Sunday, December 25, 2011

the better part

Warm, positive words.
Sacrificial acts of service.
Physical closeness and affectionate touch.
Quality time.

Every person feels loved more by one of those five "languages" of love than by the other four. We each love - and experience love - differently. Jesus is a person. He speaks His love most eloquently in sacrifice and service - but it seems that the love He desires most to "hear" is the language of presence. We think perhaps that He wants us to love Him through our behavior to others, our sacrifices for Him, our generosity to others - our acts of service. And He does - the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, the Anointing at Bethany, the Washing of the Disciples Feet..... And yet, when the Martha in us bustles about trying to do for Him, He states that "Mary has chosen the better part" by choosing simply to be with Him. She gave first priority (amidst all the bustle) to sitting at His feet and gazing at Him with simple love and undivided attention. She gave Him her time - generously - even under tremendous pressure to be "busy".

 It's His birthday. No matter how crowded the party, no matter how busy the day, no matter how much work must be done to pull it all off, no matter how many other tasks and guests pull at us, no matter what the expectations of those around us, make time for Him today. As Mother Teresa said, "If we're too busy to pray, we're too busy." Don't just squeeze Him in at the beginning or end of the day, don't just pay Him a half-distracted visit during Mass or services - really make time for Him. Ironically, God is perhaps the hardest Person to fit in to this busy day. We don't have time to pray today - it's Christmas! Ironically Christmas can be the most difficult day for finding time and mental space to deeply connect with Christ. If you drive over to your church after all the services are done for the day, chances are it will be empty. You could catch Him alone and really visit - the way it's hard to visit when there's a room full of people. Whether you pay Him a solitary visit today at His home - or invite Him into yours for some uninterrupted one-on-one time together - make that the most important item on the day's to-do list, even if the visit only lasts as long as the standard "quick coffee date". And don't feel pressured to chat His head off. Enjoy the comfortable silence of God. Those closest to us don't need a steady stream of conversation. Even if we don't feel "close" to Him, He knows us better and loves us more than those we do "feel" close to. So just be still - and know that He is God. And anyway, He's just a baby today. Newborns don't mind silence. They don't mind just being gazed at. Today, He is a baby. Don't let Him lie all alone in the crib in his first hours of life. It's for you that He was born! He's your baby. Truly. He's yours. Pick Him up. Hold Him. Look at Him. Tell Him He's beautiful and I love you. He's an awesomely tiny, wrinkled, sweet smelling newborn today. He's all peaceful slumber and bleary innocent eyes and helpless grimaces. Choose the better part today. Go be with Him. case anyone needs help 
remembering how ridiculously disarming
newborn babies are.....
how little.....
how sleepy.....

 ....or how awesome it is 
to spend time in 
silent adoration of an hours-old wrinkled infant.....

.....& how very, very weak and helpless they are....

...Or how they make faces like this -
 (perhaps even for Mary, Joseph & shepherds...
perhaps even for angels.)

The Mighty Jesus was once a somewhat goofy newborn. 
Tiny. So very sleepy. Oblivious.
A real, honest-to-goodness newborn. 

Not just the alert "infant" we see
gazing at us intelligently in the creche, 
or the Dignity holding up a steady head in His mother's arms -

but a floppy, deep sleeping, bleary-eyed newborn. 

O come, let us adore Him!

Friday, December 23, 2011

happy birthday Jesus!

"Long lay the world
in sin and error pining
till He appeared 
and the soul felt its worth"

Merry Christmas.

May you be blessed with deep joy,
profound peace and every needed grace
this Christmas. 
May your prayers be fruitful
and your awe and love for God increased. 
May you know yourself surrounded by love!

O come, let us adore Him!

Rich and Kelly

Monday, December 19, 2011

the grinch gripes

"The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers"

Never do I feel the truth of the words above as crushingly as I do at this time of year. As I sat praying last night, the first words of that sonnet came to me: the world was far too much with me. Advent, Christmas, the seasons I wish most to consecrate to simplicity, peace and all things spiritual, instead are in constant danger of being consumed by the superfluous, by overstimulation, by all things material. I had hoped this would be different in New Zealand - but it's not. 

In all things, I'm trying to recall that the prevailing culture does not have to dictate how I live in the privacy of my home. I can choose to do things differently (no matter how odd that may make my life appear to others - and I am fully aware that odd it does indeed appear to some!) But this endeavor of trying to live simply in a culture governed by the code of materialism is the most challenging area, I find, for trying to keep the pervasive mentality of the world out of my home. Partly because I've been formed by the culture and forget to even question bits of it. Also partly because trying to break with it is a ton of work, requires constant vigilance and often creates awkward situations. And I'm not even touching upon the criticism and harsh judgments this attempt invites from others.... nor the niggling fear: What if all those people are right? What if my children DO grow up to be culturally awkward technophobes who can't cope with modern existence and resent my brainwashing parenting until the day they die? 

Truthfully, with sufficient reflection, creativity, courage and humility, I'm sure it can be done beautifully, but it's a work in progress still for this little family. The hardest bit is the part about humility. I'm awesome at reflection, creativity and courage. I completely stink at humility. Not "humility" meaning "poor self esteem" but authentic humility - self-forgetfulness, detachment from both praise and criticism, ease with the full truth about the self, gentleness. I strive to do this simplicity business - and all business - with a gentle spirit. If I can't, I might as well not do it at all. And I do mean that. 

Also ongoing is the fight for freedom from the paralyzing grip of caring so much about what others think about me. Not so much the people who already think I'm odd - I'm talking about the people who up till now have more or less accepted and perhaps even admired me. I still have a foot in each world - determined to shape a life that runs against the norms of the culture in which I live, yet also fearing friction and the disapproval of others, Christian or no.  In particular I feel far too psychologically vulnerable to the censure of others regarding my parenting choices. Disapproval may not stop me but it certainly haunts me. I guess that's partly because even I have no idea how it will turn out. I'm trying to give my children the most pure, free, joyful childhood I know how. Every mother tries to give her child the best she can and I am no different. But sometimes I look like a real Scrooge. Take for example this week. I was walking down the street with my daughters when a gas station employee (a stranger) dashed out of her store with little wrapped presents for the girls. She looked at me for permission first (oh, how I truly appreciate that courtesy that so few think of!) and I gently shook my head no. She melted away. The girls were oblivious to the whole thing. 

