Friday, May 21, 2010

May Intentions

The Holy Father's general intention for this month is one of those issues that sits very heavily on my heart. I feel such pain for those poor souls who suffer slavery of any kind, but especially those girls who are kidnapped and kept as prostitutes. I can hardly even think about it, which makes me all the more troubled that there are those who have to do more than think: they must live it.

Our Holy Father prays this month:

That the shameful and monstrous commerce in human beings, which sadly involves millions of women and children, may be ended

I have researched this subject quite a bit, and prayed on it, and wondered how I can contribute in my small way to ending this blight on our human soul. While making a donation to an organization that works against human trafficking would be an ideal step, it's something that's very difficult for me to do, given the constraints of my situation. I do have some money, but the amount I'd be able to donate (around $20) seems like a drop in the bucket. I want to do more. It's also the main point of this blog to connect my everyday life to the lives of others, particularly those who are suffering. What can I do, as a SAHM of two children, to help those who are victims of human trafficking?

1. Raise the issue.
Simply as a function of my status as a stay at home mom, most of my conversations with my friends revolves around our kids, our husbands, and local events. I can do my part to make sure people know about the problem of human trafficking. I can mention an article I read in Marie Claire, specify our Holy Father's monthly intention before praying a group Rosary, wear a Common Thread ring or an anti-slavery t-shirt, or suggest my book group read Not For Sale. I can teach my children about slavery, in an age-appropriate manner, and help them understand how fortunate they are to be free. In short, I can look for opportunities given my by the Holy Spirit to share this issue with people who may be interested in learning more. As long as I do not lecture or push the subject past the point that people are willing to listen, there is no gathering where it would not be appropriate to take these poor with me.

2. Promote a Global Identity
The Church has been consistent in Her teaching that social justice is part of our duty as children of God, and also that the makeup of our global society can create situations of great injustice for which we must take responsibility. In other words, our choices here in America affect not only those we come into contact with, but people thousands of miles away whom we will never meet. It is not enough to care for myself and my family, I must care for the whole world. The more I understand about the complex machinery of international trade and globalization, the more I am able to make good choices that promote a culture of respect and preserve the humanity of everyone on Earth. This is a difficult concept to communicate in only a few sentences, but it is the foundation of my worldview and the reason I launched this blog.

3. Promote the Theology of the Body
Here's something more concrete! Many of the victims of human trafficking are young women and girls who are sold into brothels or to individual families as something between a concubine and domestic servant. I can't write here about how heartrendingly awful their lives are. The Marie Claire article in #1 above has a good overview. Sex slaves have been an unfortunate part of the human experience for as long as we have had a history, and it may seem there is very little I can do to change a culture so twisted that it would allow such atrocities. But I can. For one thing, I can use Natural Family Planning. The very nature of NFP is that it asks couples to deny their instinctual yearnings and instead focus their energies on love, mutual sacrifice, and non-sexual intimacy. In conjunction with the Theology of the Body, this teaching promotes the now nearly-laughable idea that men and women can control themselves and that sex is neither a right nor a recreation. We may not have cage brothels in my town, but we certainly have a culture where sex is not valued as it ought to be. My example may help others embrace the concept of self-giving through abstinence. In addition, times of abstinence can be difficult for couples. When it is difficult for me, I can offer up my feelings to God, asking Him to bring comfort, freedom, and healing to a woman trapped in slavery.

4. Promote Education
One of the causes of human trafficking is a lack of opportunity for those in poverty. In many instances, people are promised a job and then taken instead into a life of slavery. Sometimes, families sell their children because they have no other source of income. I have long believed that the key to eradicating poverty and oppression lies in education. It is not only a matter of job-training, although that is critically important, but also in allowing ideas to permeate a culture where, too often, hate and division have been predominant. Donating used books and school materials, volunteering at my kids' schools, and supporting my local library are all good ways that I can promote education right in my own neighborhood.

5. Advocate for Better Laws and Systems
While some aspects of human trafficking can get caught up in other issues, like immigration or reproductive rights, most legislation is thoroughly bipartisan. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 passed the Senate unanimously. Catholic Relief Services has an Action Center where you can sign up to receive email alerts when relevant legislation needs your voice. I find it incredibly helpful to read the Bishops' position on pending legislation, not only to inform my conscience with the wisdom of Church teaching, but also because, frankly, I just don't have the time to research all the possible issues myself. Even when the government doesn't act upon our suggestions, we have at least made our position known. The more voices call out for justice, and the louder we shout, the more our elected officials will listen.

6. Pray

We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

-- Thessalonians 5: 14-18

Lord of freedom and love, we are saddened to know that more than one million people are trafficked into slavery each year.
Our hearts grieve for what our minds can barely comprehend, particularly when we hear of women, men, and children who are deceived and transported to unknown places.
We recognize this sexual and economic exploitation occurs because of human greed and profit.
We are sorrowful and our spirits angry that human dignity is being degraded through deception and threats of force.
Help the violators to be transformed and enlightened to realize the scope of their unjust actions.
Allow them to see the value and the dignity of every human person.
Lord of Life, strengthen those whose hearts have been broken and lives have been uprooted.
Give us the light, grace, and courage to work with you so that we can all participate in the goodness of creation.
Fill us with the wisdom and courage to stand in solidarity with the victims so that we may all enjoy the freedoms and rights which have their source in your Son and our Lord Jesus Christ.
-- Adapted from Franciscans International and a prayer by Sr. G. Cassani, SSND

If you wish to learn more, or if you feel moved to help financially or otherwise, you can also visit the following websites dedicated to fighting human trafficking.

