Wednesday, October 31, 2007

All Saints Day

Here are our favorites as mentioned around the dinner table tonight

Jon: St. Joseph, St. John of the Cross, St. John the Evangalist, St. John the Baptist, Joan of Arc

Hannah: St. Peter

Alex: St. Joseph

Maria: Our Blessed Mother

Me: St. Teresa of Avila, St. Frances of Rome, Ven. Francisco Marto of Fatima, St. Giana

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Plenary Indulgences

I've had a hard time learning about indulgences since becoming a Catholic. I think since the outcry since Martin Luther, these things tend to be under wraps. (Of course, it could have been that since I looked so dazed and confused that the RICA explanations didn't get far. Most Protestants don't believe in Purgatory. You get a straight up or down vote when you die.)

I don't hold myself out to be an expert in this area, but I have figured out enough through my Mother's Rosary Group to be pretty excited about this upcoming week.

Plenary Indulgences are available for vising a cemetery & praying for the dead from Nov 1- Nov 8, visiting a church on All Soul's Day (Nov 2) & saying an Our Father and Credo.

I also have some plenary indulgences available for my particular church over the next two weeks. On Sunday, my parish is celebrating its 50 Anniversary with a Mass lead by D.C.'s Archbishop. Nov 11 is Martinmas, the Feast Day of St. Martin of Tours. By devoutly vising a parish church on its titular feast day, and reciting an Our Father and Credo, I could earn another plenary indulgence.

Four plenary indulgences available, without much effort. And gosh, do I have a lot of relatives who died without the benefit of the sacrament of the sick. At least 350 years on the side of the Rupps & the McCormicks.

(If you want an even easier plenary indulgence on any day of year try one of the following tasks: adoring the Blessed Sacrament for at least one half hour, devoutly reading Scripture for at lest one half hour, reciting the Rosary with members of your family. Requirements for a plenary indulgence are do the work while in a state of grace, Receive Sacramental confession within 20 days of the work, Receive the Eucharistic communion (one plenary indulgence earned per reception), pray for the Pope's intentions, have no attachment to sin).

Happy All Hallows Eve

If you are lighting pumpkins tomorrow with little ones, be sure to share the catholic legend of the Jack-o-Lantern.

Irish immigrants brought this tale to Maryland. The original tale starred a turnip instead of a pumpkin. Jon told our kids the story first over jack-o-lantern donuts at Krispy Kreme. Alex has been merrily quoting it back all week. "You better say sorry for pushing me Hannah! You don't want St. Peter to turn you away from heaven and end up like Jack."

I found it a useful catechism on the importance of good deeds and repentance for the pre-school set. I'm sure this is the reason many an Irish mom has repeated this morality tale for decades.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

What I Love About Confession

When I mentioned to my law practice that I was thinking about converting to my husband's religion, I got all kinds of weird advice. My secretary was concerned the fasting during Ash Wednesday would ruin my health. A paralegal was concerned that I could never learn Thai Chi. Yet the strangest conversation occurred at 2:30 AM during a convention in Toledo when one of my closest attorney friends tried to convince me that a priest should never be an intermediary between me & Jesus. The fact that she was a former Methodist who was about to embrace the Baha'i faith made the discussion all the more surreal. Since she was no longer embracing Jesus at all, I couldn't figure out why it was so important to her that I remain a Protestant. I guess the biases against the sacrament of confession are deeply ingrained.

I am happy to report that despite my social awkwardness that makes any public encounter with a priest or religious almost physically painful, my experiences with Confession have been nothing short of extraordinary. This sacrament has been a saving grace. I've grown more from my moments in the confessional that in any other act of faith.

For example, I ran to Saturday confession four days before my scheduled c-section with baby Maria. I entered the church in a hysterical state. All the fears that I'd have for nine months (after the miscarriage of our last baby) became crystallized in that weekend. I panic before any type of surgery. (My little sister likes to recall how I created an oral will before the removal of my wisdom teeth). As God wills it, I need to deliver each of my children through a c-section. I also live in a time where c-sections are highly controversial (health nuts think women are getting to many c-section, doctors think no women should have more than three- so I should just get my tubes tied, etc.) I happened to have one doctor during my ob rotation who started quoting to me "maternal morbidity rates" after I expressed the desire to have more children. So between the medical non-advice, and the fact that my daughter's 38 week sonogram still hadn't cleared her heart, I went to confession truly a mess.

I chose to do "old confession style" where you kneel in the dark to talk to the priest. I cheery-picked the priest, and avoided the one who always gives out light penance. I started talking to one of our Irish visiting priests and broke down in tears after a few words.

I can't remember how I phrased it exactly, but I was convinced that my lack of faith in a safe delivery was a serious sin. God had given me this baby. Yet I was totally unwilling to face the stress of delivering her. And this stress was also causing me to be thoroughly rotten to my other two kids, my husband and my mother.

I've never had a priest interrupt me in the middle of confession, but this one did. He set me straight on what was a sin, and what wasn't. He told me that my doctor had no business setting an arbitrary limit on the number of kids I was to have. I told me that everything was going to be fine in my delivery. He told me to have peace with my family.

Then he did something even more extraordinary. He asked what hospital I was delivering at. When I told him that it was a local Catholic hospital. He told me to go to Mass the morning of the delivery and to ask to receive the sacrament of the sick.

I did, and my time in the hospital chapel was amazing. Maria was due on May 31, so my husband and I attended the Feast of the Visitation Mass. All these hospital workers prayed for me and the baby in my jutting stomach. The sacrament of the sick gave me so much peace. When we reported for delivery, my surgeon started freaking out that I had severe anemia. They brought up the 3rd c-section argument again and wanted to suddenly switch me to a vaginal birth. The staff delayed Jon the in the waiting area, so he missed most of the surgery prep. When Jon finally got to the operating room, he was shocked at how calm I was.

I was shaking when I left my husband. Once I entered the room, however, a wave of peace hit me. The wave was as tangible as a wave on the seashore. I knew that all of these people had been praying for me to be strong in this moment. I knew my priest at confession, who was representing Jesus, had assured me that my surgery was going to go fine. Another priest had reminded me that all my suffering was unified with the suffering of Christ. For each measure of discomfort, the smelly oxygen tubes in my nose, the way my limp feet jiggled after the epidural- everything was done solely so that my daughter could have a safer entrance into the world.

When my husband came into the room to hold my hand, we didn't talk about all the wonderful things that we were going to do with the baby. We didn't talk about climbing the Adirondacks with her in the backpack or watching her figure out how to float in Lake Michigan. We held held hands under the blue tarp as if it was a tent which shielded us from the concerns of the world. We talked about God, and Christ's cross and what a gift it was to be here in this holy place, waiting for the birth of our fourth child.

When my surgery was done, my doctor was shocked. The hospital staff surgeon had showed her a new technique. As a result of his talent, I'd lost less blood than if I'd had a conventional delivery. She just kept saying, "we had two pints of blood on hand for you, but you didn't need anything!" I wasn't surprised, and I didn't say anything.

Confession is important- in ways we can never predict. I never would have figured out to attend a hospital Mass & assertively ask for the sacrament of the sick without attending Confession. There's a duality we face as Christians. Jesus gives us hard tasks. Yet he also strives to make our burdens light. Confession is the means that Jesus helps us conform more closely to his holy footprints.