Why not let a total stranger give my children a crappy little plastic toy or a bit of cheap candy? After all, 'Tis the Season! (Actually, 'Tis not the Season - for 5 more days - but that didn't factor into my decision.) One of my top priorities is to preserve my children's appreciation for simplicity - to guard against "spoiling" - so that their lifelong capacity for happiness is preserved. This requires often saying "no" even when I want to say "yes" - starting with my own desire to lavish little treats upon them for that momentary flash of excitement and love. I'm only egged on by all the Laura Ingalls Wilder I've been reading with Maria. I love how Laura gets only a plain tin cup and a penny for Christmas one year and she exclaims retrospectively, "Was there ever such a Christmas!" She was so unspoilt that the ability to appreciate and rejoice in simple good things was completely alive in her. I was lost in the image of her joy in that gift - because there were few gifts, simple gifts, quality gifts - she had such intense pleasure in each. She hadn't been desensitized all year by the constant bombardment of little bits of plastic junk. In all her childhood, she owned one doll. One. Her Christmas was not defined by an overwrought frenzy of unwrapping followed by a day-after slump. As I was reading this chapter to Maria the doorbell rang and an acquaintance stood bearing a wrapped present. I had no idea what was inside but I was so relieved when she announced that it was not for us - she simply wanted us to act as courier and get it to it's true recipient. In stark contrast to little Laura, I realized then how world-weary and jaded I have become with all this excess. Do others sometimes feel this way with gifts? Oh no. What is this going to be? I didn't get her anything. Should I now? Will it be too obvious? And what am I going to do with this? Of course, it's the thought that counts and it was a nice gesture. But still.....    Well, Laura didn't. Ever. 

In myself I find that fevered impulse to buy and give - it's not just coming at me from the external world. And actually, I think it's a good impulse - but undisciplined, it easily runs amok with the excessive availability and relative affordability of things in our given culture. Rich and I bought the girls only a very few small, special gifts this year and agreed not to get each other anything (or poor Joseph). Richie's South Island trip was a birthday/Christmas gift anyway and I'm not at all greedy for gifts (in case that hasn't come across). But I truly love to give gifts. To offer this desire an outlet, I'm trying to redirect the impulse away from the mall & Amazon, and towards the homemade & nonmaterial. [I know "homemade" sounds like the worst adjective to apply to the noun "gift", but two of the most wondrous gifts that have come through the door this week were homemade: our most old-fashioned teen gave us some strawberry jam she made from scratch and Rich's aunt sewed the girls breathtaking child-sized, pink & white striped, eyelet-ruffle-trimmed aprons - with pockets....(perfect for playing Little House).... So "homemade" can be done - and beautifully.] Despite my Handmade-Or-Nothing Pact with Richie, this week I thought of an awesome gift for him. A store-bought present. I thought how surprised he'd be on Christmas morning and how excited he'd be and the radiant pleasure it would give him and how much he'd love me for it.  Those emotions would definitely last for at least an hour! Impulsively, even frantically, I decided to buy it. But then Christine - a true kindred spirit to me - sagely advised me otherwise. When I asked her opinion, she gently said that she admired the original decision we had made and she thought it would be good to stick to it. The feverish feeling subsided and clarity dawned anew. Discipline. Prudence. Simplicity. The integrity of Christian life - even on Christmas. Especially on Christmas. 

Remember how the Grinch hears the Whos singing on Christmas morning "without any presents at all"? Only then does he finally realize "Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more". I don't know that I could ever be a true Who, sounding merry, if I woke on Christmas to no presents, no tree, no wreath, no stockings, no food and even no heat.  Clearly for those little Whos, "the tags and the tinsel, the trimmings, the trappings" were neither the cause of their joy nor a distraction from it. Maybe they were just really empty-headed little ditzes, but I prefer to imagine that their celebrations bubbled out from the excess richness within, based on profound delight in the true meaning of Christmas and the implications of God becoming man. I like to think that their presents and roast beast were external manifestations of an authentic Christ Child joy that came forth from deep inside and sought outward expression. Their joy expressed itself in tags and tinsel, but was at the same time utterly independent of them. Man, do I want that!

Why do so many atheists and agnostics join in the tags and the tinsel at this time of year? Faith is "idiotic" to them, but the trees and the gifts and the feast seem able to actually stand alone. Why would unbelievers insist upon the right to join in the celebration of a feast they despise (in theory) unless it's become completely unmoored from its foundation? Something has gone terribly wrong when most nonbelievers can celebrate a Christ-less Christmas with ease. It's like trying to pass a plop of frosting off as a cake. A gift exchange around a tree is just frosting. The huge family dinner is sprinkles. Baby Jesus is the cake. A Christ-less Christmas ought to be as ludicrous and unappealing as a big blob of icing called "cake". Christians must review this Day and what - or rather, Who - alone makes it worth celebrating. That may involve tweaking - or totally reworking - how it is celebrated - beginning with Advent. The cake perhaps has been obscured or lost under excessive frosting. So much so that a growing demographic believes that the cake need not be there at all. The birthday party must go on - but  the Guest of Honor may be refused admittance. I don't want to say that behavior is idiotic, but it's certainly neither intelligent nor classy. 

How can the trimmings and trappings be incorporated in the Christian home so that they elicit and express rightly ordered joy - helping us to achieve the proper spirit - rather than distracting us and obscuring it? How can we appropriately celebrate with great joy the birth of a One who taught only loving poverty and humble discipline? As I am supposedly concentrating on humility these days, I wish to stress that I'm neither preaching nor pressuring any one particular answer. I had a very good friend laughingly tell me this week that she wants to raise her kids almost the same way I raise mine "except for the way you do Christmas!" I appreciate that each Christian family can reclaim Christmas in their own beautiful manner. But in order to do so, it must be thought through - every detail of it - nothing accepted automatically from the hands of a materialist culture that can celebrate "Christmas" utterly without Christ - or "Mas(s)" - or any other expression of worship. When our Christmas joy is finally so obviously independent of its worldly trappings, perhaps then in the secular world hearts will "grow three sizes that day". Big enough to fit in baby Jesus. Perhaps then it won't look so odd and repressive and fanatical to keep Christmas focused squarely on Christ. Perhaps. Stranger things have happened. Just ask Scrooge.  

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

how NOT to fool a teenager

One of the finest pieces of parenting advice I ever read was something along the lines of: You will get unbelievable mileage out of the word special. This advice, however, must expire sometime after the 4th birthday and before the 18th. Now, it's still working great with my kids. Just this week, I served roasted potatoes for dinner. Maria hates them. She always has, for over four years. She's not a picky eater - white potatoes are probably one of three foods she doesn't like. But last night I briskly spooned some onto her plate and - as soon as her lips curled in disgust - I quickly announced, "And these are some special french fries!!!" Then I covered them in ketchup before she could really make out anything more. She ate three servings. And announced that "special french fries" were her new favorite food.

