical services needed by those in the church so that the pastor can focus on teaching and preaching. So she was obligated to attend this man's as well. An intimate family-only gathering blossomed into an event for 400+ people.
I believe it was Thomas Merton who said, "Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal." There was a time when a suicide such as this would have been quietly handled off church premises, the family forced to carry as much as possible the "secret" of the circumstances of their loved one's death. This presents a double burden, for the devastation and anger the family feels over this particular form of loss must have a voice, or else it festers and turns inward. (It may be partly for this reason that among young people suicides often happen in "waves.") Suicide is often a supremely selfish act, at best a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
Then, yesterday afternoon, I got a call from Craig. Our friend Ken Miller had dropped dead suddenly Easter morning. His wife came in and found him on the floor. No warning. Just ... gone. Ken was a warm-hearted, intelligent man; just a few weeks ago at a company birthday party I chatted with Ken and his wife, Carol, about his love of French and Russian literature. (He thought ... sweetly but wrongly ... that since I had published books I would be similarly well-read.) He and Carol had been struggling to accept the sudden relocation of Ken's son and his wife, who up and moved to a distant state without telling Ken and Carol where or when they were leaving. (No doubt there is more to the story; family relationships are seldom as simple from the inside as they appear from without.)
When I first heard the news, my thoughts went immediately to the son, Jeff. How would he handle the news of his father's death, knowing that his actions must have contributed in some way to the stress that brought on the heart attack? Knowing that he never had a chance to reconcile with his Dad?
But I confess that the next thoughts that came to me hit especially hard. The man was CRAIG'S age, only 54. The combined stress of work and home and a lifetime of cheeseburgers) -- the same stress that had induced Craig to stay and work while the rest of us drove to my parents' house for Easter -- had brought it on. I wondered how Ken's death was going to affect my husband, get him to re-evaluate his priorities (and possibly his vocational choices).
So ... tomorrow we start back home in order to attend a funeral. Even though our relationship isn't a formal one -- technically they are colleagues of my husband's -- I want to be there. I need to be there. Someday it will be me, and so for now I need to stand with her.
Please pray for the repose of the soul of Ken Miller, and for his wife Carol and their family, that this shared grief will be an opportunity for grace and healing.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Monday, March 17, 2008
Twenty years from now ...
* I hope my daughter's fashion sense -- and her sense of adventure -- is as breathtaking as it is today.
* I hope to find the mates (or the courage to dispose of) the sixty bajillion baby, daddy, and brother socks that multiply like rabbits at the bottom of the "match-up" bin.* I hope that at the end of my children's tumultous teen years, our relationship will remain intact, and that their birth family (who get to re-enter the children's lives when they are 18) will be a positive force.
* I hope that my husband and I will get to enjoy our lives together as grandparents (in twenty years, and not a moment sooner!). We married later in life (I was 35, he was 45), so this will be a gift I won't take lightly.
* I hope the world won't be so scary. Cancer and Parkinson's and Alzheimer's eradicated (without destroying other lives in the process). They will have found and permanently eradicated the gene that causes obesity, prejudice, and the desire to harm others.
* The grass will be greener, and the sky bluer, and all of us still able to get from Point A to Point B without having to remortgage the house or dip into our 401Ks. Maybe we'll be able to levitate by then.
* I hope my children will be able to overcome the challenges of their early years and find their rightful place in the world -- the place where their unique gifts and abilities will help them to make their mark on the world, and change it for the better. (Hopefully without having to sell their vital organs to pay for college loans.)
* I hope people will still find copies of my books at resale shops (or whatever the "archive equivalent" for the Internet is at that point, so they can find my adoption articles or blogs) and find a spark of insight on those yellowed pages.
* Most of all, I hope I'll look back on these "hidden" years of motherhood ... the hours spent washing, sorting, correcting, and standing in line at the post office and in the school parking lot, waiting to pick up or drop off ... and consider it time well spent.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
This morning as I listened, I was struck by the women who spoke in this passage. In particular, I was moved by the words of the wife of Pontius Pilate, who warns her husband not to have anything to do with the demands of local religious leaders to do away with the Nazarene. Her words are sent in a message just as Christ is brought to him for judgment:
"Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much over him today in a dream" (Matthew 27:19).
Yes, all in all my favorite way to spend the day at the zoo ... strolling with a good friend.
Thanks, Sarah! We'll have to do this again real soon!
Friday, March 14, 2008
Yesterday USA Today ran a news excerpt about a study from the Centers for Disease Control about the prevalence of STDs in teenagers (ages 14-19). Brace yourself...
A 2003-04 government survey of 838 girls, conducted by CDC analyst SaraForhan, finds that one in four of all teenagers (fully half of all African-American teens) have or have had an STD. The most common is the HPV (human papilloma), along with incidences of chlamydia, genital herpes, and trichomoniasis.