Friday, October 26, 2007

On the Book Shelf- Edward Ball Part II

In the final chapter, a descendant of an American slave buying family confronts the current chief and descendant of an African slave selling family. Ball goes nose to nose and asks the hard questions. (Surprising the oral history tradition of Africa is even more reliable than our own written version. The tribal historian relates details from the beginning of the slave trade with Portugal in the 15th century.) Here's a taste of Ball's tense dialogue with a chief of Sierra Leone.

"Why did the chiefs allow people to be sold from here?" I asked.

There was a chuckle from Chief Modu, but it was not clear whether it came from nervousness or amusement.

"It was a business which everybody was doing," said Deen Kanu [tribal historian]. "one can't say why a businessman does business." Smiles around the room.

"if the chief of Maforki wanted to protect his people," i said, "why would he allow them to be sold?" This time laughter rolled from one end of the room to the other. "is that a stupid question?" I asked. . .

There were looks exchanged, and the moments passed until finally Deen Kanu said flatly, "they wanted money."

And with this rather small, grotesque admission the feeling in the room changed completely. The prevailing mood of nervous denial seemed broken. . ." pg. 440

Ball establishes that in Sierra Leone, one of the main countries that his relatives in the slave trade used to buy slaves, the slave sellers came from two families, the Kamaras and Kanus. The tribal historian relates "The paramount chiefs knew that by getting a lot of slaves, they would become very powerful. Slavery was encouraged by the chiefs, with their warriors. If you are powerful, you can conquer people, then you have slaves. if you went to any town, it was to conquer the town and take some captives. These people become slaves. you could sell them, or you could use them to farm for you." The chief further explains that they things the British gave to the African chiefs in exchange for a slave weren't unusual. Tobacco, rum, and a gun. What mattered was that these things were "expensive." In the end, the reason for the slaver traders in Africa was the same for the slave traders in America- greed.

The conclusion where both Ball and the Chief have a special forgiveness ceremony to ask forgiveness for their families 250 year old mistake is extremely touching.

One more thing I wanted to remember about this book. There are several examples of when the slave owners come face to face with the immorality of their choices. During one trip to the North, the slave owners start buying better clothes for their black slaves. The cook first receives better shoes. Then the valet is given new breeches. They buy the slaves ice-cream and give them pocket money of their own to spend. They even start to refer to slaves as "servants." All of this occurred because in the North, where slavery was virtually non-existent by 1820, the slave owners are made uncomfortably by the poor treatment they are extending to their slaves. For the five months of their New York tour, their treatment radically changes.

I want to share this incident to my kids when they get older as an example of how our moral consciousness is not based on "relativism." At the time, Southern culture virtually brainwashed it's citizens into thinking that slavery was a morally acceptable. There were even Christian churches which said that slavery was sanctioned by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament. Despite all their justifications, however, even the most hardened slave owner came face to face with the obvious evil which was slavery. Our job as Catholics, is not to follow the crowd in the areas of socially acceptable morality. Instead, we are called to form our consciousness and moral convictions on the eternal truths of the Church. Studying the politics of slavery which seems so obviously "wrong" today, can help my kids be more discerning about the modern day acceptable sins of contraception & euthanasia.

Pope John Paul II Poetry

"Shores of Silence" by Karol Wojtyla

Love explained all for me,
all was resolved by love,
so this love I adore
Wherever it may be.

I am open space for the placid tide
Where no wave roars, clutching at rainbow branches,
Now a soothing wave uncovers light in the deep
and breathes light onto unsilvered leaves.

In such silence I hide,
a leaf released from the wind,
no longer anxious for the days that fall.
They must all fall, I know.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Obedience Struggles II- Adults

So my dear priest gives us this marriage advice from Ephesians 5:22 "Wives should be subordinate to their husband's as to the Lord." The citation was just written down on his notes to us. We didn't have time during rosary group to go into detail. I assumed Ephesians was just similar to the "love is patient" quote. When I actually looked up the verse three days later I had a jolt.

Oh! The whole submission/ obedience to your husband deal. I hadn't thought about it since my husband and I decided it was so hopeless out of date in a modern marriage during our Pre-Cana class seven years ago. In my mind, it was the same thing as promising to haul water by hand from a local creek instead of using modern plumbing fixtures. In our marriage we were going to be partners, equals. There wasn't any room for the husband as head-of-the family nonsense.

Well, then of course, everything changed. My sacramental marriage started doing its work and pulled us both towards heaven. I figured out a lot of the ideas I'd picked up from my 1960s Mom and feminist sister college were at best, misrepresentations of the truth.

So this passage is there to be wrestle with now. I can't use my past "oh this doesn't apply to me" dodge. Instead it is "Wow, this is hard but I still have to figure out how to follow this impossible sounding advice." During the 12 hour trip to my in-laws, my husband and I had a long discussion on this topic while all three kids were asleep. We sort of hashed out this idea that men have the ability to make quick decisions, so if we find ourselves in a fire or other emergency than the family needs to respect Dad's ability to lead us out of it. Meanwhile, Mom runs most of the day to day decisions in the household. She leaves room for Dad to make a few big decisions.

I'm not explaining this clearly because while I cheerfully agreed to start implementing it in my own life (after all, how helpful for our children to see Mom model happy obedience) I didn't understand one important caveat I'd made in my mind. Yes, I'd cheerfully practice submission to Jon, in all his decisions that I actually agreed with-- which of course, is not practicing submission at all.

I found this out during a painful 12 hour homeward Odyssey. You see, marriage can be an attraction of opposites. My husband and mine opposing nature comes out in our traveling pattern. I like to lay out all of our clothes, pack the car the night before, and get an early start. My husband likes to take his time in the morning, eat a good breakfast, travel with many stops, and generally enjoy the trip. Monday morning, by my biased calculations, we get an 1 1/2 hour late start. 90 minutes on a trip that will take us at least 12 hours. So for that last painful 90 minutes of the journey, when everyone is cranky, the baby is fussing, the older kids are slugging each other, our i-pod has run out of steam- I'm totally fuming. "We should be home by now! If we did things the way I wanted to, we be in so much better shape."

Due to my practice in the virtue of meekness, I manage to chew my cheek after letting out a few biting comments. This practice does not actually end up with my calming my anger with generosity & forgiveness. No, I stay mad. My anger culminates with a disagreement over how to best unpack the car. My husband wants me to take the kids inside, feed the baby, and let him handle the unpacking alone. I want to ignore the fussy baby who has needed to nurse every 30 seconds of our trip, unpack together, and get to the point where we can all relax inside sooner. I left the baby in her car seat. Took the older kids inside. Slammed my big suitcase around. Finally, my submission was "I'm following your wishes because I have to, not because I think that you are right!"

Whew! A pretty big failure on the whole, "wives submit to your husband's" request from the Church and my blue bird oath "to keep my temper most of the time." This is way harder than I thought it would be. My husband and I are able to compromise most of the time. There are just a few of these issues like either we leave at X time or Y time, where there isn't a clear compromise. When that happens, gosh, do I have a hard time following him just because he is the husband in our relationship.

I need some help. If you are a man, why do you think that wifely submission is a good goal? [And I know the rest of the bible verse talks about husband's loving their wives as Christ loves the Church. My husband handles his charge very well It's my part I struggle with] If you are a woman, what is your take this this issue? Is this an easy thing for you to practice or do you struggle also?