But perhaps I've become a bit too dependent on the word special - especially in a pinch. See, earlier in the week it came slipping out of my mouth so fast that I barely had time to register that I was speaking to a young woman, not a four and half year old. I was hiking with the girls group, Joseph in the Ergo. It was rainy and cold. The lithe, nimble youth scampered merrily up the long and steep ascent. They chattered and laughed carelessly. Christine and I lagged behind - far behind - lamenting our comparative out-of-shape-ness. She struggled under the soon-to-be dead weight of 35 pound Bernadette, who was trying to sneak in a nap. I had only 6th percentile Joseph as my pathetic excuse, so I searched for a better one. It occurred to me that the girls trotting so effortlessly up the dreary, wet mountainside were aged thirteen to eighteen. The youngest ones were exactly twenty years younger than me.  I felt so much better about myself that I cheerfully informed poor forlorn Christine that she was ten years older than the youngest hikers.

Papamoa Hills on a sunnier, warmer day

Finally we reached the summit. The two eldest girls had mysteriously gone up ahead and were awaiting us in surprise costume - Santa Claus and the Cowardly Lion. We all had a good laugh and then headed back for the cars to escape the rain and biting wind. Santa and the Lion are heading off to NET with Christine next month, so the rest of us had a surprise goodbye party awaiting the 3 of them back at the church. But suddenly I worried that the Cowardly Lion was going to go directly home without swinging by the church first. Brilliantly, I announced that we were all going to reconvene in my living room for our last group photo. But the darn Lion said, "I have a camera with me - we could take it right here." I forgot I was in "Youth Minister" mode. I slipped automatically into "Mother of Toddlers" mode, where I spend 98% of my life. I blurted,"Oh, yes, ok, but I have a special camera at home that I'd like to use."

In my car, we laughed hysterically the whole way back to the church about the special camera faux pas. We thought  the cat was surely out of the bag. Certainly it's ears and whiskers had peeped over the top, but I found out later that Santa and the Cowardly Lion had driven back pondering, "Do you think maybe she has a Polaroid camera that she wants to use?"

Maybe the "s" word still had a  tiny  bit of power in it after all.

view from summit
(we actually forgot to take that group photo)

Post Script - The school year has finished up here and the youth are on Christmas and summer holidays now. While we'll still get together randomly with them for board games, movies and beach frisbee over the summer, there will be only a few proper "religious" events over the next two months. I share this by way of explanation of why the "ministry" news has trickled off and the blog will blob along into a  disproportionate share of "madness" and "musings"

Other random bits....Joseph is doing well - we get asked so often by so many people in both countries who tell me they are still praying for him daily - THANK YOU SO MUCH! His liver continues to slowly improve and while he is not exactly taking the 9th percentile line by storm, he has steadily inched above the 2nd percentile line for weight on the WHO chart. He even has a few fat rolls on the wrists and dimples in the elbows, thanks to Ice Cream Therapy. (I love Ice Cream Therapy. One bite for Joseph, three bites for Mama.) Other than monthly blood tests and a monthly exam, the doctors have pretty much left him alone. He'll be 9 months old on Christmas, has 7 teeth, is almost crawling and is a pretty decent sleeper. He thinks feet, piglets and things falling down are hilarious. He screams when he's happy and is hypnotically cute. His favorite games are Itsy Bitsy Spider and shaking his head "no" - and if he's noisy at Mass, blowing gently on his hairline will generally distract him for up to three minutes....enough to get through the Consecration. Bouncing him up and down quite boisterously can get him through the entire Liturgy, but then Fr. Michael is beset after Mass by worried grandmotherly types who beg him to have a word with us about the fact that we are possibly injuring his brain and/or spinal cord. By "we" I mean Richard. Ever since he left for the South Island, I think the 80-plus crowd feels a bit more relaxed. Richard, by the way, is loving his trip and intends to WRITE HIS OWN POST when he returns! I will be glad for it because, although I have managed to find time to write three posts in his absence, I will have far less opportunity to write once he's home. While he's away, my evenings have been luxuriously long -let's just say that I do not share my husband's hang-ups about putting kids to bed before 6pm.  Actually, I think the second best piece of parenting advice I ever read was that children are happier when they have very early bedtimes! ....Or maybe it was that their parents are happier? Maybe not the parents that like to sleep past dawn, but all I know is that if I'm going to be awake nursing Joseph by 6am, I might as well have the girls up also. I'm enjoying these sweet early mornings when the girls sleepily stumble into my bed to quietly snuggle with their brother and me. 
 I'm sure Richie will come to see the beauty of it all.
 But, to be safe, I might preface the news by telling him that the girls have a special new bedtime.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

christine's link & some critters

Although I'd infinitely prefer to keep little Christine locked up safe in my living room
for the next five months, it's nearly time to send her forth
 to Australia's deadly snakes and lethal spiders.
Since much of my readership knows Christine and/or is actually her blood relation, 
she'd like to invite everyone to take a peek at her brand-new website. 

Please pray for Christine. 
By the time her NET mission period is through, she'll have been away from all that is "home" for almost as long as Richard and I have. Unlike us, she'll be rooming with five strangers and will be thrown into the complete unknown. When Rich and I set out, we had each other - and we had Fr. Michael to answer our detailed questions before we got here and to care for us when we arrived. Christine won't even know where she'll be placed until she completes her six week training in Aussie. She could be stationed anywhere in Australia - a country roughly as large as the Continental US.  She has to pack without the faintest clue about the climate in which she'll live. Furthermore (and this would most certainly be the deal-breaker for me!) she'll be living in country that boasts the most abundant and diverse deadly creatures in the world.
 I'm not sure that there are even ticks in New Zealand.
 The worst pests here are possums. Seriously.

Okay, okay, I know, he's kind of cute. But sometimes they can be a little scary. For example, the wee fellow below is doing his best to show the intimidating side of possums.

Christine could have stayed in this tranquil possum-infested haven. Or she could have returned to Pittsburgh's deer ticks and armed drug dealers.
But, for love of Jesus, she's braving all those terrifying Australian critters. God bless her.

All joking aside, please pray that Christine would be given great strength to endure enormous change, huge challenges, certain loneliness, much uncertainty, intense personality clashes, aching homesickness, overwhelming stress, scarce privacy and a jam-packed schedule of very hard work for the sake of the Gospel.
AND please pray that her guardian angel would stay EXTREMELY vigilant against
scorpions, snakes, sharks and
  enormous, gigantic, hairy, beady-eyed, poisonous

christine's website:
(at which no one will be subjected to any more spider photos)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

second annual alternative infancy narratives

Mary, baby Jesus & the lesser known archangel Gloria

Maria's preschool held their annual Christmas pageant this morning. Originally cast as an angel, she promoted herself to archangel. She did not, however, wish to be a boy archangel like Michael or Gabriel, so in a burst of uncharacteristic radical feminism, I sort of invented/discovered a hitherto unknown archangel named Gloria. Perhaps taking these liberties with the religious education of small children accounts for the following exchange that took place between the girls a few minutes before we left for the pageant. 

