Friday, December 14, 2007

Backseat Driving in God's Limousine

I had a thought during my nightly Rosary the other night: I'm not letting God work any miracles for me.

I'm reminded of that little poem by Lauretta Burns that I'm sure we've all seen before.

Broken Dreams
by Lauretta Burns

As children bring their broken toys
With tears for us to mend,
I brought my broken dreams to God
Because He was my Friend

But instead of leaving Him
In peace to work alone,
I hung around and tried to help
With ways that were my own.

At last I snatched them back and cried, "How can You be so slow?"
"My child," He said, "what could I do?
You never let them go."

I thought, too, of St. Therese of the Little Flower. If you haven't read The Story of a Soul please find some time do so. I've never known its match for beauty, and the profound truths of her little way are beyond my ability to translate here. There were two main things I remembered from the book that struck me the other night. I thought first of how deeply and utterly she trusted God. At one point she wrote how elated she was when her father confessor told her she ought to take Communion every day. It had been a strong desire of hers to do so, but she didn't speak of it to anyone or ask to be given permission (I'm not sure why she needed permission; perhaps someone with a better historical understanding of her time or her convent can enlighten me.) She simply let that desire well in her heart and waited for God to grant it. How pure was that trust! To not even ask for something that surely would have been granted her easily, but instead to hope for it and allow God to reveal his glory...It's something I can hardly imagine, Type-A control-freak that I am.

The second thing that came to mind during my meditation was how St. Therese liked to consider herself the bride of Jesus. When a sister of hers married and spoke lovingly of all the little things she did to please her husband, St. Therese vowed that she would not let her sister do more for her earthly husband than she herself would do for God. She took the relationship literally, even amusing herself by writing out an invitation to the reception that celebrated her union with the son of God and the Queen of Heaven, to be held at a time unannounced -- Hold yourselves ready, for we do not know the hour of His coming!

I thought about how I let my husband clean the kitchen for me every night. Some of you might be smirking at that statement, but that's how controlling I am. Early in our marriage I used to look at the job he did -- crumbs on the floor, knives in the sink, tomato sauce on the counter, a precarious tower of hand-washed dishes piled high in the drying rack -- and compose conversations in my head where I taught him how to do it properly. Praise God, the Holy Spirit kept me from saying much at the time, because this kitchen cleaning thing happens to be the number one way Dan shows his love for me. He's not demonstrative, he's not verbal, he doesn't buy gifts and we're kind of busy for quality time together. His love language is acts of service and this is a service he performs every single day. Even when I make him one of my infamous eight pot dinners and he can't even see the sink to get started, he still does it.

If I insisted on doing it my way, I'd be missing out on this gift from my husband. There's a humility in accepting gifts, I've found. It's often not exactly what you'd get yourself, or what you wanted. Sometimes it's a total miss. Sometimes it's better than you could have dreamed of, or so unexpected that the joy of it takes your breath away. Whichever scenario it is, the truly loving giftee will take it, thank the giver with a grateful heart, and use the gift.

I have a coat I hate. My mom bought it for me and it's cherry red, not my style, with a huge, flat collar. I wear it every Christmas because I'm lucky enough to have a loving mother and a nice coat. Who cares if it's not my style?

If I'm trying at every opportunity to win Dan over to my way of thinking on this adoption thing, I'm not letting God do any work. I'm trying to do it myself. I'm not bringing it up, mind you, but whenever he sends me an article that bemoans the difficulty of large families or mentions a conversation with someone who's overwhelmed by their kids' schedule, I yammer on and on about how great I think large families are and how wonderful it would be to have another child and detail all the ways we could make things work if we had more.

Maybe God is looking for an opportunity to do something for me, here.

I should just let Him.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Foster Care

A friend who works with the juvenile justice system in Detroit sent me this link to a series of articles about a child who was not served by the foster care system in that area. It doesn't have a good end, so you might not want to read it if you are pregnant or particularly sensitive to such things.

Ricky's Story

Obviously, we've only begun to learn the whole story, as this is a 14 part series. A few things struck me as I was reading.