Career Day 2007

Hannah: I'm going to be a bug scientist when I grow up! Or a postman!

Mom: Postman, that's a new one. You can make kids' days by delivering packages from their grandma.

Hannah: I'm not going to be a package man, Mom. Just a letter man!

Mom: Oh, letters from grandma are also fun.

Alex: I'm not going to be a postman. I'm not going to be a letter man. I'm going to be Spiderman!

Hannah: Alex, that means you have to be bitten by a radioactive spider.

Alex: Yeah! Spiderman has radioactive blood. I need radioactive spiders now. Mom. Mom, did you hear me? My blood needs radioactive spiders-to bite me.

Mom: I'll get right on that, son.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

On the Book Shelf- Edward Ball

I'm halfway through an insightful read called "Slaves in the Family." The distant grandson of South Carolinian Plantation owners recounts the 300 year history of his own family (the Balls) and also the descendants of the slaves they owned. I've had a lot of thoughts while reading this book and want to share a few.

First, tracing the story of how one English immigrant family found themselves suddenly slave owners in 1680 says a lot out the seemingly benign "slippery slope" of sin. The first step never seems that bad. The Comings were sailors and had an opportunity to buy land in the new colony of America. At first they hired indentured servants to work their farm. After seven years, the indentured servants time was up. The choice was hire more indentured servants at a cost of 25 pounds for 7 years, or "buy" one of captured Indians from war party raids, or "buy" an African slave at 30 pounds from the new fangled Royal Slave Trading Company and have his labor for life. At this early stage in the colonies most of the "servants" were equally divided 1/3 Irish indentured servants, 1/3 captured Indians and 1/3 slaves.

The Comings decide that slavery is a "better" economic decision. Instead of signing contracts for new servants, the Comings "buy" 2 African slaves. The Comings die childless and give their estate to their nephews. The oldest Ball brother is 30, has a family, and has just started out his career as a tailor. His younger brother, Elias Ball, decides to sail to the colonies to claim his inheritance. In 1698, at the ripe age of 22, he walks into the plantation system and suddenly finds himself a slave owner. The Ball family runs this plantation, and many others, for the next 229 years. Slavery is only removed from the farm after the end of the Civil War.

I'm struck by how closely economic gain is tied to sin in the case of slavery. It was simply more efficient-- is an argument for why it spread. It was simply to costly was an argument for why slavery wasn't abolished before the bloody conclusion of the Civil War in 1865. Everyone else is doing it so why should I- was an argument for the Southern slave owners by 1800. Slavery seem like such an obvious injustice in 2007, yet these same insidious arguments apply to the modern social sins of abortion, IVF & contraception. Reading history helps me to be more objective about the sins in my own time.

A second beautiful thing about this book is that Ball succinctly describes complex ideas in clear prose. Here's a brief quote on his explanation of why slavery, as it existed in colonial America, was such a unique phenomenon.

"Chattel slavery, as opposed to freehold slavery, was an English spin on the old system. A freehold slave was a worker, bound to a piece of land, who could not be transferred or sold away from an estate. The master of a freehold slave claimed possession of the individual's labor, not his or her person. Freehold slaves included those in bondage to the Spanish in South American and in some parts of Africa.

The English developed a different and ore thorough form of bondage. A chattel slave was the equivalent of movable property and could be sold away like a horse. Also, the children of chattel slaves automatically assumed the slave identity of their mother, not always the case among freehold workers." pg. 38

This invention of a new legal definition is one of the major reasons that slavery was so pernicious in America. Slavery had existed in Roman times, and was practiced contemporaneously with serfdom in Russia. Those where terrible states contrary to the laws of justice. Only the English, however, invented this awful process where a person was completely "owned" and could be transferred about at the master's whim. The effect was devastating to African-American families. At any moment, at any age, your spouse, your children, your relatives, or your neighbors could be sold to a distant plantation. The threat of that division on the auction block loomed always in sight.

As Americans, we are all caught up in the lingering effects of the social sin of slavery. It's such an ugly issue. Just like studying the Holocaust, however, it's important to look these things squarely in the eye -to stretch our empathy for the victims, and to root out the sin that still clings to our imperfect natures. I think sometimes it's easier to just say "all this happened way before my time and has nothing to do with me." I appreciate the tenderness and candor that Ball brings to this explosive topic.

In the National Basilica, an alter space is dedicated to the lives of African Americans. A large relief shows the march of a people from slavery into freedom. To get into the chapel, you have to step over a model of a coffin ship placed on one of the floor stones. There are so many bodies chained together in a cramped space. It's painful to see and think about. It's painful to know that most slave masters considered themselves to be faithful Christians. I'll be saying some rosaries in that alter space, reflecting on all of the stories contained in this book for a long time to come.

Impatience Pie

I raided my mother-in-law's garden for all the green tomatoes that she had picked before the first frost. If you have similar bounty, here's my favorite recipe for Green Tomato & Green Apple Pie.

1 double pie crust

6 medium, tart apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled, cored, and cut into chunks
4 medium or 6 small green tomatoes unpeeled, cored and cut into 1 inch chunks
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons of all purpose flour
1/4 cup of light brown sugar, firmly packed
2 teaspoons of quick-cooking tapioca
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon of salt

3 tablespoons of unsalted butter cut into small pieces

Egg Wash and Topping- 1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of milk
1 tablespoon sugar

Prepare pie dough
Preheat oven to 400 Degrees
In a large mixing bowl stir together apples and tomatoes
In a small mixing bowl mix rest of the dry ingredients
Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the fruit mixture, toss together thoroughly

Place ingredients inside unbaked pie crust, dot butter pieces on top, then cover with second crust
Brush pie crust with egg wash, Sprinkle sugar on top.

Put pie on cookie sheet. Bake 20 mins at 400. Reduce temperature to 350 Degrees and bake an additional 40 mins. Crust should be brown and filling bubbling. Let cool for about an hour before serving.

From: "The Artful Pie" by Lisa Cherkasky, 1993 (40 original pie recipes show-cased with 40 original works of art)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Food for the Journey

I got inspired by Joshie’s five languages of love for God post this Sunday. After the Eucharist, I followed his example of putting my hand on my stomach and my heart. I also want to try to put into words (since I'm verbose by nature) how profoundly grateful I am to be taking the Eucharist as a Catholic.

For a Methodist, Communion is grape juice passed along a silver tray in individual dime size cups and crumbled bite size pieces of bread from Kroger. The words of the Mass are the same "take this bread in memory of me" but the signs are just "symbolic." The bread is still bread, the grape juice (non-alcoholic as a tribute to teetotalers) is just juice. I felt more in touch with Jesus by praying on the alter rail after Communion than I ever did after taking a sip.

Now, as a Catholic, I am allowed to take the Eucharist, each Sunday. (And every day if I wish). All that's required is that I stay in a state of grace, go to confession regularly, search my conscious before each Mass, and take the body & blood as reverently as possible while holding the hands of a few squirmy children.

For these small, helpful sacrifices, I'm allowed to infuse Jesus into my body. I receive food for my journey.