Maria and Bernadette are playing "Annunciation". In full costume.
Maria is a very no-nonsense Gabriel. Bernadette is allegedly Mary, but without the grace and total fiat that one typically associates with the Mother of Christ. 

Gabriel: Mary, you must have a baby in a stable. 

Mary: Okay. (sounds more like "O-tay")

Gabriel: You must name him baby Jesus. 

Mary: No. I want to name him baby Stawbewy Sort-tate. 

(Now ensues a lengthy and heated argument between the Blessed Virgin and the Archangel Gabriel. Luckily, it does not come to blows. Not really bad ones anyway. Finally it subsides into a negotiation of sorts, however Gabriel does not back down one inch. Mary soon has to give up all hope of compromising by naming her baby Baby Jesus Strawberry Shortcake.) Even though Gabriel has won, he rubs it in a bit by repeating his demand one last time.

Gabriel: You must name him only Jesus. 

Mary: Okay. 

Gabriel: And He will be holy above all names. 

Mary: Okay. 

So Maria's got it pretty straight and she's quite rigid about how it all goes. Perhaps she's missing a wee bit of the spirit of the whole thing though. Bernadette needs remedial catechizing. Just this week we were cuddled on the couch and she saw a little illustration of the Trinity. I asked her if she knew who all the figures were and she correctly answered, "Dod, Deezus, anda Howee Spiwit." Then I asked her if she knew where they live. I was expecting "Heaven". I would have also happily accepted "Church" or "My heart." Instead she said, "Pennsylvania." I laughed. I hugged her. I very half-heartedly corrected her. She's not even two and half yet. If she wants to picture God living in Pennsylvania, well, she wouldn't be the only one here to occasionally take that liberty. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

busy...VERY busy

The unintended side effect of being present to the present moment is being absent from the blog. There's been a lot to be present to. It's the end of the school year in New Zealand, with all of the attendant drama that accompanies wrapping up a year of youth ministry. Plus it's hot, it's humid, it's Advent - and yet I still haven't even processed our pseudo-Thanksgiving. Yes, we did try. Sort of. It was no improvement on last year's attempt at Thanksgiving, but the upshot of it was that we decided to use "Thanksgiving" as a possible theme for youth group meetings when we start up again in 2012. This will include introducing our hapless Kiwi youth to American classics like pumpkin pie and proper turkey stuffing. But shhhhh - don't tell them - it's a surprise!

Also keeping us busy: we have another Sealy under our roof right now. Rich & Christine's sister Karen has been visiting her siblings, nieces and nephew for ten days, taking in the sights of New Zealand and semi-seriously pondering the idea of selling her return ticket -to me. [Just kidding! Sort of! Rich and I have purchased our own return tickets and will be touching down in LAX in late May 2012. I've been singing the Star Spangled Banner & America the Beautiful to the girls as lullabies ever since....] We've been the nice kind of busy as we attempt to cram as much of this beautiful country as we can into Karen's ten days. The bonus prize is that the kids are totally worn out and have gone to bed early since she arrived!
no visit to NZ is complete until this happens....

Besides ministry and guests, we're all quite busy with "side projects". A brief overview of these:
Christine has her hands full 

Christine is busy preparing for NET - she's getting her Australian visa paperwork squared away, getting her fundraising efforts off the ground and setting up a blog. (It sounds so familiar...almost like I've done all that before in another life.) I'll be posting a link to her blog once she's all set up. She leaves in just one month and I'm trying to figure out what on earth I will do without her once she's gone. The whole rhythm of my day has now become intertwined with her presence. The little ministry that I do (mostly just girls group) is possible only because of her assistance. There's a young woman waiting in the wings - or so I believe - and I will write more about her once it's official. But whether there are ten women waiting to step in and help - or none at all - I'll be missing little Christine more for who she is than for what she does. Please join me in praying for a fruitful and grace-filled mission experience for Christine.
she's leaving all this beauty....
for spiders the size of DINNER PLATES

my husband

Richard's preparing for his ten day exploration of the South Island, which will reunite him with his beloved family hours prior to Christmas Eve. He has two friends going with him and they have the most vague plans in the world  - something about renting a car (which they will sleep in) and an unwritten "list" of possible sights to see - maybe. They are keeping very busy, meeting regularly to ensure that these plans stay as vague as possible until the absolute final moment.

the last time Richard left home for a few days, 
let's just say that Maria was a little upset.... this time I have some more uplifting art projects planned

I'm realizing that Christmas tree ornaments made from red construction paper are really not acceptable - even though we sunk that low last year. Since all our festive decor is half a world away, the kids and I have been working on creating some meaningful and delightful substitutes - from homemade playdo - which everyone knows is a huge step up from construction paper. I have no idea what on earth else I am doing that is keeping me so busy but I presume it mostly has to do with the short people. We've been visiting the library quite a bit - bringing home an armful of books every week - including many beautifully illustrated stories of the upcoming Nativity. And I guess in my own heart, there is a peaceful kind of bustle....trying to make room for a Little One. I pray that all of you, who have so generously loved and encouraged and supported us over the past two years, enjoy a peaceful and grace-filled Advent season as you prepare to receive a Little One!

even I have no idea what I was doing
(but it looks neither graceful nor peaceful)

Friday, November 18, 2011

present to the present moment

"Perfection consists in obeying every commandment of God and His Church
and in merely accepting what usually cannot be avoided anyway - 
in suffering with love - with resignation and sweetness - 
what is too often endured with weariness and discontent."
J. P. de Caussade

So often the snow starts at night. (Not in New Zealand, of course - and besides, it's summer here now). Back home it seemed like the snow usually started after the kids were in bed, asleep for the night. I'd always go for a long, happy walk in the storm and then come home and build the biggest, awesomest snowman I could as a surprise for the girls in the morning. We'd all enjoy Frosty for a few weeks and then inevitably we'd get some melty days - and one afternoon there'd be a small lump of dirty snow in an otherwise bare brown yard. A carrot and a few sticks would be poking out at awkward angles and that would be all that was left of my wonderful snowman. 

The same thing is happening to the baby in Bernadette. I only just realized it last night. She still has a few of those charming traits of babyhood sticking out quite prominently, but even these last lingering traces are rapidly giving way to the little girl she is becoming. Until Maria was three years old, I'd lay in bed with her every night and hold her in my arms until she fell asleep. Not just until she fell asleep, but for a little while afterwards too (because that was the best part). But I'm so often the only parent here at bedtime now that I almost never get to do that with 2 year old Bernadette. I just sort of chuck her in the general direction of the bed. We get time earlier in the evening to sit alone and read, but it's certainly not at sleep time. I've mourned this a bit - and consoled myself with the list of perks she gets as a second child, including having a live-in playmate who never interrupts a wildly fun game of running in circles to go fulfill some dreadfully boring adult responsibility like thawing the chicken for dinner. 

