Thursday, October 29, 2009

Keeping up the Good Work

Over the weekend we had dinner with some friends we haven't seen in a long time. During the course of the conversation, certain opinions came forth that were opposed to Church teaching. Usually in situations like these, I try to determine whether I'm being given an opportunity to defend the Church or to practice humility by remaining silent. Usually. This time I just jumped right in and started arguing. Then someone brought up the Crusades and the sex abuse scandal.

At this point I'd like to say that I rationally defended the Church and explained those anomalies in their historical and cultural context. I did not. I rolled my eyes, I laughed, I got angry and made stupid, sweeping generalizations. Eventually, we moved on to a different subject.

Times like that mostly serve to remind me how very, very far I am from a spirit of gentleness and love for my fellow man. The fact that I can get so completely worked up in a conversation with friends, to the point where I am insulting and obnoxious, illustrates that I am not letting the Holy Spirit work within me. It's discouraging to be reminded how much more spiritual growing I need to do.

But I think it's always going to be this way. Part of the sancification process involves a constant, deliberate rooting out of those sins which keep us from God. Like cleaning the house, we have to be always at work on it. Becoming aware of a fault or a sin is like finding a corner of the study that is just overflowing with accumulated junk and clutter. It takes a long time and serious effort to clean that corner, putting everything in its place and getting rid of the ugliness we don't want. But simply putting it in right order isn't enough. We have to keep visiting that corner, making sure it's not collecting junk again. We have to consciously keep it clean.

It's hard work, and again like housekeeping, it's not very rewarding in the short term. You clean, and it is immediately messy again. So you clean again, and again and again. The rewards are more subtle, such as the peace you feel from living in a place that is ordered and beautiful. Or the self-discipline that you earn by consistent effort at the same task.

Since my personality is so focused on perfection and so easily discouraged, I'm going to try and view things in more of a housekeeping light. If, in a particular circumstance, I don't manage to live up to God's standard for holiness, it's not a failure. It's not a setback. Rather, it's an indication that I need to do some praying. Finding a few leaves tracked into my living room does not mean I am a failure as a housekeeper. It's not cause for tears, recriminations or tantrums. It just means I need to get out the vacuum. Sins are like dirt: they just keep appearing, somehow. So, we just need to keep sweeping them out.

One more small sidenote: Something I've noticed from reading the Lives of the Saints is how detached they were from worldly cares. I don't mean material goods or other things of that nature. I mean actual cares: what people think of them, what's going on in the world, what's happening to them, etc. This isn't to say that they didn't have a deep and abiding compassion for the unfortunate, only that they put things in their proper perspective. This world will pass away. God's kingdom lasts forever. And the Saints had achieved such a union with the Almighty that they simply couldn't give worldly things too much importance. I think if I ever want to get to the point where I am able to read the news or discuss politics and theology with my friends and family, I will first need to develop a closeness with God that puts this world and all the things in it into its proper place.

That room in my soul where I get totally worked up over someone's differing opinion? Yeah. It needs some work.

Picture credit.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

At least the answer is clear...

The door has been shut on the adoption issue. Worried about cost and the untrustworthiness of international governments, I had looked into fost-adopt domestically. It wasn't ideal for me, particularly the long vetting process and invasive government check-ups, but I was willing to go through it.

However, my husband has made it clear that there is no circumstance under which he'd be willing to adopt a child.

So it appears that it is not God's will for us to help children in this way. As always, it's so difficult to adjust my thinking and my expectations. In my mind I keep thinking, "But I WANT this. Why can't I have it?"

Obviously, that's not the right attitude.

In recent news, a friend of mine has just broken off her engagement with her boyfriend of four years because she wants to "be with other people." As much as I think she's making a terrible mistake (and compounding it with a bunch of sins) I also kind of envy her. There's something so appealing in the idea that if you're not perfectly happy in any given situation, you just change the situation until you get what you want.

In that scenario, though, there's no growth. There's no gaining in humility from letting go of your way in favor of another's. There's no strengthening of will from sticking with something even when it's unpleasant.

I know that to my friend, my bowing to God on this issue is perceived as giving up and letting my husband win. It may feel like that in my more petulant moods, but in my heart I know better.

If God really wanted this for us, He would not have it negatively impact my primary vocation as a wife and mother. In this, at least, I can feel peace. It is not the right time. It may never be the right time. Even though it is a good and right thing I wish to do, God does not wish me to do it.

St. Frances of Rome can hear me on this one. She wanted to be a nun but her family promised her in marriage to a nobleman instead. Crying and begging God to stop the marriage, she was asked by her confessor, "Are you crying because you want to do God's will or because you want God to do yours?"

Thy will be done, Lord. Thine alone.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


I Homeschooling is just SO much more difficult than I imagined it would be. I've been by turns frustrated, overwhelmed, exhausted, out of control, despondent, and incensed. You notice that none of these adjectives are conducive to rearing a small child with love and gentleness. My naive visions of sitting side by side with my rapt 6 year old son and pointing gleefully at pictures of mummies or sharks while he asked eager questions has been replaced by memories of sullen, pouting expressions and statements like, "I am NOT. Going to do it." or "This is SOOOOO boring! I want to go to Grandmas! NOW!" Both those statements, by the way, were uttered while on a Friday Field Trip to Dinosaur Ridge, where you can touch fossils (he refused to do so) and track an Iguanadon and its baby moving across a streambed in fossilized footprints. SO COOL. Or it should have been.