I can't tell you how much that means to me. I don't have to have everything figured out on my life path. I don't have to be "in control" or to pace myself. I can get exhausted. I can become overextended. Whether it's a taxing pregnancy day or a hard visit with house guests, I know that each Sunday I can refresh myself with our Savior.

I'm so grateful that after 29 years of being a Christian, I finally came home to the sacrament of Eucharist in the Catholic Church.

Friday, October 19, 2007


The blessings from the recently departed house guests still continue. I arrived at my mother-in-laws house determined to be a good guest. This means picking up all the spare articles of clothing deposited by my large family, and instantly brushing the baby spit-up from her new carpets with a damp rag.

Today during my quest, I also figured out how to better practice a basic doctrine of faith. During the trip to his parents, I'm aiming to be an especially conscious "good servant" to my husband during this trip. While he is talking to his parents, I made up his plate of dinner and got him something to drink. I do all the diaper changes for the baby. I unpacked the suitcases and made sure all the kids have all the right Fall weather gear. I don't ask for any of my husband's help with these details because "I'm the servant" this week.

Servants are also agreeably obedient. When my mother-in-law asked me if the baby has a hat to cover her ears, I brought down four hats to try on her. I didn't argue that it was 78 degree outside or that her sweatshirt came with a hood. Then I brought down socks for the baby also, unasked.

As a result of this focus, the visit is going more smoothly than in the past. My husband is having alot of uninterrupted time to chat with his aging parents. I'm also having alot less angst about the clash between family cultures- because it's less debate over "what is the right way to do things" and more "when in Rome do as the Romans." I've been having nice thoughts about the characters in Jane Austen's novels as I go about similar situations.

I've focused a lot on doing "service" for my family. Never before, have I been so focused on purely being a servant. That is what we are aiming for in our entire lives as Catholics. Being servants of God. I'm grateful motherhood is giving me such good practice for heaven.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Obedience Struggles

I'm blessed to be a part of a Mother's Rosary Group in a suburb of Washington D. C. The kids and I started going when I lived with my grandfather. Despite moving 45 minutes away nearly two years ago, we still get to our Tuesday meetings regularly.

Father Jaffe shows our group incredible kindness. He gives us a private Mass on the first Tuesday of the month and hears our confession on the last Tuesday. (The rest of the time is informal where we moms chat & pray the rosary together and let the kids play together.) Lex has really benefited from being able to watch older boys sit quietly during Mass. I've loved having a regular confessor in Father Jaffe.

Last Tuesday, Father gave us a Question and Answer Session.

Here's my question:

"Can [Father] define the virtue of obedience for us? And give us a working definition of the goal we are trying to reach with our children in that area? Maybe give us some concrete examples of why that trait is so critical in a priest or an adult lay Catholic? It's been a long year of telling my two year old "No, don't hit your sister with your fork," & "You need to pick up your Legos the first time I ask you and not the third!" I get tired of picking up a squirmy kid and putting him in the time out chair over and over again. I could use some encouragement in this area!"

Father Jaffe, who is such a merry priest, answered with good humor. First, he explained that the etymology of obedience comes from the latin word "audire" or "right hearing." All this work of the "naughty chair" is training my son to "hear rightly" or recognize the voice of truth. This constant repetition, which drives me so crazy, is actually an important stage of development. Because I'm the one who is enforcing the rules, my son is learning to trust me (and his father) as a source of truth. Father further explained that this trust is pretty revolutionary. My son is well below the age of reason (for most kids this is around age 7). All he has in the way of guidance of his behavior is his ability to trust me. He doesn't have the ability to abstractly reason out his behavior. So his emotional ability to "trust" his mom is all that is standing in the way of total chaos right now.

I was encouraged by Father saying that even though he doesn't raise kids, he can still see pretty clearly this "flip" that happens when kids reach the age of reason. All the sudden they know when they did something wrong and are sorry for their sins. I've got to really remind myself that Lex is not "sinning" when he disobeys me. I tend to get hysterical sometimes, especially when it involves safety around Maria. (Thank goodness that girl is growing bigger and more resilient by the hour!)

I also appreciated Father explaining that our authority as parents stems from God. As a result, we can't "order" our child to do something that doesn't conform to the "truth" or God's law. That's where Sophie Scholl like civil disobedience comes in. It's also reassuring, because I'm pretty rebellious in my own family. It seems strange to say because I don't sport any nose piercings or dyed hair, but in terms of the Rupp family rules-- succeed in the world to reflect well on the family, have kids carefully spaced out five years apart, etc. They sound silly, but my parents are serious about them. My Dad didn't talk to me for six months after I told him that Lex was going to be born 18 months after Hannah. (Dad was convinced I just ruined Hannah's life by not using birth control). So its been an intense journey wrestling with the "honor thy father and mother" bit because after becoming Catholic so many of my actions are in opposition to their will & advice. What does obedience mean when a Protestant father demands his adult Catholic daughter do things contrary to her faith? And how can I expect Hannah to follow me if I'm not following my parent's will?

This "right hearing" thing makes more sense to me. I'm helping Hannah hear and happily follow God's rules. Sometimes, as Father explained, I can add some of my own rules for ease of family life (such as, we take off our shoes at the front door). But I can't order Hannah to do something contrary to the rules of faith. If every day, I try to confirm more closely to the truths of my faith- and admit when I fall short of the mark, then my parental authority is under God's authority.

Anyway, it's a tough thing, this wrestling with obedience question. I much preferred the clear lines of "don't hit other kids" and "don't run into the street" Those rules were about the child's safety and proper socialization. Now I've got all these other rules, some because I've got three kids age 4 and under now, and it's feels like I'm a police woman most days. Thanks to father, I'm aiming to be a more cheerful police woman who gives many breaks to the under seven set.

Do you struggle with any of these issue at your house?

Aeneid Quote

Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit

Someday we shall recall these trials with pleasure

Translation by Russell Barker, from Growing Up, pg. 216

How A Four Year Old Measures Time

Yesterday, before Maria was born.... (4 1/2 months)

Yesterday, before I had Tinkerbell sheets on my bed . . .

(10 months?)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


My family hosted a college friend from Australia and her family last week. There were physical and spiritual challenges. Jon & I spent each night sleeping on the floor of the kid's room. Alex did avoid hitting & biting anyone not related to him by blood for an entire week.

This unusual occurrence was overshadowed by her husband's insistence, he is a music teacher with sensitive ears, that my children avoid all noise in the living room or in the car. The objected noises included humming, squeals of delight and random shuffling noises made from kicking feet against the carpet. Meanwhile, my friend finally disclosed that her hatred of the Catholic church stems from being baptized in the faith but not brought to Mass until age 16. She felt embarrassed not to know the words and never went back. So there was many opportunities to water my seeds of meekness during the week. After a few missed turns on the Capital Beltway on Saturday afternoon, I got them to Dulles Airport in their rental car with time to spare to make their connecting flight to L.A.

At 7 PM on Saturday, while the kids are jumping on the bed in the room that has been forbidden territory all week, Jon takes a call from my nervous friend. She misread the time of take-off. The family has missed the plane and can't leave for Australia again until Monday. They needed shelter for two more nights. I love my husband. Without missing a beat he says to a stranded family without a rental car, without a car seat, and that has recently been not so nice to him, "Of course you can stay here, we'll be right out to pick you up."