Last night I had the rare treat of really lingering with Bernadette at bedtime. She requested long, made-up stories and listened intently while running her fingers over the few wisps of my hair that hung down over her face. Then we reviewed the details of her entire day, pledged our undying love to each other, and then.... I got to hold her until she fell asleep. Plus some. It was while I was staring at her sleeping face that I realized that she is almost not a baby anymore. I really mourned that for a few moments, even though it is exciting and lovely to see the little girl that she's becoming. Then I got up, softly kissed her motionless cheek and whispered with humble sincerity, "It is a privilege to be your mother.I passed Maria's bed on the way out of the room, knelt to kiss her dreaming forehead and repeated the same. My heart was nearly bursting.

Motherhood has been much on my mind lately. It always is, but the Lord has been particularly active in this part of my life recently.... turning exasperation into compassion, helping me examine my previously unrecognized motives in many of my parenting choices; showing me that parenting is a ministry, a call to minister to the needs and hurts and poverty of the child; clarifying my "vision" for our family life. Most of all, He is directing me to be present. He's inviting me to come out from being "in my head" all the time, from being too absorbed in what I jokingly call "my rich inner life". If I'm not lost in Deep Thought then often I am busy, busy, busy - hating to sit still - wanting to get stuff done - sort the laundry, tidy the books, unload the dishwasher. It's very very very hard for me to just. be. present. So I'm working on that. Really hard. 

Even harder than simply being present is being at peace. In big things I'm so obviously helpless that I remember to turn trustingly to Jesus. Like when Joseph was sick. Jesus, I trust in You! I really meant it. But I so often forget all about Jesus when I'm faced with smaller things, things that I think ought to be under my control: when I can't find the overdue library book or the kids are arguing or the internet won't connect. If you put "peace" in a box and press "opposite", that's how I feel when the girls are crying and screeching over whose turn it is to hold the bigger of two sticks lying randomly in the courtyard. Of all the things I think I am "supposed" to be learning in New Zealand, the most important lessons are on peace - defining it, attaining it, sustaining it, living it, transmitting it to others. The peace the world cannot give (nor take away) is always and only possible through humble trust in the Lord - radical trust - for every detail.

The Lord is asking me to trust Him more with the little things. I reread de Caussade lately and loved how he writes that God's will is hidden but present in every detail of my day. "The duties of each moment conceal under their outward appearance the true reality of the Divine Will which is alone worthy of our attention." God's will for my life is unfolding moment-by-moment - not just in the huge events but in the minutiae. Even if, like Job, sometimes it feels to me more like the work of the Evil One, nothing happens to me that is outside of the Lord's knowledge. Not in my life, nor in the life of my children. He can draw good from anything. He has a purpose in all things, though it often baffles my intellect to discover His designs. Nevertheless, if He permits something He has a plan to bring beauty and goodness from it in time. Since I assent willingly to all that in my mind....He's been asking me to be SO MUCH LESS UPTIGHT and to let go more and trust Him completely - in everything - down to the most tedious and tiny irritations of the day. He's teaching my will to cooperate with His will. If the girls are fighting over that stick, it's a moment filled to the brim with grace and opportunity. He can bring some good out of it. Can I let Him? Can I find the grace hidden in the moment?  When I can keep hold on that spirit of peace, it's not hard at all. I can perceive the argument as practice for growing in the virtue of patience, stepping in gently, seeing a great chance to coach them (again) in conflict resolution. Another day I can stand in awe for a moment at the simplicity of childhood wherein a blinking stick is worth fighting over. Or I can laugh it off and show them the humor in it all. Or maybe this moment is food for meditation - on the worthless "sticks" I argue over with other adults (in particular, the one I'm married to) and see through the eyes of God the futility of all bickering. My mind wanders off. I start identifying the "sticks" over which I've argued lately. I see clearly the absurdity and foolishness of my pet peeves. I begin to form some concrete resolutions - when suddenly child A snaps me back into reality by whacking child B with the coveted stick, which she has managed to pry out of her sister's grasp - by scratching her hands bloody. So the Lord reminds me.   Just.     Be.     Present. 

"God reveals Himself to the humble in the humblest things, 
while the great do not discover Him even in great events
if they do not penetrate beneath the surface."
jean pierre de caussade

Monday, November 14, 2011

some follow-up thoughts to last "night's" post

That little girl with the explicit magazines - she was a sincerely sweet and painfully shy little girl who was still wetting her chair in 8th grade. After graduation, she sometimes tried to contact me - but we lost touch and the next I heard she had killed herself. It stunned me. Looking back, I'm pretty sure that something very awful was happening to her and that she had showed me those magazines as a sort of cry for help. Although I was disturbed by them, I was only seven and I was as scared as she was to tell someone. I felt I needed to add this postscript to defend and honor her memory. The other little children who showed me bad things were not nearly so inculpable as she.

I know that a body wave is not an acceptable alternative to proper grooming. However, I've been doing it for so long that it's almost an invincible habit. I also know that the tag inside your shirt does not make you a happier person. That was a bit of literary license - but I did sort of suddenly understand that line from The Family Man where Jack Campbell tells his wife, "This suit makes me feel like a better man." Also, I forgot to mention that the mother of Maria's friend politely and indirectly suggested to me that Maria is perhaps getting too much sugar. She informed me that pink foods are the worst at causing hyperactivity in young children. I chose not to share that Maria drinks about 3 cups of pink milk a day. But I did think about cutting her off cold turkey. However, because I was up until 2am writing that post, I was too tired to give that a go when the kids woke up at dawn this morning.


Bernadette. Several inquiries have been made by faithful blog readers about little Bernadette. (These concerned individuals are probably all middle children too and are concerned that she has not received adequate attention on the blog.) Rest assured that my lovely Bernadette suffers from no deprivation of attention in real life. Even in the shuffle of ministry and maria and new baby, there is always room for Bops. Her cuteness alone is a gravitational force that draws adults irresistibly into her orbit. Nor does one want to resist. Those ultra-puckered lips enunciating each drawn out syllable - the dulcet tones of her lilting voice - the garbled vocabulary - the way every sentence ends with a long drawn out woooooooooooord. She calls sunglasses eyesuns and birds cheepcheeps. I wish I had nothing else to do in life but converse with Bernadette. "Mah-mee-ah, tan I peeeaase haf some strum-streeeaaaam?"  (Translation: Mama, can I please have some sunscreen?) See how she makes the banal beautiful! One could never tire of this nor neglect its source! Bernadette wields other weapons in her battle for a fair share of parental attention.... She's a very accomplished tattletale. She's "hungry" all the time - and never eats. She dissolves into choking sobs at slightest frown or the gentlest reprimand.  She insists on dressing herself and emerges with everything distractingly wrong - shoes on the wrong feet, flip flop thongs through the wrong toes, dress on backwards, waist through the leg openings of her topsy-turvy undies, shirts worn as pants. She's also unfathomably clumsy. It's not her fault - she's an engineering disaster. I used to say that her head was disproportionately large, but it's prettier to say that her feet are disproportionately small. So she's tall and top heavy, with an enormous belly pulling her center of gravity forward all the time. And her shoes are on the wrong feet, don't forget. I'm shocked she manages to stay vertical at all. She falls off the chair at least twice per lunch. And she loves Joseph. I mean, she loves him. She showers him (gently) with such intense affection, such tender words of endearment, such loving caresses. None of the rest of us receive any of this treatment from her. Ever. We're all a bit envious of Joseph actually. We can't even compete and there are no consolation prizes left over for us - all goes to him. No one has informed Bernadette that she is supposed to be in the terrible twos. She's sweet and lovely and she's easy company. Especially if you're Joseph.