The Polaris Project:
The Somaly Mam Foundation:
Human Trafficking:
Catholic Relief Services:
The Human Trafficking Project:
Franciscans International:
International Justice Mission: (main page not loading for me, so I'm linking to their Facebook site) Thanks, Ruthanne!!
Project Exodus: (Thanks, Tami!)

Friday, May 14, 2010

7 Quick Takes Friday

We have a theme today.

7 Quick Ways to Kick a Bad Mood

We all have those days. It's part of the human experience. Mine usually begin when my 3 year old decides she does NOT want to wear leggings with her dress and we're out of clean tights. Nothing is quite like starting a day with a full-on tantrum and Mommy guilt ("If I'd only done laundry last night we wouldn't be in this situation!"), unless you throw a sleepless night, a cold, and a visit from a demanding family member into the mix. Not that I'm speaking from experience here, just hypothetically...

My life doesn't stop when I have a bad day. My kids still need their mom, grocery store clerks still deserve a friendly smile, the people in my life have to be treated with kindness and dignity. I can't walk around in a funk, taking out my mood on other people. Abigail had a nice post about this the other day, in which she quoted Thomas Aquinas:

"Affability is the duty of justice, it is a kind of debt of decency. Affability is the virtue of maturity and not of youth. It requires the discipline and strength of character to be even-keeled in one's demeanor, regardless of how one is feeling. It is that rare species of charity, the heroic strength that does not inflict one's fluctuating moods upon others."

This is particularly important for moms, as our mood affects the well-being of our families. And if it is our duty as Christian Mothers to be happy even when we feel sad, annoyed, put upon or disappointed, then we need to pursue happiness actively.* This is one of the key themes of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, which I read earlier this year and heartily recommend.

Easier said than done, though! Plus, much of the common advice for cheering yourself up revolves around purchasing or eating: buy a new outfit, bake cookies, hire a babysitter so you can have a few moments to yourself, go out for lunch with a friend, etc. Sometimes these ideas are really good; hanging out with a friend is an excellent mood lifter. But there are times when that's simply not possible. People on a budget, SAHMs with large families, and those with limited time need to get more creative. In addition, I find taking the poor with me through a bad mood also serves to renew my dedication to serving God through serving the poor.

My top 7 ways to lift a bad mood:

This is number one for a reason. There's really no other solution to petty annoyances than to give them to God and renew the consolation of His love in our hearts. I find Adoration the most effective way to pray, because it provides me with both silence and the physical presence of our Lord. But even a short prayer to the Holy Spirit can help, or a repeated, "Jesus, I give this over to you."

"Music has charms to soothe the savage breast
To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak." -- William Congreve
Whatever kind of music makes you feel like smiling, dancing, or singing is good. I have K-LOVE pre-programed in my car, and it always comforts and cheers me. If the song they're playing is too sad, I switch to classical or pop in a Rodrigo y Gabriella CD. Fun music is a great mood lifter!

It's a function of our comfortable lives that we tend to overblow little things that don't matter in the long run. Whenever petty annoyances threaten to engulf us, it can help to consider: Will I care about this two hours from now? Two days? Two years? Would I care about this if my daughter had leukemia? If my mother was dying? Would I care about this if we had no money left in our bank account? If my husband left me?

I often encounter images of suffering that stay with me. They flicker to my conscious mind sometimes, to remind me that I am blessed with an abundance of wonderful things. Because I have a special affinity for the poorest of the poor, I often call to mind the image of a woman in India I once saw on a poster at a Church during Lent. She was clearly starving, clearly made old before her time from the toil and agony of her life. I am blessed beyond her imagining, not only with material possessions, but with freedom, love, and, in the words of Charlotte Mason, "tales of the imagination." Though all of us as children of God are privileged to receive the consolation of Christ's mercy, some of us are asked to bear a heavier load than others. Sometimes, simply reflecting on this is enough to make me joyful again.

I am fortunate to have a relationship with two families living in subsidized housing. I see them once a week or so, and have been helping them with various things for the last two years. Without fail, I leave their homes energized and filled with the Holy Spirit. This is not because of anything particularly special about them, or from the usual satisfaction that comes from doing works of charity. In fact, most of what I do is of no practical use to them whatsoever. It certainly hasn't made any substantial change in their lives; they continue to struggle every day. But in our relationship, I find a sense of God's presence. I think this is because Christ is always particularly present with the poor and suffering. He has a special love for them, and to be near them is to be near Him.

