Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanks, Sarah!

Sarah at "My Wonderful Life" gave me something else to be thankful for this Thanksgiving... check it out!

According to the rules, I have to post six things that make me really happy ... and pass it on to give six more people a reason to be thankful! (And not the least bit irked that they've been sucked into yet another meme.)

So... here are my six things:

1. A clean house
2. Finishing a home-improvement project with Craig
3. Acts of spontaneous generosity (especially from my children)
4. Christmas caroling
5. Tea with the girls
6. Puppy kisses

Now ... as for the tagging part, I'd like to "tag" any new readers/followers on this blog. Drop me a note with your link when you get it done! Blessings, Heidi

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Defiant Motherhood ... Now at "Secretum Meum Mihi"

Today Kristen posted my review of the book The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio at SMM (the image on the right is from the movie by the same title, which follows the book fairly faithfully).
This book is a must-read for any woman who is having a hard time finding something for which to be thankful this year.

When money is too tight to pay for the gas to go see the relatives, it puts things in perspective to read about a woman who had to beg the milkman to leave a gallon for her children's breakfast.

On the rare occasion I find myself missing the gallant man who swept me off my feet (literally) with his show-stopping ballroom moves, and who as a new husband spent whole weekends hiding away with me from the world ... who now has barely enough energy to make it home before his first pre-bedtime nap, it helps to read about a husband so shattered by bitterness and alcohol that his entire family felt the pain of it.

When my energetic twosome picks and pokes and bickers and whines until my head feels like someone is sandpapering every last nerve, I think about this woman who chose never to learn to drive (no escape!), and became the foundation of love her children needed so that one day they would find their wings and soar out into the great, wide world.

And suddenly ... I know just how much I have to be thankful for!

Evelyn, you experienced so much suffering in your lifetime,
Heaven must be that much more joyful for you now.
Pray for us defiant mothers everywhere,
that we might let go of daily dissatisfactions
and embrace God's love with greater perfection.

Jesus, we trust in You!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sheep and Goats

Today was the Feast of Christ the King. The Gospel reading was one of my favorite passages of Scripture -- the "Sheep and Goats" passage from Matthew 25 (vv 31ff). You know...

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

"He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

"For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'

"And the king will say to them in reply, "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."

Then He has words -- words with a much more ominous tone -- for the "goats" on his left. In this passage, we discover that to be a follower of Christ has very practical, everyday implications. It's not just saying, but being. Not just reading the words of Christ, but imitating Him -- to become a "lamb" [small "l"] "of God." Out there in the world, free to frisk and frolic under the watchful eye of the Good Shepherd.

In his homily today our priest (Father Gordon, who was ordained just a few years ago) had an interesting take on the reason shepherds used to "divide" the sheep and goats. During the day, he said, the flock could be out in the fields together, left largely to their own devices. As night fell, however, the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats because the sheep have thick coats, and can be out in the fields at night. The goats, on the other hand, need to be gathered together in a warmer place, because their coats don't protect them from the night air.

"We're a lot the same way, you know?" Father said. "The sheep -- those who imitate the Lamb of God -- have nice, thick coats. It's the goats the Good Shepherd has to separate ... and send to a much warmer place!"

As we enter the holy season of Advent, may we take today's Gospel lesson to heart, and resolve always to imitate our Good Shepherd. To become more like (in the words of Twila Paris) "a lamb of God" ... and less like the border collie who continually tries to keep all those four-footed critters in line!

Friday, November 21, 2008

St. Anne: Patronness of Birthmothers

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple. At the tender age of three, Mary was brought to live in the Temple -- separated from her parents, who had dedicated her to a lifetime of serving God.

Jean at "Catholic Fire" has a post about it here: Catholic Fire: The Feast of the Presentation of Mary.

Imagine how it must have felt for St. Anne to walk away from her little daughter, knowing that she would see her at most once a year! Imagine how little Mary must have felt, seeing her parents walk away, leaving her behind. Did she understand what was happening? Did she cry?

St. Anne, patroness of birthmothers, pray for those who are missing their children today!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mighty Mom

From today’s reading …

“When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls. Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize. She brings him good, and not evil, all the days of her life.

"She obtains wool and flax and makes cloth with skillful hands. Like merchant ships, she secures her provisions from afar. She rises while it is still night, and distributes food to her household. She picks out a field to purchase, out of her earnings she plants a vineyard….

"She opens her mouth in wisdom, and on her tongue is kindly counsel. She watches the conduct of her household, and eats not her food in idleness.”