the most daunting ministry

In many ways, I had a very sheltered childhood. I was only allowed to watch black and white "Nick at Nite" reruns and nature documentaries. I got in trouble when I was caught listening - at age 13 - to a song more contemporary than Neil Diamond (Wilson Phillips' "Hold On").  I was only allowed to go over to play at the homes of nice little girls from nice families. My parents had to know the little girl's parents. They always knew who would be at home with us and what we'd be doing. But I was about 7 when I saw "adult" magazines for the first time and only 11 when I was first exposed to an "adult" movie. At the tender age of 13, I was shocked by the pages of a graphically illustrated Joy of Sex manual and had filthy passages from an "adult" novel read to me. All in the homes of nice little girls from nice families. All different nice families- families of church leaders, scout leaders, ministers -all the kinds of parents that other parents trust.

These experiences were devastating. In particular I recall a sleepover party in 6th grade: the birthday girl turned on the TV and we were all absolutely stunned by the X-rated movie playing on the screen. Some of the little girls began laughing. All were mesmerized. I was the only one who turned away. I began trying to brush another little girl's hair to distract myself but I couldn't block out the horrible audio. I remember how much my hands were shaking and the feeling of fear and shame. I went to the bathroom and ran the water for a long time but it couldn't block out the sound or the dirty feeling in the pit of my stomach. It didn't wash away the images burnt into my memory. The girl's mother suddenly came downstairs to check on us and she screamed. She screamed at her daughter to turn off the TV and then we heard her run upstairs and scream at her husband. He was watching the movie upstairs and had somehow streamed it accidentally down to us. We all waited downstairs, expecting to get in trouble. We didn't. The mother didn't tell our parents and neither did any of us.

These experiences all left similar aftertastes of shame and filth, though all were foisted upon me unsought. These were horrible, horrible experiences that seared through the precious innocence of a very sensitive child. Short of locking me in a box until I was 25, there was literally nothing more my parents could have done to try to protect me from these dark elements of our culture - but I nonetheless try to think what I can do to shelter my little ones from similar experiences. Maria is less than three years younger than I was when it all began. The Box-Until-25 Plan is looking better and better.

This week she was invited - for the first time in New Zealand - to play at a friend's house. The invitation came from the little girl at preschool Maria has most desperately wanted to befriend - a little girl who has kept Maria at arm's length for eighteen months (no small feat, might I add). The child's mother offered to pick the two little girls up after school and have them play for an hour at her house. I'm positive she intended to be kind and helpful, but... Over my dead body. I mean, Maria is four. Even when she used to play at her friends' houses back in the States, I was there too, and those were the houses of my closest friends. I have to work hard to remember this mother's first name when I see her at preschool. I've never met her partner. I try to give them the benefit of the doubt that they don't have stacks of Playboy magazine laying carelessly around their home, but how on earth would I know? You can't exactly ask people about that. I can't really casually say, "You know... Maria isn't allowed to have a Barbie - or watch any TV or movies - and the filthiest word she knows is bum-bum-poo - and in our house we don't really read too many pornographic magazines, so I'd kind of rather she wasn't exposed to any of those things this afternoon....."  Plus how on earth would I know if any of those rules were broken?

I decided to just frankly admit to the other mother that Maria had never gone to anyone's house without me. She wasn't in the least offended and said she had the same rule with her daughter. So instead of fretting about the potential bad influences Maria might receive, I instead got to go and watch her give bad influence for an hour this afternoon. She was rude to her friend's mother and baby sister, ungraciously threw the unappealing parts of her snack off her plate and onto the floor, whined loudly about the "yucky" taste in their apples, demanded another helping of marshmallows, invented annoying potty words and was disobedient and bratty to me when it was time to leave. If I was the other child's mother, I would never invite her back. I might even transfer my daughter to another school. Or emigrate. I was completely mortified. And yet, I hope she does get invited again. I realize that Maria needs practice and instruction and coaching in how to behave graciously in someone else's house. Lots of it. She did things today that she would never do at home. Christine, brimming over with birthday wisdom, had the insight to suggest that Maria is a bit insecure in social settings and goes wild with "nervous energy".  Man, does that sound better than the words I used in describing it all to Richard.

By far, the most difficult ministry in New Zealand has been my ministry to Maria. For some reason I keep thinking that she'll turn the corner once we get back to Pennsylvania. I guess I feel like I'll have more control over every part of my life once we're back home, including the part of my life labelled Maria. I don't know who I'm kidding - I had very little control over Maria when we last lived in the USA. She was the kind of child who got a head start on her "terrible twos" at eighteen months old:  tantruming daily - kicking against doors while screaming all the worst words she knew in one hysterical raving screech: "Stop it Stupid Dang it POOOOOOOOP!" Some kids are verbally precocious. Others are more intensely physical. Maria is both. So I'm always wondering if the nuns ever found out how do you solve a problem like Maria? They sort of just married theirs off - but for us, finding a steadying Captain won't be a real option for so many years.

Last week I was invited to give a presentation to 35 school principals. (Topic: the value of having students involved in a youth ministry program.) It was my first time in a truly professional setting in four and half years. I wore Banana Republic, I ironed everything, I tidied my hair and used a touch of perfume. I don't do any of those things anymore. I wear hole-speckled t-shirts and my jeans are two sizes too big. The girls hide my hairbrush for days at a time. Rather than keep track of a back-up, I just have a body wave.  I've not been in a board room environment, speaking in collected, confident tones to colleagues since Maria's birth - until last week. And it was awesome. Seriously. It felt amazing. I literally was a different person for 60 minutes - like Cinderella in a twinset. I felt competent and sane. I felt intelligent and experienced. It only lasted an hour and then I was back in the chaos and the noise and the mess and the POOOOP. I know the beautiful thing to write would be to say that I realized that being with my children was far more enjoyable than the self-satisfied highs of the morning, but that would be a lie. Or a Nicholas Cage movie. For the first time in my short season of motherhood, I felt tempted to ditch the home scene - at least part time. So I've had to clarify my understanding of motherhood for the umpteenth time (is it for me or is it for them?) and embrace it again as ministry -  a ministry in which I will not always (nor often) feel competent or sane or tidy. I am certain that it is the ministry to which the Lord is calling me to give my whole self for this short season of my life. But He gave me the freedom to choose again. I looked longingly at the neat and peaceful grown-up world. But I chose the chaos. Freely.