So this is the point where I grow smaller and let God grow bigger through me, right? This is where I learn to let go of my controlling nature and allow my son to explore the world at his own page. I mean, that's a large reason why I'm homeschooling in the first place -- I don't want my child forced to learn about Rome when he's fascinated with the Huns of ancient China. Do the Huns when he wants to do them, and come back to Rome some other time. If he wants to do six pages of math today, great. If he wants to do none, we'll just play an addition game instead.

So why is it that whenever he digs in his heels, I dig mine in even further?

I think it's the expectations that I'm putting on him. I have to keep reminding myself that we have the whole year...we don't need to reach our goals of discipline and retention overnight. I am also repeating to myself a heck of a lot, "Let go. Let go. Be flexible!"

Part of the problem is that nothing I can do schoolwise is more interesting to him than free time. Whenever I can, I capitalize on the things he's interested in so that the schoolwork is at least appealing on that level. But even writing "Superman is so awesome, he is the best superhero, he can see through anything and fly" is not more fun than dressing up as Superman and zooming around the house screaming and making whooshing noises. It is more fun than writing "AaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAa God Alone," but it's still writing.

The thing is, he does have to do work sometimes. Our fights aren't necessarily about him not being able to do the work, or of feeling that it's pointless or boring. It's because he doesn't want to do anything, ever, that I ask him to do. Even projects that he is interested in, like making a Jabberwocky mask out of paper mache for a play we're putting on, can't compete with lying on the couch. I don't at all mind stopping his piano lessons and letting him just pick out the notes of songs he wants to play, or of spending six weeks instead of three on prehistoric dinosaurs and paleontology because he finds it interesting, or of letting him color printed pictures rather than drawing them if he hates drawing, but I am not okay with letting him do nothing all day long.

As always, my problem is figuring out when to be flexible and when to insist on something because it's important. I personally feel that setting aside time each day for schoolwork is important. Within that time frame I can be flexible: we can start with math or start with reading, we can take frequent breaks, we can interrupt one lesson to dabble a bit in something else, or whatever. But certain things MUST be done.

I have also been receiving diverse and frequent indications that order and discipline need to be my primary focus right now. Not simply for my school day or for my son, but for myself as well. I have been very successful at keeping to my schedule of late, mostly because my life is so full that any deviation invites immediate disaster. This doesn't mean that I'm disciplined, though. It just means that I'm scheduled. Discipline means getting up when the alarm goes off. It means actually reading my theology meditation instead of thinking aimless thoughts about where the day went wrong. It means refusing to answer the phone during school hours, even if it's my mom or my sister on the other end. It means maintaining a calm spirit when I am frustrated or overwhelmed.

Discipline for my son means doing his work carefully when he's asked to do it and separating his desires from his duties. I've made him a "character" chart with (of course) Superman flying high at the top. Whenever he shows fortitude, prudence, justice, or temperance, he gets to put a small sticker on the chart. As the four columns rise up like the towering skyscrapers of Metropolis, he will get closer and closer to Superman, that paragon of virtue and model of self-control (well, as long as you limit your canon to the pre-1960 comics and TV series and ignore all the movies.) Sometimes it serves to motivate him when he really wants to quit a page of math. Sometimes it doesn't. But at least it's a goal. And as I'm trying to remind myself: it doesn't need to happen overnight.

That goes for myself as well. I won't magically become super-homeschooling-mom simply because I've started homeschooling. This is as much a learning process for me as it is for my son. Self-improvement is a lifelong, never-ending journey, and God will keep working to change me until I die. Brandon Heath has a great song about this, with the refrain:

There is hope for me yet,
Because God won't forget
All the plans he's made for me.
I'll have to wait and see.
He's not finished with me yet.

Actually, if you're Catholic you believe that He works on you after death, too, sort of. That's what Purgatory is, right? A final stage of refinement to complete the change from flawed human to pure soul bound for eternity with God. Change isn't easy. Actually, nothing that's worth doing is easy. So in that sense, I'm grateful for this trial. But I'm also hoping my son and I come to some sort of resolution soon. 'Cause this is pretty tough.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Intentions for October

The Intentions of the Holy Father for the month of October are:

General: That Sunday may be lived as the day on which Christians gather to celebrate the risen Lord, participating in the Eucharist.

Mission: That the entire People of God, to whom Christ entrusted the mandate to go and preach the Gospel to every creature, may eagerly assume their own missionary responsibility and consider it the highest service they can offer humanity.

May we concentrate this month on truly living out our Sunday sabbath: making it the Lord's day and committing those hours in a special way to Him. May we, with zeal and energy, live our faith in an outward fashion and share it with everyone we meet.

For our family, we will be making Sunday night dinners special by lighting a candle and praying that the faith may become more and more widespread, as well as faithfully practiced.

All of the Pope's Intentions for the calendar year can be found here.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

One of my favorite Bible verses is today's Bible Verse of the Day:

Bible Verse Of The Day

Saturday, October 3, 2009

— 1 John 4:7-11 —
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
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