Proverbs 31:10-16, 26-27

Lord, I want to be a worthy wife! Some days, however, I have to shoot for "better than Soup-for-One." This may come as a surprise to some, my admitting that when it comes to "redemption," it is as often my children who help me along the way as the other way around. John Paul II referred to the family as the "domestic church," an earthly reflection of divine love. Because none of us are perfect, we need to help each other along the way: mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. The Christian life is the process by which we grow in perfection -- a state that will be completed only in heaven.

Some days we get farther along the trail than others. Yesterday, for example, was not a “worthy wife” day. The unending rounds of cyber vitriol had soured my outlook a bit. I snapped at Craig for leaving his shoes and computer bag in the middle of the floor, chastised my son for cramming all his school clothes under the bed, and swatted Sarah's bottom before planting her on the steps when she sassed me three times in a row.***

Next thing I knew, I felt little arms around my neck. It was Miss Sassafras. “Mommy, do you know why I love you? Daddy makes better scrambled eggs … but you are the best snuggler!”

So we snuggled, and we read “101 Dalmatians.” Later that day, when I woke up from my Tylenol-3 induced nap (those wisdom teeth are not going quietly into that dark night) I found a rapidly warming Diet Coke and a handmade card on my bedside table. “I love you, Mom. I hop yur teth fill bedr.”

And Christopher and his Dad had made his bedroom spotless. Including vacuuming.

That afternoon, I took Christopher on a little trip down memory lane: to visit his first foster-mom, Mrs. D. He was 2-1/2 when he came to us, but he had a recollection of being in another place. He wanted to see it, wanted to hear what Mrs. D. could tell him about that part of his past. We ate cookies, and he hung out in the living room, eavesdropping on our conversation.

Then we went to have dinner with his older brother and sister and their parents. Craig and Sarah joined us, and the four kids sat at their own table and squabbled and kicked each other the table. At one point the older ones teased him so he cried. Sibling rivalry can be kind of rough on the little guy. Especially when it means cramming two months’ worth into two hours.

That night I tucked him in, and sang him an extra round of songs. I wasn’t sure what else to do, as he didn’t seem to want to talk.

Lord, while You’re making me a “worthy wife,” care to take a stab at making me a “mighty mom,” too?

*** (Note: If the "swatting" line compels you to write a long anti-spanking diatribe, let me go on record right now as saying that I have HAD IT with long-winded commenters this week. Anyone who knows my strong-willed daughter can tell you that she is in NO danger of having her precious little psyche damaged from harsh discipline. So comments I deem less than constructive or supportive will be enthusiastically deleted.)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Mary Moments: Carnival is UP!

Sarah has posted this month's "Mary Moments Carnival" up at Behold Your Mother.

The theme this month is "Mary, Mother of the Saints." The family aspect of the Family of God is something I really need to read right now.

My contribution this month was a reflection on the "Divine Mercy," as revealed to us through the Diary of St. Faustina Kowalska. Her reflection on the necessary hiddenness of motherhood seems especially timely to me. This week my thoughts on motherhood (particularly adoptive motherhood) have drawn some fire. There are a lot of hurting, "hidden" mothers in the world. Mothers who, more than anything, are afraid of being forgotten -- or, worse, of never being known.

Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Bless all mothers everywhere
Those who are struggling
Those who are feeling lost
Those who want nothing so much as to hide.
Mary, Mother of saints and sinners alike,
Please pray for us. Amen.

Today at EMN: "The Adoption Mystique"

In my last article about anti-adoption advocacy at "Catholic Exchange," I mentioned a book by Joanne Wolf Small entitled The Adoption Mystique. I review it today at EMN ...

I also want to take this opportunity to apologize to Ms. Small for associating her with those who are seeking to abolish adoption. The issues surrounding adoption are complex, and the different sides of the triad often shout over one another. I should have listened more carefully!

Although I doubt the CE review hurt her book sales, there are enough misunderstandings in the world of adoption that I need not add to them. I appreciate her taking the time to comment on my article. (I'm putting this comment here on my blog for those who may not see it at CE, where I will post it as well.)

Sunday, November 09, 2008

In Defense of Adoption: Coping with "Phantom Parents"

On Tuesday my article on "anti-adoption advocates" will be running on CatholicExchange, and include a reference to an anti-adoption article recently printed in the "National Catholic Register." I was horrified to see such a thing printed in a Catholic publication, and cannot understand why they ran it. If we want to eradicate the need for abortion, adoption is the clear alternative for those who are unable or unwilling to parent their own children.