I'm passionate about youth ministry. I feel really good at it. I'm far, far more invested in motherhood - even though I'm not nearly as skilled at it. I told the principals last week that youth ministry programs offer students an alternative culture and nurture their spiritual development. I think that motherhood for me is going to be a lot of trying to introduce my children to an alternative culture and nurture their spiritual development - while trying to contribute to the alternative culture and my own spiritual development. (Maybe this is what my spiritual director means by "You take life a bit too seriously"). With the amount of ugliness stalking the child in 2011, it's a demanding ministry. I want to give it my all. I'm grateful for the luxury of doing it full time.  And still I will fail. They'll hear bad words and give bad example. I'll never really be competent or sane and hopefully at some point I learn to accept that. But maybe it would feel nice doing it occasionally in Banana. At the very least, it's time for pants that fit.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

my maria

hand churned butter by katrina and kate

Maria and I have been working our way slowly through Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy for the past few weeks. I wanted to read her the Little House books, but can't find them in the library here. The closest I could get was Wilder's book narrating a year in the life of her husband's childhood. I wasn't sure if Maria would tolerate a long book about a little boy, especially since chapter books with few illustrations are very new to her. To my surprise, she's really into it. To my even greater surprise, I am really into it too. It's so much more fun than reading Curious George (for the 73rd time). I think I must have refused to read this book as a child because it was about a boy, but it's been a real treat as an adult. I'm fascinated by the way the Wilders lived and parented and churned butter. Every night after reading, I report back to Richard and update him on what homemade wonder the Wider family accomplished that evening. He's polite, but I would guess that he's not terribly interested in hearing about Mother Wilder churning 500 pounds of butter. But Christine is. It's really nice having another woman around. She was so interested, in fact, that she related the news to some of the youth. Kate and Katrina turned up at girls group last night with a small batch of hand-churned butter for me. exclamation point. !

So Maria and I are learning about old fashioned farm life and enjoying our lessons immensely. And Maria is also participating in her parents' missionary endeavors. Frankly, she's doing a better job of it. She's far more natural, unabashed, persistant. She's begun proselytizing her preschool teachers. We didn't put her up to this - we had no idea it was going on. When I fetched her earlier this week, one of her teachers had that look on her face - the look that says "Wait until I tell you what your child did today!" (I am very accustomed  to seeing that look after an adult spends any amount of time with Maria). Apparently Maria has been taking a census of her Montessori teachers to discover who amongst them goes to church and who does not. This particular teacher had responded in the negative, "No, Maria, I'm afraid I do not go to church." 
"Why not?"
"Well, I'm not sure. I guess I haven't found a church I like."
"Oh. Well, you could come to our church. And you could sit with us. 
But it's not as nice as our church in America."
(Someone please tell Fr. Howard. And please, no one tell Fr. Michael. Or tell him, but leave out that last little bit)
I didn't know whether to feel slightly apologetic or in awe of my daughter. I decided on the latter. The teacher, who is an absolutely lovely woman, wasn't offended at all and laughed as she shared the conversation, but added that she had spent the rest of the afternoon occasionally wondering why she didn't go to church. Maria, completely unaware of the depths of soul into which she had plunged her beloved instructor, blissfully returned home, drank some strawberry milk and began rehearsing to play Mary again in the school pageant. No, she has not been assigned the role yet, but it's good to have your skills sharp just in case. And who can resist practicing with a living prop? 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

spring in mt maunganui

We've been busy, busy, busy.... just a brief overview here complete with a few photos. Last term ended in a whirlwind of retreats and trips, leaving us all a little breathless and exhausted. We had two weeks to recover before plunging in to the final term of the school year before Christmas/summer break. Rich and I took the kids to visit friends over in Raglan. Raglan is one of the surfing capitals of the world and features indescribable waves crashing against sheer cliffs and black sand beaches. We took in the sights while staying with our friends on their picturesque little farm. The view from their front door is below. Their endearingly friendly kid (more puppy than goat) is above. 

We came back in time to host a world-class rugby world cup party. About 40 people crammed into our living room to watch the All Blacks beat France. Nearly all viewers had their faces painted for the festivities, including the Americans present. 

Then term four began. Our theme for the youth groups is "Five Phrases That Will Change Your Life". We're building talks around mantras, mottos and Scripture that can give grace in the midst of myriad challenges. Some examples incluse "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!" and "Jesus, I trust in You!" and "Be not afraid!"  Girls group is studying "pathways to God" - taking intense looks at the spiritualities of various saints. We've studied the little path of love of St Therese and Mother Teresa, who advocated serving God by doing small things with great love. We've trodden the peaceful path of trust of de Caussade, who recommended a simple self-abandonment to divine Providence in all things. We'll be exploring quite a few more paths over the coming weeks and will probably blog more about this fascinating topic. Rich and Glen are leading the boys this term on The Royal Road of the Cross, discussing the virtues of sacrifice and manly altruism. We've also celebrated the feast of All Hallow's Eve with the youth by organizing a saint-costume themed progressive dinner.

christine and I painted 16 nearly identical paintings 
to distribute to each membre of girls group

Our wonderful angel Christine has been accepted to NET and will be heading to Australia in early January. She'll be volunteering in youth ministry there for a year. [Rich's poor parents must be pretty sick of this side of the globe sucking all their family members away.....] We're all really really REALLY excited for her - and very sorry for ourselves. We'd love prayers (stat!) for another awesome woman to take her place for the young girls here in New Zealand. 