One in four. Kind of makes you want to send them to a convent, doesn't it?
The study further states that in most teen girls, HPV clears from the body without causing disease. (However, I feel compelled to indicate that there are MANY cases that do not -- including those acquired through sexual assault or infection from a spouse who contracted the virus prior to marriage. What is more, male carriers are not always symptomatic.)
This statistic bothered me even more in light of something I picked up last week on Catholic radio -- I believe it was a Greg Popcak. The blurb indicated that the vast majority of Catholic teenagers do not make decisions with their head but with their "gut." In other words, you can give reasons for remaining chaste until the proverbial cows come home, but when push comes to shove it all boils down to instinct. (And as mothers we know how reliable THOSE impulses are.)
The spot suggested that the best way of keeping teens safe is to "program their gut" by frequently and consistently naming actions as "right" and "wrong" so they begin to absorb these values on a "gut" level, rather than a strictly intellectual capacity.
Speaking as a mother who has special concerns in this area (both from my own past history as well as my children's), I am horrified to think of what our children are going to face as they go out into the world armed with nothing but "don't." Without a broader context to guide them, even the most well intentioned teenager hears the "don't" and "WRONG" and figures, "Well, if I mess up, I'd better not tell mom and dad about it." And we don't. Which is why so many -- nearly half -- of victims of sexual assault never tell their parents about it. Myself included.
While it might be tempting to allow them to venture out on their own wide-eyed and innocent, we need to consider whether allowing our children, especially our daughters, to enter adulthood without some practical knowledge in the art of self-defense and the workings of human nature.
I'll give you a real-life example. My freshman year in college, I met a clean-cut young man (we'll call him Mike) in the cafeteria who, as it turns out, had the same chemistry section I did. "Have you seen the textbooks we have to get for his class?" Mike asked me. I had only noticed one on the list, and told him so. "Yeah, but I heard from last year's class that there are supplemental texts you have to get if you're going to get the 'A.' You want me to show you? I have them in my room." (A co-ed dorm.)
I said okay, and followed him up. My mind was on getting the 'A.' Unfortunately, his mind was on ... a different kind of education. Ten minutes later, he was rubbing his cheek where a red welt the shape of my hand was forming. "Hey! What's that for? You wanted to come up here...."
I know, I know ... how stupid of me. I was seventeen. Seventeen-year-olds do STUPID things!
That was (nearly) thirty years ago! It all seemed so innocent ... and it turned in a split second. A few years before this incident, a date turned into a nightmare when a ride home from a restaurant took a bad "detour." More later.
My sisters, unless we are willing to teach our daughters some rudimentary facts of life -- neither too soon nor too late -- we risk leading them out among the wolves. And in this sense I do agree with the radio host. It is all about teaching our children to trust their gut. An informed, wise-as-serpents-harmless-as-doves gut.
Take this little test, and see how well you do ... then ask your daughter what she thinks. All these questions are predicated on the idea that your daughter has decided for herself to be in this situation (e.g. either she is in college and so you would not have had a chance to meet the young man in question first -- or, like so many teens, she decides to test her independence by doing an end run around ordinary parental safeguards by hook or crook ... or by being talked into something by a friend whose parents are not as vigilant).
1. A casual acquaintence of your older sister, whom she met at the roller rink, has asked you to go out to dinner with him. You're flattered, and your sister thinks he's okay, so you go. At dinner he tells you about his astronomy class, and mentions that he carries a portable telescope to check out the stars on clear nights. On the way home from dinner, he takes a detour and starts driving out into the countryside "because I want you to see the stars from my favorite spot." You ask him to turn around and go back home. "What's the matter? Are you afraid to be out after dark? Don't be a baby. This will just take a minute." Your GUT is sending red flags. What do you do?
2. Name four places on a guy that you can hit, jab, or stomp if you have to get away from an assailant quickly. (Hint: If you need help on this one, rent Miss Congeniality.)
3. Name at least two other ways (in addition to "regular" sex) to contract an STD. (Even the first time.)
4. (This one for the guys.) A girl you like the look of at a bar invites you to play a drinking game. She is half your size, and you figure you can handle alcohol better than she does. Besides, she's "chasing" shots with beer, and you're just doing the shots. So how can she be clear-headed after six shots, when the room is starting to spin for you?
5. Your handbag is stolen with your car keys and house keys inside as well as your wallet. Thankfully, you have spares. You decide not to tell the super right away that your apartment keys were stolen because you've been hoping to avoid the $150 change lock fee. As soon as you get home you have a message from an anonymous woman who has your bag and offers to meet you at a local coffee shop to return it. What do you do?