The mother in this family viewed having a child as her right. She wasn't in a good place mentally, nor did she have the kind of marriage that would create a loving home for a child. Plus, she had fertility problems but couldn't afford to have them looked into. All of this screams "Not right now" on the baby front, but she would not listen. She pushed for what she wanted to satisfy her craving, even though she wasn't ready.

Sometimes God places obstacles in our path for a reason. Our best response is to accept His answer and work on ourselves.

Catholic Charities recommended a change in this boy's situation, but the state agency didn't listen. The caseworker who met with Ricky assessed his mental state on a regular basis and saw that he was becoming more emotionally unstable and developing aggressive tendencies. She thought he would be best served if he was the only child in the foster home and if his parents were trained to give consistent, loving discipline. Yet the state continued to place more children in his home without demanding that the parents undergo any kind of parenting classes or counseling.

It's not surprising to me that Catholic Charities had the true interests of the child at heart, while the state was more concerned with placing as many children as possible. I've heard this from other sources, too, when I was looking into becoming a foster parent myself. It makes me increasingly convinced that we need MORE families to open their homes to these children. Yes, it's hard. Yes, it's risky. But the state agencies are so strapped for somewhere to put these kids that they ignore potential danger signs and place children in abusive homes because there's no where else to put them. Pray with me that more families will hear the call to look after these children and accept the challenges and rewards it will bring.

The parents in this situation used archaic and heavy-handed discipline methods. When Ricky wouldn't stay in bed, they tied him there. If the kids acted up, they were locked in their rooms or sent to bed hungry. These aren't methods of discipline as God intends. They do not honor the inherent dignity of the child as a person, nor do they allow the child to learn to make good decisions or exercise his own judgment. All they do is inflict fear and humiliation.

If we consider our children as possessions, we will treat them as such. Anytime they do not conform to our desires, we will punish them until they are trained to respond to us without question.

But if we see our children as blessings, as gifts from God to be nurtured and cared for, then we understand that they are their own selves in need of guidance and instruction, not punishment. As much as possible, we need to give our children choices, knowledge, and the tools to discipline themselves. Tying a child to the bed or locking them in their room relies on force to elicit compliance. Sometimes children need to do what they don't want to do. Of course. It would be irresponsible of us to allow our children to eat candy for lunch or watch TV all day. But the methods we use must allow for the exercise of their own free will, as well.

Pray with me for parents who are struggling with their vocation. For children who are in abusive homes or unstable situations. Pray with me that we might all turn our attention to those in need of love and support, and provide it to the best of our ability.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Needless Anxiety

Fr. Mel said the homily today at Mass. He speaks very softly and can't seem to lean forward enough to get to the microphone. And since our church is undergoing construction and we're having daily Mass in the gym right next to the actual demolishing of the old church, I can't be sure I really heard everything he said. I definitely missed the punchline of his joke at the end of Mass, which must have been funny because everyone laughed but I had to drop something off at the office right afterwards so I wasn't able to ask anyone what he'd said.

Little things like that can be so annoying if I let them. I thought about the joke all the way to the car and while filling up my gas tank across the street. What could he have said? It was short enough to only be a few words..."That's what he always was?" "That's what he says, too?" "That's what we tell ourselves?" Urgh.

I just have to refocus my mind and stop dwelling on frustrating and useless things. That's good advice for other aspects of my life, too. I've been feeling particularly resentful lately about the limitations life has placed on me. Instead of thinking positively and waiting on God with hope, I've been giving in to despair and wondering why I should bother. Some good friends with the courage to speak truth have pulled me back on the right path.

Instead of harboring anger because I don't have the freedom to move forward on the adoption, I can focus my energies on being the best mother I can be. There's plenty of room for improvement, I assure you. Instead of bemoaning my husband's faults, I can dwell on his abundant good qualities and focus my energies establishing a deeper connection with him.

Today's Gospel told one of my favorite Bible stories, where Jesus heals the centurion's servant. This hedonistic Roman recognized the true power of God when many devout Jews of the time did not. He came to Jesus and made his request with complete confidence, knowing that as his household obeyed his every word, so too would the sickness obey Jesus.