This is not to say it is the easy choice. As my article indicates, the loss experienced by birth/first parents and adopted children is real, much like the phantom pains of an amputee ... and yet, those pains (however regrettable) may be necessary in order to save a life from the alternative: abuse and neglect, or even death.

Today, I came across this article by history professor Paul Kengor, entitled "Palin, for Posterity." The line that moved me most: "When Barack Obama voted against protecting babies accidentally born alive during abortions, it was after hearing testimony about a Down syndrome baby allowed to die after an abortion attempt. ..."

We cheer Sarah for choosing life for her child, and for being willing to use her platform to draw attention to the plight of these special children. But what about the vast majority (some say 90%) who receive the DS diagnosis and choose to "terminate the pregnancy"? Yes, we need visible examples of parents who choose to embrace these special-needs children.

Even so, many will not make that choice. Is adoption, then, really a fate worse than death?

Of course not. Not for these children, whose parents feel unequal to the task of parenting a special needs child; nor would it have been from the beginning for the hundreds of thousands of children lingering in group homes and foster homes today, victims of their birth parents bad choices; and not for those whose mothers make an adoption plan knowing that it is the child's best chance to avoid the most serious consequences of that birth parents' mistakes. They may struggle. They may question. But at least they are safe and alive.

What about years from now, when the child grows up and is angry about the fact that (a) he was separated from his parents and (b) did not get to choose the adoption for himself? How do we respond to the "phantom pain" of the parents he or she never got to know?

The "phantom parent" of the [grown] child's mind is just that ... a phantom. It is real -- but cannot be allowed to define that child's existence if he or she is going to heal. True, the child did not get to choose the adoption any more than a young child chooses amputation (or other serious treatment) for a life-threatening disease. These adult choices are made on behalf of the child.

Once the choice is made, all that remains is to guide the child toward healing. To a great extent, this is the primary job of the adoptive parent. (I was interested to read that recent therapies used to treat phantom pain include "mirrored boxes" or "virtual limbs" that allow the patient to strengthen his remaining muscles while retaining the illusion of his missing limb. Although I had not thought of it before, when I read this my mind returned to those first months of parenting my children, which were so difficult on all of us. Their parents were missing, and we were a poor substitute ... Only with time did they allow us to become fully Mom and Dad.)

Traumatized children (whether physically through disease or emotionally through losing their first parents) who for whatever reason remain "trapped" by their pain can be crippled for life. And yet, as my sister (a childhood amputee and cancer survivor) has shown me, those who are able to grieve their loss and move on find themselves able to do things that leave the rest of us breathless.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

"Grant the people's every request..."

The people have spoken, God help us ... and God has given them what they asked for. This immediately brought to my mind another time, in the Old Testament, when God did just that. From 1 Samuel 8.

Therefore all the elders of Israel came in a body to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, "Now that you are old, and your sons do not follow your example, appoint a king over us, as other nations have, to judge us." Samuel was displeased when they asked for a king to judge them. He prayed to the LORD, however, who said in answer: "Grant the people's every request. It is not you they reject, they are rejecting me as their king.

As they have treated me constantly from the day I brought them up from Egypt to this day, deserting me and worshiping strange gods, so do they treat you too. Now grant their request; but at the same time, warn them solemnly and inform them of the rights of the king who will rule them."

And with that, Samuel anointed Saul -- a man who had the admiration of all who saw him, the sheer physical presence of a king, but darkness in his heart.

When we ask God for something, in His infinite wisdom He sometimes gives us exactly what we want. Time will tell what lessons we will learn from it.

Join the "Mary Moments Carnival!"

Join us for this month's "Mary Moments Carnival" at "Behold Your Mother"!

In November, the theme of Mary Moments is Mary, Queen of Saints.

* How does devotion to Mary make you more saintly?
* How has her intercession changed your life?
* Do you have a special affiliation with Mary, Queen of Saints?
* What sort of reflection does this title inspire in you?

Sarah writes: "Entries are not limited to these questions, of course. Submissions are due by November 13, using the online form or by emailing me at peerybingle [at] gmail [dot] com. If you don't have a blog, you can still participate! I'll post your entry as a guest post over at my blog."

Sunday, November 02, 2008

On All Souls Day

This week a package arrived in the mail for me from my Aunt Suzy. Inside were two photographs from my grandmother's estate. The first image was my grandfather's, who died when I was thirteen; the other was my Uncle Dicky and Aunt Betty, who died a few years earlier. I hadn't seen their pictures for more than twenty years.