Our bodies were made to move. We are dynamic, kinetic creations. Too often when we're in a bad mood, we do the exact opposite of what we ought to do: We slow down and get quiet and still. I belong to our local YMCA, which provides FREE CHILD CARE as long as I'm in the building, for up to two hours. If your local Y or rec center has a similar service, by all means take advantage of it! Moderate exercise releases endorphins, takes your mind off your problems, and strengthens your heart, muscles, bones, and immune system. Even something as simple as strapping the kids into the stroller and walking around the neighborhood can lift a bad mood (not only ours, but the kids' as well!)

Maybe this is just me, but my inertia is the biggest obstacle to my productivity. As a corollary, it's also my strongest asset. Once I get started on something, I find it difficult to stop. So if I sit down at the computer, I will sit there until something makes me move. If I get started on a book, I want to read it to the end. So I find it helpful to get started on something that really needs doing, like vacuuming. Even if it doesn't result in the entire house getting cleaned, at least I get the satisfaction of having accomplished something. Being able to point to a clean room and think: I did this! boosts both my mood and my self-esteem. Professionals might get the same satisfaction from cleaning a drawer, going through their email, mailing a document, or something along those lines. But simply getting something done is key to breaking the downward cycle of the doldrums.

For more Quick Takes visit Jen's blog!

* I'm referring here only to petty annoyances. There are many things in our lives which can cause deep unhappiness over which we have NO control at all, and I'm definitely not suggesting that it is our duty as Christian Mothers to smile while being abused or put a good face on misery. Your cat dies, and that's a real loss that will take time to heal. Your cat throws up on the carpet...well...that's something these tips might help us with. Also, depression is a real, physical problem for many people, and these suggestions are not going to touch that kind of despair. They're not meant to. Please seek professional help if you have feelings of hopelessness, profound despair or lethargy that negatively affect your ability to function and last two weeks or longer.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Defeating Satan

I don't usually pin my troubles on spiritual warfare. It's the sort of thing I do believe in (in a "Yeah, it's probably true" sort of way,) but it's certainly not my first thought whenever I'm faced with a challenge or hardship. I tend first to look at myself: is there something I am doing, or not doing, that is causing this?

Yet I've been increasingly convinced that the obstacles to our adoption are coming from a nefarious spiritual source. It was my husband, actually, who alerted me to this fact. I have been called to adopt for years and years. I've been praying for it daily and offering my Masses for at least three years now. Yet I've been met with such resistance from my husband that I have put the possibility aside for some undetermined age that is known only as "God's Time." I know I will adopt. At some point. But it's not on the radar right now.

A few weeks ago my husband sent me an email with an adoption horror story where a boy was returned, by himself, to Russia (who was threatening to freeze all American adoptions at the time of the story. ) He followed it up a few days later with an opinion post by an adoptive father lamenting the dearth of support agencies and resources for those with troubled adoption situations.

In the email, my husband wrote something like, "These stories are just falling into my lap without me seeking them out. If I believed in an omnipotent being, I'd think he was trying to tell me something."

It floored me at the time, and I started thinking to myself, "Maybe he's right...Maybe God is speaking to my husband because I'm such a control freak that He can't reach me through my stubborn fixation on this idea. Maybe God really is saying no to the adoption...Maybe it's because I'm not a good enough mother...I yell at my kids too much and I watch too much TV and don't sweep the kitchen every day...Maybe God knows I couldn't handle it..." Then I got hold of myself and realized I had played right into that trap of self-doubt and fear that is the Devil's M.O. It took me a few weeks to see it, but once I did it became clear as day.

Who uses fear to keep us from doing good? Who divides a husband and wife? Who attacks using lies that are hidden by half-truths? Not God. Not an omnipotent being who loves us, loves His creation and urges us to be loving to each other. I'm aware of the potential for great pain and sacrifice. It's not enough to drive the call from my heart, because God has put that call there, and "I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8 : 38-39

These adoption horror stories are not coming from God. They're coming from someone who wants to stop the adoption. I've been reading a book titled "Successful Adoption," and this afternoon I read the following: "When you adopt a special-needs child, Satan really doesn't like it, because that has been his territory, and he knows that God is going to be glorified." Source: Robin Pennington

Satan is served by people fearing to adopt. It supports the idea that there are too many people in this world, and that children are a burden rather than a blessing. It creates a justification for abortion, birth control and IVF. It perpetuates the lie that suffering is bad and should be avoided whenever possible. When people are afraid, they do not reach out. They close in, protecting themselves from suffering and harm. Satan is served when people are afraid, because fear makes us put ourselves and our own needs first.

It's like my heart has burst into flames and my energies to pray for our adoption have been completely renewed. I'm still prepared to wait for God's time, but instead of limiting my prayers to "Lord Jesus, I pray for our adoption and our future children," I am going to be focusing my prayers to defeat the work of Satan. A novena to our Lady seems an excellent place to start, followed by candles lit at my parish for this purpose and a daily prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. I'm also going to turn my husband's heart over to St. Joseph, foster father of our Lord Jesus. What a wonderful role model in whom we can place our trust!

I humbly ask for your prayers as well, my friends. For me, for my husband, for our adoption and for an increase in adoptions around the world, for those who are orphaned, for those who are neglected or abused or unloved, for those in foster care, for all those awaiting a forever family, and for all families.

Picture credit.