My faith can take its cues from this example. Come to God with confidence that your request will be granted, for everything on earth, and above the earth, and below the earth knows that He is Lord. What have I to fear, then? We are all in His hands.

I suppose I can ask Fr. Mel tomorrow for the punchline of the joke, if I'm still wondering about it!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Christmas Preparations

Happy and Blessed First Week of Advent to everyone! I love this time of year. I love lighting the candles on my Advent wreath and decorating the house, baking cookies (and eating them), singing Christmas carols, finding gifts for friends and family and the general smells, sights, sounds and sensations of the season.

We try to be as Catholic as we can during the season. We don't put up the tree till Gaudette Sunday, and we refrain from Christmas carols till Christmas itself (though I make an exception for the kids: we sing one Christmas song every night as part of our nighttime routine.) St. Nicholas comes with a small present for the kids on December 6th, and Christmas itself is dedicated to Christ and family. I'm pondering ways to truly embrace the spirit of the season, though. I want to prepare for Christmas with sacrifice and prayer much like Lent prepares us for Easter.

I've contemplated a Buy Nothing Christmas, but I'm not sold on the idea for a couple reasons. First of all, I think the urge to celebrate by giving gifts is a nice idea. If it's being taken to extremes by marketing agencies and shopping malls, well, they're free to try and convince me to buy more if they want to. It doesn't mean I have to buy nothing in response. The main problem, though, is that it requires EVERYONE you know to buy into it. Otherwise, you receive an abundance of love but don't communicate your goodwill in a language your friends and family understand.

I do, however, like the idea of homemade gifts, simplifying the holiday, and cutting through the propaganda to unearth the true spirit of the season: Christ's love.

So I've made a pledge: I will not buy a single Christmas decoration this year. I've already stopped buying Christmas lights, though I did pick up some used coils at a garage sale last June. I'm also going to try and say a prayer for the persecuted Christians in China whenever we pass any decorated trees/homes/lightpoles/signs, etc. Lights are everywhere, so the prayer has to be short! "Lord, please strengthen and bless those who suffer for You." We have four whole boxes of decorations in the storeroom already, so I really shouldn't need any more this year. I know I'll want some, though. We've moved to a new house and I'm already at a loss for what to put on my front doors, since we now own two instead of one. Still, I'm going to try and resist. Even if I find things on sale! This includes fresh evergreen wreaths, of which I'm particularly fond. Maybe I'll hunt through my decor and see if I can find a pine scented candle tucked away somewhere, or maybe I'll see what I can cobble together from the overgrown juniper bushes in the backyard.

I've been lax lately about my prayer life. I need to return to saying the Rosary every day, to start. I've also found this wonderful site with a guide to Advent prayers for each day of the season, something which I hope can help me focus my thoughts and energies on the magnificent gift God sent us in His son.

As always, though, I'm seeking ways to remember the poor in my every day life. This season, I'm particularly conscious of those who don't know our Lord loves them, or who reject him for whatever reason. I'm mindful, too, of those who live under the oppression of a hostile government and aren't free to share their wonder and joy at Jesus' birth. And I think of those unfortunate families who are so caught up in the stress and materialism of the season that they mostly just feel pressure to keep up with the Joneses. For all these, and for the poor souls in Purgatory who are waiting to be reunited with Christ, I will dedicate my daily Rosary.

Best wishes to everyone at the start of this marvelous season! How blessed we are to have this opportunity for reflection and anticipation!

Advent Prayer

Come, long-expected
Jesus. Excite in me a wonder at the wisdom and power of Your Father and ours. Receive my prayer as part of my service of the Lord who enlists me in God's own work for justice.

Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a hunger for peace: peace in the world, peace in my home, peace in myself.

Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a joy responsive to the Father's joy. I seek His will so I can serve with gladness, singing and love.

Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me the joy and love and peace it is right to bring to the manger of my Lord. Raise in me, too, sober reverence for the God who acted there, hearty gratitude for the life begun there, and spirited resolution to serve the Father and Son.

I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, whose advent I hail. Amen.