Both my grandfather and uncle were good men, though neither was particularly devout. My grandfather enjoyed his solitude, and would frequently escape to his work shop when his grandchildren came to call. (Most often my sister Kate would follow, and she was inconsolable at his death.) My Uncle Dicky would always keep peppermints and quarters in his pockets, and call loudly for us as he entered the house for Sunday dinner. He was such a large man that hugging him was a physical impossibility ... but we knew he loved us.

As I heard the first reading this morning -- from the Book of Wisdom (3:1-9), my thoughts returned to these two men and to my grandmother, as she completes the final stage of her journey toward heaven. The reading, which is a succinct teaching of purgatory, speaks not of judgment so much as hope.
The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.... they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.

In the time of their visitation they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;
they shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the LORD shall be their King forever.
Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with his elect.

"They shall dart about as sparks through stubble ... grace and mercy are with his holy ones." For many of those who believe themselves on the fast track to heaven, the teaching of purgatory sounds like a repudiation of the love and mercy of God and the sufficiency of the Cross. In reality, purgatory is mercy itself, the tender ministrations of a loving God who never loses sight of the perfection He wants to restore in us, His beloved children.

And so, today I'd like to offer this prayer for those Christians who find themselves in this "gray town," with no one to "pray them home." I offer it today for my grandparents, and their families -- lifelong Protestants who loved God as best they knew how.

Heavenly Father,
we offer up to you our heartfelt intentions,
united with the merits of Your precious Son,
whose death ransoms and restores every soul
who calls upon Your name.
We seek Your mercy,
not only for ourselves but also for those
wandering in darkness, mystified and alone.
Send Your angels to guide them through
the water and the fire, till every blemish fades.
And when we meet again,
may we rejoice eternally not because we were right,
but because You are righteous.
And may we adore You
not because we escaped the fires of hell,
but because You are the true and lasting light.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
especially those who did not believe in life
that they would need our prayers in death.
Dear Jesus, be with those we love.
Especially those imperfect souls we loved best
while they were with us.

(c) 2006 Heidi Hess Saxton

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Books for Foster and Adoptive Families

Today at Extraordinary Moms Network, I posted an article called "Playground Politics" about helping your foster child (or any child, really) cope with playground bullies. As I mention in the article, foster kids tend to see the world as a place they need to protect themselves from ... Either through aggression, or through passivity and withdrawal. This three-step strategy for kids will help boost their confidence, and turn them from targets into leaders!

When you are raising children, empathy and simple listening to the feelings behind a child's words is an important step in confidence boosting. One of the best ways to do this is through reading, both together and individually (for the adult). Here is a list of books I've found helpful over the years.

Tapestry Books is an especially good resource for books for adoptive and foster parents, with offers for parents and children alike. For the resources below, I've provided links to Tapestry for those products they offer -- the others are from Amazon.

For foster children:

* Maybe Days, by Jennifer Wilgocki (an especially good read when they first join your family)
* My Body is Private by Linda Girard (especially for children with abuse and boundary issues)

For foster, adopted, and special needs children:

* How Do Dinosaurs... Series by Jane Yolen (child friendly way to teach them about their world, from going to bed to teaching manners)
* I Will Always Love You by Jane Gerver (a gentle, reassuring book about two pandas, celebrating unconditional love)
* Ruthie and the Teeny Tiny Lie by Laura Rankin (the importance of truth-telling)

Especially for adopted children:

* Forever Fingerprints, by Sherrie Eldridge (for teaching facts of life to adopted children)
* I Don't Have Your Eyes by Carrie Kitze (especially good for trans-racial adoption)

Especially for parents: Some of these I've reviewed before. Where applicable, I've included a review link in addition to ordering information. An additional list of resources from Tapestry Books may be found here.

* Adopting the Hurt Child, by Gregory Keck (especially good for foster-adoptions, where child has suffered abuse or has other trauma). Review.

* The Connected Child by Karen Purvis (I noticed there were other books that ranked higher than this one at the Tapestry website, but I've read this one myself. In my opinion, if you buy just one book on attachment and related issues, such as learning disabilities, this is it!)

* Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel (about recognizing our own limitations is an important step in being a better parent). Review.

* Beautiful Boy by David Sheff (an intimate portrait of drug addiction, especially for parents whose children have birth parents with addiction issues). Review.

* Silent Prisoner by Amanda Young (a former foster child's story of emerging from her past). Review.

SPECIAL OFFER! Have you thought about joining the EMN mailing list and just never gotten around to it? This month you can also receive a free music CD of Lorraine Hartsook's "Bring That Child to Me" (an inspiring ballad about adoption) if you send an e-mail to with (1) A link to your blog and/or website with the EMN logo on it and (2) Your name and address. Hurry! Offer good to the first 50 women who respond.