So we practiced hospitality for an additional seventy-two hours. It was way beyond what me, my kids, my husband and my tiny, colicky newborn could handle. But you know what? It was awesome. I prayed and prayed for grace from Our Lady.

She let me know that she had a special plans for this family. The husband, an Anglican, ended up taking home my "Devotion to Our Lady." He confided that is reading up on St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Best of all, he announced that he was taking his wife and his one year old daughter to church again once they got home. My friend had all of these excuses, "it's to hard to take a young baby to church, etc." I sat in silence, holding little Maria, not sure what to say. Then I realized that I didn't have to say anything. Her husband was all decided that they needed to start going again. That's when I made this powerful realization. When you go to Mass- after a hard week as a hostess, and your husband handles a 4 year old, a 3 year old, and a newborn all by himself while you sing in the choir for the first time in two years- your actions matter.

As our beloved St. Francis of Assisi says "Preach the gospel aways, sometimes use words." I'm so thankful that my family had a chance to stretch the limits of our virtues this week. I'm excited that our home is noticeably Catholic-not just from the blessed crucifixes on our walls, but from our daily interactions as a family. And while it's uncomfortable to have friction with a former friend who knew me in my pre-Catholic, pre-parent days, that friction is also a marker of how far I've grown in faith in the three years since her last visit. I hope to grow even deeper in the faith by 2010.

My Bibilical Namesake

My biblical namesake was a real inspiration to me this past week. As a wife of King David, her story is not well known. So I thought that I'd share her heroic virtues with you.

1 Samuel 25: 3, 14-28, 30-35, 40-42

“The man was named Nabal, his wife, Abigail. The woman was intelligent and attractive, but Nabal himself, a Calebite, was harsh and ungenerous in his behavior.”

[King David sent servants to request donations of food from Nabal after his soldiers protected Nabal’s shepards earlier in the year. Nabal pretends that he doesn’t know who King David is and denies that he received any benefit from him. King David is outraged and about to lead 400 soldiers against Nabal & his family.]

But Nabal’s wife, Abigail was informed of this by one of the servants, who said “David sent messengers from the desert to greet our master, but he flew at them screaming. Yet these men were very good to us. . . Abigail quickly got together two hundred loaves, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of pressed raisins, and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys. She then said to her servants, “Go on ahead; I will follow you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal.

As she came down through a mountain pass riding on a donkey, David and his men were also coming down from the opposite direction. When she met them, David had just been saying ‘Indeed, it was in vain that I guarded all this man’s possessions in the desert, so that he missed nothing. He has repaid good with evil. May God do thus and so to David if by morning I leave a single male alive among all those who belong to him.” As soon as Abigail saw David, she dismounted quickly from the donkey and, falling prostrate on the ground before David did him homage. As she fell at his feet she said:

“My lord, let the blame be mine. Please let your handmaid speak to you, and listen to the words of your handmaid. Let not my lord pay attention to that worthless man Nabal, for he is just like his name. Fool is his name, and he acts the fool. I your handmaid, did not see the young men whom my lord sent. Now, therefore, my lord, as the Lord lives, and as you live, it is the Lord who has kept you from shedding blood and from avenging yourself personally. May your enemies and those who seek to harm my lord become as Nabal! Accept this present, then, which your maidservant has brought for my lord, and let it be given to the young men who follow my lord. Please forgive the transgression of your handmaid, for the Lord shall certainly establish a lasting dynasty for my lord, because your lordship is fighting the battles of the Lord, and there is no evil to be found in you your whole life long. . . And when the Lord carries out for my lord the promise of success he has made concerning you and appoints you as commander over Israel, you shall not have this as a qualm or burden on your consciences, my lord for having shed innocent blood or for having avenged yourself personally. When the Lord confers this benefit on your lordship, remember your handmaid.

David said to Abigail: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you to meet me today. Blessed be your good judgment and blessed be you yourself, who this day have prevented me form shedding blood and from avenging myself personally. Otherwise, as the Lord, the god of Israel, lives who has restrained me form harming you, if you had not come so promptly to meet me, by Naval would not have had a single man or boy left alive.” David then took from her what she had brought him and said to her “Go up to you home in peace! See, I have granted your request as a personal favor.”

[Nabal this is struck dead by the Lord for his sin]

“David then sent a proposal of marriage to Abigail. When David’s servants came to Abigail in Carmel, they said to her, “David has sent us to you that he may take you as his wife.” Rising and bowing to the ground, she answered, “Your handmaid would become a slave to wash the feet of my lord’s servants.”

On the Book Shelf- Russell Baker

“Growing Up” is a light, enjoyable autobiography by a local writer who grew up in the nearby Virginia Mountains and later moved to Baltimore, Maryland. Baker’s life was a journey from the Victorian Era into the Modern Age. He was born in the 1920s to poor tenant farmers. His early childhood was similar to life in the pre-Civil War South. After his father’s early death, his mother spends time with various relatives and finally moves into a home of her own in Baltimore, Maryland.

Baker’s wife Mimi grows up in an orphanage. (I’ll leave it to you to find out her surprising relationship with the Catholic Church.) Mimi has a tense relationship with her mother-in-law that begins at their initial meeting at an extended family Sunday dinner. Mimi’s off to a bad start with the five things that signal to Mama Baker that she is not a “good girl”—Mimi lives alone, she has no family, she wears a lot of make-up, she bleaches her hair and she entertains men in her room. Forty-five years later Russell asks his wife this question while outside his mother’s nursing home room.

“Remember the first time you came over here for Sunday dinner?” I asked Mimi.
“What I remember about your mother’s house is how clean and happy it felt, and what a warm feeling there was with all those people there who were related to each other.” (pg. 343)

What a lovely quote about the importance of mothering straight from the mouth of an orphan. She notices immediately that the home is clean, happy & has warm family relationships. This is my inspiring goal for the week as I attempt to set this in order after a week of house guests.

This book is also a remarkable chronicle of life during the Great Depression. The Depression alters life for the Barker family profoundly. As a widow of less than forty-eight hours, Mrs. Baker faces the agonizing choice of giving away her youngest, ten month old daughter to her childless brother-in-law to raise. Her pain in that section of the book was so profound, I had to walk away from the story for a while. (Jon’s Dad was an identical twin who was “given away” at age one to his paternal grandparents to be raised after his father’s death. My father-in-law’s pain at being sent away while his brother was “kept” made Jon & I think for a long time that the twin brothers were raised many miles apart instead of less than 100 yards away.)

Mrs. Baker moves her two remaining children age 5 and age 3 into her brother’s home in New Jersey. She moves in thinking that she’ll need to stay only three months until she finds a job and can afford an apartment on her own. Instead, since this is 1931, there are no jobs to be found, even for a woman who has some college education. She ends up staying with her family for the next six years. The family doesn’t actually start to head out of poverty until she marries a railroad brakemen nearly ten years later.

Even after the marriage, college seems an impossible dream for Barker as a bookish, high school senior.