6. You and a friend are sitting at a light, late at night in deserted part of town, waiting for it to change. A stranger accidentally bumps your back bumper, then gets out of his car and motions for you to do the same to check for damage. "No need to involve the insurance company ... It doesn't look too bad to me," he says. He looks honest. What do you do?
7. One night as you're getting out of your car someone approaches you for directions, then grabs you and forces you into your trunk. You can hear you are driving along a heavily traveled interstate, but the engine is too loud for anyone to hear you scream and you can't get the trunk lid open from inside. What do you do?
So ... how did you do? Answers here!
P.S. Today I came across an excellent article discussing why parents should be monitoring their children's movements on the Internet, and how this kind of surveillance is different from swiping their diary from under the mattress. An excellent, worthwhile read.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Makes a wonderful Easter or Mother's Day gift. To order now, click here.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
This year, since we're driving to Georgia for Easter (can't stand the thought of hunting for Easter eggs in a foot of snow), we'll be doing the whole make-and-bake activity several days ahead of time. It's always a leap of faith for me, because I stand a 50-50 shot of killing the yeast. (True confession: the picture-perfect loaf on the left was baked by someone else.)
2-3/4 C flour
1/4 C sugar
1 tsp salt
1 pkg dry yeast
2/3 C milk
2 Tbls margarine
2 eggs, beaten
4 colored raw eggs
(optional: 1/4 C chopped blanched almonds)
Combine flour, sugar, salt and yeast in large bowl. Heat milk and margarine over low heat until warm (120-130F). Add to dry ingredients. Add beaten eggs into dry mixture with milk. Beat 2 minutes.
Stir in enough additional flour to make soft dough. Knead 8-10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, flip to grease top. Cover and let rise until double (1 hour). Punch down. If adding almonds, knead them now. Divide in half and roll each half into 24" rope.
Twist ropes together loosely, like a candy cane. Form into ring on greased sheet, tucking loose ends under to form ring. Brush with melted butter, and place eggs into spaces of twist. Cover and let rise until double (about 45 minutes). Bake 350 for 30-35 minutes.
We usually make 2 for two reasons: If they both turn out, we bring one to a friend. If not, we eat the one that doesn't look as though it will break a tooth. After all, Lent (and any associated suffering) is over. It's time to REJOICE!
After identifying a number of factors (including adoptive parents' reluctance to acknowledge the need for ongoing training in their quest for a placement) that have led to insufficient ongoing training of both parents and adoption facilitators, the study indicates that there are a number of issues of which we need to be aware in order to help our children attain a healthy core identity and acknowledge their ongoing sense of grief and loss.
This is not easy reading, but it does validate the feelings of parents and children alike for whom adoption has turned out to be something other than the "happily ever after" they imagined it would be. This doesn't mean we don't love our children -- which of course we do. Rather, it acknowledges the very real, ongoing challenges of integrating the combined influences of birth and adoptive family members in the life and identity of an adopted child. Worth reading.
I was particularly touched by the contribution of adopted twins. One child told the story of how they flew on a plane to meet their parents from Beijing ... the other told the story of the ancestors of their "forever family." It was clear that each of these stories were deeply rooted in the hearts of these children. Their faces were Chinese ... but their hearts had fully embraced the Slavic and British roots of their parents.
Another parent was standing next to me, and I was just about to point out the twin's posters when she spoke. "You know ... this project was really too advanced for these kids. It required a LOT of parental help, and I'm not sure ours is good enough to go up there."
This was coming from one of the more "visible" and active mothers at the school. She looked so anxious, and her comment so surprised me, that it took me a moment to respond intelligently. "Everybody has their particular talents ... we just use them the best we can, right?"
That wasn't right. She replied, "My father died, and we just got back from the funeral, and then we had to put THIS together ... and ..." Her voice broke.
The poor woman. Gently I patted her shoulder. "That's so hard. I think that given your situation you can cut yourself some slack for six months or so. Sometimes we just have to shoot for 'good enough,' you know?"
Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. We "should" all over ourselves with long, sideways glances at how other moms are doing it. And somehow we always fall just a wee tad short.
It's the ugly Envy Monster, my dear sisters. It feels awful, and it poisons the soul. Fortunately, each of us have a special antidote that God places inside us, dormant, waiting for release.
That gift is contentment. The distinctively feminine ability to assess a situation and offer ourselves the same grace we would naturally extend our best friend.
"Okay, God. It's really tempting right now to get discouraged with all the things I am NOT getting done (like she seems to be). So today I choose to entrust my day to you. I'm going to offer every minute back to You, and trust that You will help me accomplish today exactly what I'm supposed to."
Try it. It's amazing what we can accomplish when our eyes are "on the prize."
Do you struggle with envy, or one of the other seven little dwarves ... I mean, deadly sins? Pick up a copy of Raising Up Mommy, and let's fight it together!
