Lots of people right now are looking for ways to serve. Here’s a great one: blankets for refugees! But it comes with an expiration date: they must have the blankets in Virginia by Nov. 30. We all have been given lots of baby blankets, right? And most of them saw very little use and are still in very good shape, lying on the shelf gathering dust? Launder them, box them up and let them be your love letter to the world.
Alex, 11, as we pull in the driveway after school: “You guys used 30 pronouns in the time between the stop sign by the pool and here.”
Me: “Were you counting?”
Alex: “Yes, and that was another one.”
Julianna, 9, in the van, listening to Puff the Magic Dragon on the beat-up Peter, Paul & Mommy CD: “…AND FOCKUS IN DEE AUTUMN MIST…”
Me, because there are way too many words that, in the mouth of a child with speech problems, turn into the F-bomb: “Julianna. Frrrrrrrrrollllllllicked.”
Me: “That’s it! Good!”
Julianna: “PUFF THE MADZIC DRAGON LIVE BY DA SEA AND FOCKUS IN DEE AUTUMN MIST…”
Me: (Face palm.)
Nicholas, 7, making his breakfast the day after throwing up.
Me: “Nicholas, have you had any funny moments lately?”
Well, there you go.
Michael, 4 11/12, on Halloween, wearing a sloppily-cut sheet spattered with blue paint, made by Mom, who is not the whiz of Halloween costuming in the house. He is tripping over his hem, and the sheet keeps getting pulled sideways, so the eye holes are nowhere near his eyes.
Michael: “It’s HARD to be a ghost!”
And finally…this year, it’s official: We’ve had Christmas carols for 12 months straight. They never stopped singing them the entire year.
Parenthood. A nonstop adventure.
It was the stark division of color that struck me.
As we watched the map turn from neutral to red or blue last night, the analysts’ monologues were all about urban and rural. I flashed back to an article I read earlier in the election season, which talked about rural voters’ support for Trump as a reaction to losing their way of life–not that they think they’re losing it, but that they are. (Well worth reading, but–language alert.)
Watching that sea of red develop in every state they zoomed in upon, with these pockets of blue concentrated around metro areas, was heartbreaking. It underscored the fact that we have lost the willingness, if not the ability, to empathize with the pain of the Other. For quite a while, I’ve been coming down pretty hard on people unwilling to consider or empathize with the problems faced by urban dwellers. In the past year, I’ve heard a lot of rural people refuse to give credence to the protests of those who experience racial injustice, for instance.
But looking at that map last night underscored that I’ve heard big fat crickets from urban people on the topics of concern to rural voters, too. Except guns, of course. Nobody’s allowed to ignore the NRA. But the truth is, we can’t even get a regular acknowledgment in our churches’ weekly prayers of the needs of the farmers who fill our tables. And that’s here in mid-Missouri, where the combines and grain elevators are only a ten-minute drive away. In the major urban centers, where thousands of people have never heard of a combine, let alone seen one, it’s surely worse.
It’s been a horrible election cycle, crowning a decade or two of increasingly horrible election cycles. We can say what we want about the nastiness of the rhetoric in the campaigns, but the rhetoric is at least as bad in our own conversations and social media comments. And when, at 3:30a.m., I knew there would be no more sleeping for me this night, I realized the only thing to do was to pray. Pray that the ascendance of this incredibly divisive new president will act as catalyst for a real change in our country. Not a change of policy at the national level–those will forever wax and wane–but a change of heart for each and every one of us. I pray that this will shock us all into realizing what we have done by refusing to be open to each other–by refusing to recognize the pain of the Other and make it our own.
Then, and only then, will we again be one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
As the Year of Mercy winds down, I thought I’d bring things down to a practical level. As parents, we have primary responsibility for forming our kids’ view of and approach to the world. Providing a good example alone isn’t enough—we do have to teach—but it’s a darned good start. Here are ten simple ways to model mercy in the mist of your everyday life.
1. Take a deep breath and say a prayer before reacting to whining, breakage, spillage, or fighting. It doesn’t have to be fancy or particularly eloquent. I think the most fervent prayer I ever pray is: “Lord, help!” (I use that one a lot. Ahem.)
2. Measure your words when discussing political candidates, work associates, and others who upset you. For many of us, speech is where mercy disappears first.