“The idea of becoming a railroad brakeman entertained me for a while that winter. Any job prospect would have interested me then. I was becoming embarrassed about being one of the few boys in the class with no plans for the future. The editors of the high-school yearbook circulated a questionnaire among the members of the senior class asking each student to reveal his career ambition. I could hardly put down “To be a writer.” That would have made me look silly. Boys of the Depression generation were expected to have their hearts set on money-making work. To reply: “Ambition: None” was unthinkable. You were supposed to have had your eye on a high goal from the day you left knee pants. Boy’s who hadn’t yet decided on a specific career usually replied that their ambition was “to be a success.” That was alright. The Depression had made materialists of us all; almost everybody wanted “to be a success.” (pg. 241)

This quote helped me to understand my maternal grandfather better who started college in 1933. We’ve had many clashes about career goals during my many years of post-secondary school. I pursued fun topics like “Modern Greek Literature,” while he wanted me to study something more practical. My decision to pursue a $30,000 job after incurring $90,000 in graduate school debt left him so infuriated that refused to co-sign for my Sallie-Mae educational loans for the first time in seven years. I spent the first eight weeks of my last year in law school with no money for tuition or living expense until my Dad was able to track down another co-signer.

So we’ve had bad blood in the past about my belief that the fundamental purpose of education is far beyond finding “money-making work.” This quote helped me find more empathy towards him. The Depression era was unique and left a lasting mark on my grandfather. It should be no surprise then that he is still clashing over career goals with his granddaughter seventy years later.

Friday, October 12, 2007

My Son

Happy Third Birthday Alex!
This is us hanging out together in the winter of 2004.

Year Two was a big year for you. You've transitioned from your baby name "Alexei", into "Lex" and now "Alex." You figured out how to share (mostly), how to avoid hitting your older sister and how to gently kiss your younger sister. You've gone from extremely shy to cheerfully greeting strangers on the playground. You got your first big boy haircut and your first big boy bed. You started your obsession with Thomas the Train, Lighting McQueen and Spider man.

Your constant fascination with engineering is the revenge for my haughty dismissal of all those MIT boys in college. Because of you, I know that you are holding an American train as opposed to an English one.I know how pistons work on steam trains. I can identify all of the characters in "Cars" and all the villains in Spider man.

Because of you, I understand your father so much better. I have a sense of how men are different and yet complimentary to my sex. I'm kinder to your Daddy and more tolerant of my brother.

You've made me into a Nationals baseball fan with your happiness at attending your first baseball game and receiving a real foal ball. This picture is of you cheerfully home at 1 AM.

You are a rare gem Lex! You are a caring brother, a sweet son and a funny boy. We hope we get to celebrate many more happy birthdays with you.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Living the Visitation

This week we host a family from Australia for five nights. I don't think I'll be able to post much on my blog. I'll be back on Sunday.

Please pray for me. I've got a colicky newborn. Last week, I became convinced this visit would be a disaster. Now, I'm hanging on to the image of our Blessed Mother at the visitation of St. Elizabeth.

Dog Church

On Saturday, I attended my first blessing of the animals, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. What an adventure. After five years, I'm still not used to how Catholics manage to appear exactly 20 seconds before Mass begins. At 10:52, my family and my 11 year old dog were standing in an empty field beside our parish house. Did I dream up this event at 11 AM? I started making an apology to the kids, when more and more cars started to appear.

Soon there was a little circle of pet lovers. Mostly seniors, with three or four young families. The two cats were encased in crates and kept far from the dog pack. "Boxed Lunch!" exclaimed one of the girls. In reality, all of the dogs, including ours, was well behaved. There was only one dog, a Rottweiler, they said, who had to stay in his owners car.

We're in a new parish, so I didn't know anyone at the service. It was a friendly place to share your dog with other pet lovers. One woman asked if she could pet our dog. She said she just lost her dog a few weeks ago. "We're just cat people, now" she said sadly motioning to her husband holding their cat. Another mother timidly asked if we had seen her missing dog. "We live next to the church. Our dog ran away Thursday and we can't find him. Our other dog has become so depressed she stopped eating." No one had seen the dog.

Father came with a visiting priest from Togo, to start the service. It was simple, and sweet. Nothing odd about promising your dog will be with you in heaven. Rather there was a reminder that the animals are a part of God's creation. Animals were saved by Noah from the flood. Our beloved pets are companions who help us reach heaven. My husband, who is a steely non-crier, got a little misty thinking of how Sara has given us a feeling of protection and security even after our move to a big city.

Father gave a brief homily about how St. Francis told a wolf to stop hurting an Italian village. Then he threw holy water on each of the pets. Maria (age 4 months) was in her car seat carrier. "Is there another pet in there, Father asked, after blessing our dog." "Oh, she's a human." He laughed. "Well, here's little Holy Water for her too. Can't hurt!" So Maria got blessed also. At the end of the service, we prayed for the lost dog to return to his family.

Today, we were in the car on our way to Sunday Mass, when Hannah said "We forgot Sara!" I had to explain that we only did a special service once a year in honor of St. Francis. This message had to be repeated a few times.

Finally, Hannah knowingly said. "Yes, Dog Church is only once a year. Regular church is a lot of times a year."

I hope you each had a holy Sabbath.

Three Things My Parents Did Right

First, my parents have remained sincerely married, college sweethearts for 37 years. Mom & Dad had a blind date on the second Saturday night mom spent on campus. She was 17. He was 18. They share the same birthday, September 25. The dating drama they experienced came from external events. Dad frequently lost his car keys. The Kent State massacre closed down their nearby college and sent them abruptly home without taking final exams. Inside their relationship, however, the future was always certain.

Mom and Dad dated happily for the three years that they both attended college. Dad graduated and got a job teaching middle school in nearby Columbus, Ohio. A fluke in his paycheck (Dad forgot to get a TB test and couldn’t get officially paid until it was resolved) left him with an unexpected bonus in November. Dad found the best diamond ring he could buy. He proposed to Mom at the annual Fifty States’ Christmas Tree Exhibit by the White House on Christmas Eve.

I grew up staring at my parent’s black and white wedding album. I laughed over Dad’s 1970s sideburns. I admired the elegance of Mom’s choice of a champagne fountain for their luncheon reception.

Since my mom’s best friend in college ended up married by my dad’s best friend, I heard lots of stories whenever that couple came to visit. My favorite story is when Bob and Daddy drew up a fake post office slip that stated that one of the girls’ roommate's had a delivery of live lab mice waiting for her. The girls raced out only to find that the boys had filled Barb’s car full of crumpled newspaper print by patiently stuffing sheet by sheet through an opened sunroof. The girls realized that the car prank was from their boyfriends. Undeterred, however, they still unloaded every once of newspaper in a race to make it to the post office before it closed for the weekend. At this point in the story, my Dad would just about burst his spleen laughing at this memory. My mom always made the same retort, “Our frenzy was perfectly reasonable. After all, Alice was a science major!”

I grew up with those stories, Bob & Dad, Barb & Mom. Stories of late nights at cheap pizza joints. Stories of how Mom & Barb frantically typed the overdue pages of Dad senior thesis. Those stories imparted a deep feeling of security.

I knew that it was only a matter of time until I met my future husband. I believed that dating could progress smoothly into marriage and then life with children. The view of my maternal grandparents’ holding hands on our couch while watching “Murder She Wrote”, also imparted confidence. I knew that “I knew” when I decided to get engaged at age 25. I stepped out of dating and into marriage, with ease, thanks to my family’s legacy of happy marriages.

Second, my Dad modeled for me the benefits of working a job that you love, even if it comes with a small, or in the case of stay-at-home motherhood, a non-existent paycheck.