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
I told my story, and the mother (with me still on the phone) turned to her son and asked him what happened. His story did not match mine, so she shrugged and thanked me, clearly taking her son's version over mine. I was stunned that she would dismiss my story so readily, and not knowing what else to say I hung up and told myself it would be a cold day in a VERY warm place before Christopher had any more playdates with that kid.
Ten minutes later, the boy's mother called again, in tears. For some reason, her son had decided to come clean and tell her. She was calling to apologize for not believing me right away. Craig picked up the second call, and calmed the woman as best he could.
Later, when he told me what had happened, I felt my shoulders begin to shake, and my chest constrict as the full horror of what had happened the night before hit me. What if you had not gone down to check on the boys at the precise moment that you did? a voice whispered in my head. What if you had stayed at your computer working, as you often do? What if ... What if ...
The shaking turned into sobs as my thoroughly alarmed husband tried to get me to calm down, pointing out that I HAD gone to check on them, I HAD listened to that little voice that told me to peek into the room. His angels had been watching, and alerted me in the nick of time so that I would actually catch what was going on. And now everything was out in the open and we could take steps to ensure nothing like that would happen again.
It was grace in the nick of time. Not a moment too soon, not a moment too late.
Often I've heard couples who are trying to adopt -- this is particularly common with international adoptions -- who are delayed for weeks or months, or who never receive the desired placement. On one occasion, a friend of mine had actually received a picture of a child and headed to Eastern Europe to pick up her child ... only to find out that the child in question had been given to another couple. They did have another child, however ... would she like to see her?
And with that, a mother-daughter relationship was born. When I asked her how she felt about taking a "replacement," she said something very wise: "I've been praying from the beginning that God would send me the right child. The first child was taken by another couple, so she couldn't have been the right child for me. I chose to trust that God knew what He's doing here. And that when the right child was ready for me, I'd know it."
These are good words to keep in mind no matter where we are in the foster/adoption process. A few days ago I received an e-mail from a woman who had tried foster-adoption, and had even tried to get licensed as a foster parent in order to facilitate the process. She keeps running into obstacles and delays, and wonders why she is being jerked around when she only wants to help.
It's a fair question. It's a good question. Why doesn't the state work harder to help couples who are willing to open their homes to these children, when there are so many in need of homes?
I don't know. But this much I do know: God cares even more for each of those children than we ever possibly could. His heart breaks when they cry themselves to sleep at night, scared and alone. Just as it does when that child's "forever parents" get discouraged and consider giving up just before their prayers are answered.
God always sends grace in the nick of time. Not a moment too soon, not a moment too late. That doesn't mean that the path He wants us to travel will be free of all potholes or rough patches. Sometimes we have to stumble in the dark for a while ... but in the end, the light is there if we have the patience to keep looking for it.
God's timing is not our timing. But His timing IS perfect.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
If you would like to order the program (it ain't cheap, but like the L'Oreal Girl says ... "I'm worth it!"), you can order it here. Of course, you can order the book there, too (without the autograph).
Saturday, March 01, 2008
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but expose them.
For it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret;
but when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible ...
As I proclaimed these words at Mass yesterday, I did not know how loudly they were going to echo in my ears later that day. At the time, I thought this passage was a beautiful reference to the sacrament of reconciliation, where shameful secrets are brought to light in order to bring healing and peace. When the Apostle Paul says to "expose" the works of darkness, he did not mean that we should run around gossiping about the people who do these and "fruitless" works of darkness. Indeed, he says to mention them is "shameful."
Rather, he instructs us, we are to "bring it to the light." Not the harsh glare of a disapproving mob, but the healing rays of God's forgiveness and cleansing. This we find in a special way within the sacrament of reconciliation.
But as I said, the words had an echo effect. Last night, one of our children told me of a friend who is being abused. There is no question of the necessity of response; the question is, "How?" Protecting our children, and maintaining their trust, is paramount. After that, the water gets murky very quickly.
As foster parents, we have seen children thrust into truly desperate circumstances, and forced to hold knowledge that was far too heavy even for an adult to carry. Our job was to help them hand over those burdens to us, so they can move on and reclaim part of their childhood. This "handing over" is not easy -- depending on the level of trust established, the whole thing can be traumatic. But it is necessary if the children are going to heal.
Jesus carried the sins of the world on His shoulders all the way to the cross, and calls us to imitate Him by taking up and carrying for them the burdens that weigh upon our children. We must listen without horror or misplaced sentimentality. We must affirm their courage for telling. We hold them -- and pray like crazy -- as they cry. We gently reminding them that they can trust us, and that nothing they could ever say or do would cause us to love them less, and (most of all) that we believe them.
Please pray for us.