Lastly, in response to the many thoughtful queries about Joseph - he's doing fantastic! He's looking great,  happy, healthy - a wonderful miracle in the flesh! He's discovered how to sit and how to bear weight on all fours. He has been appalled at how much his three new teeth have hurt and is not pleased to have three more coming through. On the other hand, he is delighted to discover there is such a thing as ice cream in the world.  We offer him a taste of sheer bliss a few times a week to help him put on some pounds and he couldn't be more grateful. He wants to write a whole blog thanking Uncle Dave for offering that piece of medical advice! Today at his monthly hospital check-in he'd finally inched up above the 2nd percentile line and now holds a proud space halfway between the 2nd and 9th percentile. Way to go, Joseph! His liver functions took a small turn for the worse this month for the first time in a while, so please pray that ice cream therapy might turn out to be as beneficial to his organs as it has been for his weight.

thanks uncle dave!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

servants of dignity

I do not like TV. I 've not owned a television set for over a decade and I could not name even five popular shows that air regularly on television - in either country. But I've discovered Downton Abbey. A DVD compilation of the entire first season was loaned to me last week and I've already watched the whole thing. I don't know what will happen in subsequent seasons, but in the seven episodes I have watched I've been astonished at the morality of the whole thing. Not just the absence of filthy words and suggestive scenes, but the beautiful emphasis on virtue and goodness. I do very occasionally see a show that is "totally clean". Slightly more often I see a movie that "has a really good message". Downton Abbey goes beyond that and approaches the moral caliber of a Jane Austen novel. There are characters of commanding virtue and goodness, characters who show impeccable integrity and heroic honor in myriad situations, large and small. There are also a few truly vile characters who do horribly vile things, but evil is clearly shown to be evil - even in moral areas where we are accustomed to evil being justified or even celebrated or made a bit fuzzy. I have only seen the first season so I do not vouch for anything beyond that. Naturally I hope that this moral excellence continues on throughout the series. From what I have seen so far, Downton Abbey is pro-life! Even Jane Austen's novels are not pro-life. Then again, Austen was not writing for a culture that needed to have the dignity of the unborn child clarified. Julian Fellowes is. Incidentally, the series is outselling any other television drama of all time. People like old fashioned morality and modest gowns better than they liked The Sopranos. What does that say?

In the last episode of the season, the most vile character speaks disparagingly about the unborn child of one of the female characters. The more virtuous characters demand that he show respect for the dignity of the child. He sneers,"at that stage they're no bigger than hamsters". It is quite clear that he also means that they are no better than hamsters and no more valuable. Seconds later, after a few more nasty comments, he gets punched in the face. You can't help but feel that it's long overdue.

Another scene earlier in the episode had me thinking along these lines as well. When the child's existence is discovered, his parents are both quite surprised. The husband is especially stunned and his wife feels compelled to ask him if he is happy about the baby. Her vulnerability as she asks is striking. Everything hangs in the balance for her. (She lives in the early 1900's, so by "everything" I do not mean that the child's life itself depends upon this man's preference.) If he said that he was not happy, a huge and heavy cloud waited to envelope her. Her natural inclination was to joy, but he could undermine that maternal joy by his emotional rejection of the child. Her heart instinctively bent to accept and embrace and celebrate this new life, but it was in his power to either support her maternal inclinations or to deeply damage them. That's not just a well-written or well-acted scenario. That is the history of women in every time and culture.

Within 24 hours, I saw this history playing out in real life. While visiting a friend today, I heard a neighbor screaming. My hostess's face clouded. She told me the painful story of the family next door. A solo mom of two little girls, aged 3 and 1. Different men drifting in and out of the house at all hours. Daily outbursts of venomous, hateful words shouted at the toddlers - "You little (insert vulgar cuss words)!" My friend ventured over one day to introduce herself. The neighbor did not tell the names of the little girls; she only waved in their direction with disgust and introduced them as "proof that IUDs don't work".  I feel sad for these little girls. One stood in her driveway staring at me as I left. I waved to her. I thought about her the whole drive home and for the rest of the day. But I also feel sad for her mom. I'm sure that when she asked the fathers of these two girls if they were happy about her pregnancies they were not. She probably didn't even have to ask. What she is doing now is very, very hard and she is doing it all alone. She's doing one of the hardest things in the world and she's doing it under extremely difficult circumstances. And there are thousands and thousands of other women just like her. Her children live a life that is becoming increasingly "normal".  I would guess that those two little girls do not experience a lot of consistent warmth, affection, stability or selfless love. I don't think they know much peace.

This is the face of the contraceptive culture. Contraception has made this kind of unhappiness so common in our modern world. It didn't invent a new problem, but it has multiplied a very very old problem to staggering proportions. Some would say it would be better had these little girls been aborted rather than live with the abuse and neglect that defines their days and shapes their young souls. I looked that beautiful little girl in the eyes today and I don't believe that. Others will say that the answer to these situations is more and better contraception. The mother of these little girls has already stated that contraception is a lie.

I'm not writing this evening in attempt to judge, just painfully wishing for an answer. What more can the pro-life movement do? This mother did not abort the babies that her boyfriends rejected. I don't know why or how but she found the strength to endure pregnancy, childbirth and active motherhood. But she's in way over her head now and she is killing the innocence and joy of the two little lives in her care. I bet she feels that somewhere too - and that it feels really bad. She hurts them out of her own hurt, and then has even more hurt to deal with. This woman needs the pro-life movement to embrace her and support her and help her. I can't stop feeling that after the baby is born, clothed and equipped for the first few months, we pro-lifers sort of feel that the job is done - when it's actually just begun.

John Cardinal O'Connor had a vision of an order of nuns who would pray and minister to unborn babies and their mothers. His vision became a reality and the Sisters of Life are one of the most beautiful group of women imaginable. I have a vision of an order of nuns who would minister to these women and their babies after the births - for years and years and years. It's a bit ridiculous for a married woman with three children to yearn to start a new order of nuns, so I never told anyone about this embarrassing scheme. But there are others out there who are in circumstances where the Lord could use them to build this vision into reality. The Lord gave me the name Servants of Dignity. (Maybe another order already has this name. No, a quick Google search revealed nothing). The mission: to serve and protect the dignity of children and families in difficult circumstances. The Sisters of Life open their convents to pregnant women in difficult circumstances who need a supportive place to live. The Servants of Dignity would open their convents to children in difficult circumstances who need a nurturing place to be. Not exactly an orphanage (although there could be some short-term overnight accommodation if needed), this ministry would be more like providing an alternative to daycare. The charism would involve providing a loving and wholesome environment where the child's dignity and worth would be affirmed, where the child would experience stability, affection and loving discipline. I imagine a Montessori-like atmosphere of peace and order. I imagine the recently departed spirit of Sofia Cavalletti imbuing the daily rhythms. I imagine a soft, simple habit that allows ease of movement for active engagement with children. I imagine practical support being offered to parents and great efforts made in helping the parents come to realize their own dignity. And I imagine tons and tons and tons of prayer. I see the sisters spending hours in Adoration and prayer, interceding for families.

Obviously this post has nothing whatsoever to do with our mission in New Zealand. This will undoubtedly be one of the posts that I infinitely regret writing tomorrow. Blame it on Peter Kreeft. I read his How to Win the Culture War yesterday and perhaps caught a bit of his recklessness. Ah well, I could use a pinch of recklessness from time to time. Thirty-third birthdays do that to me.