My Dad is a college professor at a small Methodist college. (My mom is now one, too). He spent years finishing his PhD. Money was tight. His TA stipend, and my mom’s public school teacher paycheck, had to cover the expenses of a family of four. After all of that sacrifice, he had no immediate payoff. Dad couldn’t find a professorship. So Dad packed up his entire family, moved back to Columbus, and became an insurance agent at his father’s business.

Dad enjoyed the insurance business and brought home a huge paycheck compared to his student days. Dad never gave up looking for work in his chosen profession, however. He found a part-time job at an OSU extension school in Marion, Ohio, two hours away. During my elementary and middle school years, Dad spent two to three nights a week away from his family in a small hotel room. For extra money, he kept up his insurance work part-time.

Despite the challenges, Dad excelled at his new job. Dad had an amazing rapport with students. He enjoyed teaching prisoners at the local jail. Dad helped an upcoming congressmen win on the campaign trail. For his beloved community of Marion, Ohio, Dad made the first television documentary of Warren G. Harding. Dad wanted to record the town's memories of the Great Front Porch Campaign. In his 40s, Dad finally found reward in a tenured faculty position in a small town in West Virginia.

All of Dad’s actions left me a legacy far deeper than my fondness for presidential trivia. I went to law school, like 90% of my classmates, with the intention of working in public interest law. My friends all wanted to become District Attorneys or to save their local watershed as Environmental Lawyers. At graduation time, however, only three of us had jobs in the public interest. I was one of the three. Now as a stay-at-home mother, I still wrestle with many insecurities. Believing that my self-worth is tied up with the size of a paycheck isn’t one of them. Thanks Dad!

Thirdly, my Mom instinctively knew how to nourish a bookworm. I "owned" my library card. I got to direct my own reading list. I picked out my own books. I made my own trips to the library.

It took me a long time to understand the mechanics of reading. (I was still spelling words without vowels in third grade.) Once I finally pieced reading together in Ms. Seubert’s class, I discovered the joy of chapter books. Then I read stacks and stacks of books. I brought so many books home from my local library, that I had trouble fitting them all into the double wire baskets of my red bike.

(My Dad read out loud to me until at least the sixth grade. He picked out his favorite books for us to read together each summer vacation trip. I still remember exactly where we were during my favorite scenes from “Cheaper by the Dozen” and the funny poodle short stories by James Thurber.)

My Mom never restricted my choice of books to my current reading level. If I was interested in a book, she told me to go for it. Once, I showed interest in a Saturday afternoon movie staring Meryl Streep. “Was it real, Mom?” “Did the lady really smuggle money through Communist Russia by wearing a hat stuffed with American dollars?”

“Why don’t you find out for yourself,” my mom answered.

So I biked to the library and asked the librarian to find me the short story titled “Julia” by Lillian Hellman. The librarian insisted that she had never heard of a children’s author, “Hellman.” I biked home, discouraged. My mom said, “How ridiculous! She’s a grown-up author and I’m sure she’s listed in the card catalog.” The next family trip to the library, she made sure I got my requested book. (I still love Lillian Hellman and read her short story “The Turtle” to my husband on one of our early dates.)

For all her patience with weekly spelling word lists, her payment of overdue library fines, and her late night edits of English papers, I’m grateful to my Mom for encouraging my love of books.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

On Marriage

There's a thread on dealing with the frustration of washing your husband's balled up socks on Danielle Bean's website today. Most of the wives have posted inspiring ideas of dealing with domestic strife with sacrifice, forgiveness, and other heroic virtues. I'm just a baby Catholic, so my virtues of meekness and obedience are in the barely budding stages of development.

The thing that keeps our domestic engine running is the deep friendship that I have with my husband, Jon. When we met on a snowy night in January 2000, we started this fascinating conversation which hasn't stopped in seven years. At our first coffee date, he poured out his entire life story over a Venti cup of Breakfast Blend. I left the date feeling comfortable and "heard."

Then I realized that Jon wore bicycle clip tennis shoes (the kind that snap directly onto bike petals). His shoes made this annoying clumping sound on the sidewalk payment as we walked out of Starbucks together. Saying goodbye to Jon over the distracting noise, I thought "This guy is way too green for me!" Those shoes placed Jon firmly into the "friends only" category for a few more weeks.

Even so, our interesting talks kept me wanting to hang out more with this unusual fellow. The "dating deal breakers" of Jon's tattoos, rambling aimlessness in a career path, and service in the Army Reserves, eventually, seemed to matter a lot less than his incredibly kind heart.

Now, after even more time, I've come around. Jon is the one with a steady paycheck, while I'm the one whose career is aimless. His army medic training comes in handy every day as a father of three. As for the tattoo? How can I not laugh over a biology major's decision to tattoo a salamander to his arm because it is one of the key indicator species of environmental health in his beloved Adirondack State Park?

Meanwhile, the fascinating conversation keeps rolling along-- art, religion, philosophy, biology, world history, along with the added observations of "Today Maria rolled over!" and "Is organic milk worth the price?"

When I'm petty and refuse to talk to my husband over stupid disagreements- the thing that tends to correct my attitude isn't heroic virtue, it's the feeling of being lonely. Remember how you felt in third grade when you fought with your best friend during class and then discovered that there was no one to play with at recess? It's like that feeling, multiplied by a thousand. The emptiness of losing my best friend, and some days what feels like my only friend, turns me fairly quickly around.

That is how we survive the entanglements that lovers, who are roommates and not sleeping well because they keep having babies, occasionally fall into.

And Oprah, I can easily answer the "Why Did I Get Married" Question. I got married for love. Pure, simple, & profound, love.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


Michaelson is so charming in this video clip. She still lives with her parents on Staten Island! (Is it wrong to hope that at least one of my brood becomes a dancer or artist, just so she can happily hang out at mom and dad's house for free rent after college graduation? Age 18 seems to soon to lose my funny kids.

HT: My hip husband who suggested that the commercial jingle I've been singing for days was actually a real song.

Ingrid Michaelson on Carson Daly -

If you haven't been able to get that Old Navy "sweater song" out of your head, here is the full tune.

St. Francis of Assisi

October 4th is the Feast Day of Saint Francis of Assisi

Sermon to the Birds

"My little sisters, the birds, much bounden are ye unto God, your Creator, and always in every place ought ye to praise Him, for that He hath given you liberty to fly about everywhere, and hath also given you double and triple rainment; moreover He preserved your seed in the ark of Noah, that your race might not perish out of the world; still more are ye beholden to Him for the element of the air which He hath appointed for you; beyond all this, ye sow not, neither do you reap; and God feedeth you, and giveth you the streams and fountains for your drink; the mountains and valleys for your refuge and the high trees whereon to make your nests; and because ye know not how to spin or sow, God clotheth you, you and your children; wherefore your Creator loveth you much, seeing that He hath bestowed on you so many benefits; and therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praises unto God." Saint Francis of Assisi - c 1220

These words come out of a beautiful context. Saint Francis eventually felt torn between a life of solitude & prayer, or one of continued preaching. He asked Saint Clare for advice. She told him to keep preaching. When the messenger came to St. Francis with Saint Clare's words, he was deep in the forest. Immediately after hearing her advice, he started running down the road. The first living thing he came to was a flock of birds. He started preaching to them. His words still make an impression nearly 800 years later.

If you want to explore Giotto's painting which wonderfully reflects this event check out this link.

Tonight we are having pasta for dinner, & biscotti for dessert (rumored to be St. Francis last food request on his death bed.) We'll be saying the "Canticle of the Sun" and "Make me an Instrument" prayers together as a family. On Saturday, our dog, Sara, will be blessed for the first time at the pet blessing service at our new parish. Are you doing anything special at your house to recognize this great saint?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Mother's Work

I'm psyched that my actual "worth" as a stay-at-home mom ($181,604) can pay off my law school loans twice over. It's a little disheartening, however, to realize that $132,000 of this calculation is simply due to "overtime." Is there any parent who isn't on call at odd hours? Truth be told, I'm also not sure if I fairly calculated the above activity- Mama sleeping during the day after a colicky infant kept her up all night. Does this qualify as intensive attachment-parenting, as my husband kindly suggests? Or am I just a woman who happens to work the night shift?

Make your own paycheck here and leave your results in my comment box. (And no, it is not fair to say that you spend 168 hours a week on laundry, even though it feels like you do it 24/7!)

HT: Blessed Among Men

Martha Washington Tea

Hannie & I had a thrilling time at the Martha Washington Tea at Gadsby's Tavern Museumon Sunday. An expert guide, dressed as the first, first lady herself, instructed us on fashion, deportment, tea ceremonies, and dancing. Our favorite was learning how to dance the steps George Washington himself designed to the tune "Yankee Doodle Dandy." If your in Alexandria anytime, check out this amazing bit of colonial history.

(Gadsby's tarvern is a preserved historical tavern which hosted George Washington, John Adams, & Thomas Jefferson. There is a ballroom upstairs which hosts 18th dance classes and an annual Jane Austen ball. The downstairs tavern is also a restaurant with 18th food. There are "toddlers at the tavern" family time for $15 per family each month. The Martha teas are repeated every three months.)

"The War" Episode 6

Tonight is the last night of the latest Ken Burn's saga "The War."If you've missed any episode, check out the survivor's accounts here

One of my favorite eyewitnesses in this series is Sascha Weinzheimer (pictured above with her brother, Buddy). At age 10, she was living in the Philippines on a huge plantation with her mother, father, an older sister and a brother age 3 months. Her paternal grandfather lived in California. When Sascha's mother wrote to ask if she and the grandchildren could move in with them, the grandfather wrote back that the rumors of World War were over-rated. Within a few months, the Japanese captured the Philippines. Her family spent the entire war in a POW camp called Camp Santo Tomas. Her diary excerpts get me a little teary. I'm reminded how terribly vulnerable I am as a mother, but also encouraged by how much her mother's attitude was able to shield her children during this desperate time.

Sascha Weinzheimer: Diary excerpts "We got our chow from the lines in tin cans, then we would eat in our shanty, and Mother said that no matter what happened we would eat off our bridge table with a table cloth with our colored dishes and small bowl of flowers so long as we could."

"Thanksgiving: We had half a can of Spam, cooked one extra cup of rice and got enough talinum from our garden for a salad with three whole garlics chopped up in it. We thank God we are all together and not really sick like so many people in here are. As usual, we talked about our next Thanksgiving. Buddy wouldn't know what a turkey was anyway, but I still remember what good food we always had."

"Christmas: Mother said it was best to forget Christmas this year but we can't on account of the little kids. She told them because of the anti-aircraft guns in Manila, Uncle Sam told Santa to keep away this year and leave his gifts for the kids in San Francisco."

Finally, Ken Burn's has been able to find the actual columns from this amazing
small town newspaper reporterAl McIntosh. Here's his description of a war time4th of Julyin Laverne, MN. Watch and be reminded of how kind words can uplift the morale of a tired solider.

Monday, October 1, 2007

We Look to the Resurrection of the Dead

I didn't intend to be a catechist on the resurrection. I was content to focus on the "Jesus as the Good Shepard" motif and let the entire "resurrected body" thing be as vague to my children as it was for me growing up. Then my son died, and suddenly the whole family was thrust front row, center seat into swirling questions on the meaning of death, the fate of the soul, and the resurrection of the body.

I didn't have any preparation for this. My own parents, who were sort of furious that I was making such a big deal of a miscarriage, shook their heads and said "this is what comes of sharing baby news before the fourth month." My mother-in-law told me how she just "changed the subject really fast" every time Hannah mentioned having a baby brother who died.

Yet for better or worse, we are an open family. Hannah and Alex knew that we were expecting a baby, they knew the baby was sick, they knew the baby died, and they saw us bury him. So to explain this process, I skipped the biological "death is a part of nature" message of the "Lifetimes" book that a friend sent over from Hospice and, instead, relied on the wisdom of the church.

I explained the funeral as a time when our priest would bless their brother's body and we would pray for his soul to join with God. After the funeral, we left his body in "the special garden," their name for a cemetery. Their brother's soul wasn't in the garden, however, his soul was in heaven with God. (Because we had the intention to baptize Francisco, our priest allowed us to have a full Catholic burial for him.)

We visit the cemetery a few times each year. (The cemetery is far from our house, so we go whenever the mood takes us and we're in the area.) Francisco is buried in a special children's section, so there are lots of toys left on graves nearby. I pray some Hail Mary's by the grave while Hannah & Alex check out all new toys. The changes remind me to include all the area's grieving mothers in my prayers.

We usually leave a token of our visit. I don't have a gravestone there yet, just a statue of a newborn baby boy. At the one year anniversary of the funeral, Alex changed the statue to one of a toddler playing with his Dad. On our last visit this weekend, we left a tiny pumpkin and Hannah dropped off a fan from her tea with Martha Washington.

Whenever we visit the cemetery, I've always stressed that this is where Francisco's body is, but that his soul is in heaven. So for the past year, Hannah's said "my brother's soul is in heaven, and his body is in the special playground."

After my great-aunt's funeral service, Hannah altered this a bit. There is this graphic bit at a Mennonite service where the preacher says "this is the place where Evelyn's body will rise up to answer Jesus' call on the last day." This must have made some kind of impression on her because now Hannah will volunteer, "My mom's aunt died, but that's okay because one day she'll get her body back."

Hannah's extemporaneous statements are a bit of an eyeopener for relatives. My clarifying, "yes, we believe in the resurrection, don't we Hannah" tends to exaggerate rather than soothe their worried glances. Just what do we odd Catholics teach our pre-school children?

This Sunday the words "we look to the resurrection of the dead" jumped out at me. (We recently switched to a new parish which uses the Nicene Creed instead of the Apostles Creed.) "We look to" seems to fit so much better than "we believe."

I'm not sure enough of my exact "beliefs" in this subject to explain it clearly to a 4 and 3 year old. What does the resurrection of the dead mean? How does the body come back? Will Francisco have the tiny 4 inch body he had at his death? Or will he be a full grown 35 year old? All, I know for certain is that Jesus in his resurrected body could walk through walls and eat fish.

So instead, I'm going to start sharing this with Hannah and Alex: We are people who "look" to the resurrection. We hope. We know for certain that resurrection is possible and so we constantly look for the signs--and this "looking" process applies to lost brothers, and to lost peace in the world, and to seemly hopelessly lost relationships with our neighbors.