3. Lead the way in mending hurts. You may have to send your kid to his room when he’s behaving badly, but go in and offer love—cuddles for little ones, gentle words for older ones—as soon as you’ve calmed down.
4. Banish “It’s okay” from conflict resolution—because if there truly was an offense, then it isn’t okay. Instead, take a deep breath and embrace the difficult words “I forgive you.”
5. Instead of trying to resell your kids’ outgrown clothes (or yours, for that matter), donate them. School nurses always need clothes. So do shelters for abused kids and battered women. There’s also Goodwill, and USAgain bins (for usable clothing) and PlanetAid (for holey socks and threadbare shirts).
6. Keep protein bars, water bottles, or jars of peanut butter and sleeves of crackers in the car so you have something nonperishable to give to the homeless who beg at major intersections.
7. Make a family charity jar. Give your kids the chance to do small chores, and afterward let them put $.25-.50 in the jar. When it’s full, choose a charity as a family.
8. Donate blood. (You don’t even have to take your kids along. Because you know if they see the tape around your arm they’ll ask about it!)
9. Help with funerals in your local community.
10. Offer child care, kid transportation, adult transportation, grocery shopping services, or lawn care to an individual or family facing illness.
Practicing mercy doesn’t have to be dramatic or time-consuming. Small, simple, and realistic beats grand gestures every time.
How do you model mercy in your home?
…you lead with a big congratulations to the Cubs and their devoted fans!
It’s been harder and harder to come up with blog posts lately, because I’m trying to figure out what I have to say that people actually want to hear. It’s become such a block for me that last Thursday, I forgot about blogging altogether until 4:30 in the afternoon, at which point I just had to wince and say I’ve missed my first deadline…ever.
It’s not that I’m not writing–I’m about to finish a first draft of a brand new novel, one that got written in about 5 weeks, as a matter of fact. (It’ll be two or three more major revisions before it’s ready, but getting the skeleton is always the most stressful part for me, and this one actually has some meat on it already, which is a pretty amazing feeling.) I have a magazine article I’m working on, and a column deadline tomorrow, and I wrote the start of three new songs earlier this week.
I’ve been writing a lot, in other words–but all my energy has gone to those, and I’m finding there’s little in real life worth talking about. No, that’s not true. There’s just not very much in real life that anyone will be interested in reading. (A few weeks ago I got to talk to some women in my parish about writing and the creative process. It was such a high: to talk writing to people who actually WANT TO HEAR ABOUT IT? Even my husband’s eyes glaze over instantly.)
I am frequently too jazzed up to sleep after choir practice; last night was notable only because it was really hot in the house–78 degrees felt comfortable in shorts and a tank top during the day as long as I didn’t process the fact that it was NOVEMBER THE SECOND, but it was too warm for sleeping, even with the help of a melatonin tablet. And then there were the texts from family members watching the crazy game, and then the storm came up and I had to give my place in the bed to Miss Julianna. The couch was not friendly to me last night. And when I did finally sleep, I was awakened by the sound of the kids’ toilet running and running and running…so I had to get up and fix that. And then I laid awake for what I feared was turning into the rest of the night, trying to figure out what to blog about this morning.
You can see how well that turned out. Ahem.
How about sharing the other fruits of my labor: the fall portraits? They were all on Facebook already, but I haven’t posted them here. Maybe by Monday I’ll have something interesting to say again…
It’s got to be tough to be the kid who has two musical parents who are extremely involved in their church. He has a set of gifts that are his birthright—a great ear, the ability to pick out tunes in multiple keys and sometimes even harmonize them, plus a blossoming skill on the piano and the ability to sing. But when he hits a certain age, singing becomes uncomfortable.
And as for the rest, well, when your parents are the poster children for liturgical music, is it any wonder you want to stay as far away from that particular brand of involvement as humanly possible? Everyone expects it. What if you aren’t that good at it? And anyway, why should you HAVE to do something just because you CAN and your parents DO?
I can sympathize.
The problem is, none of that changes the fact that our primary responsibility as parents is to raise holy and happy individuals, and I know by my own experience that the best chance of that is through helping him develop an authentic, real-world faith. But an authentic, real-world faith requires sustenance that comes through community worship. And you only “get out of” community worship what you put into it. In other words, you’ve got to participate.
So when I see my child standing in church, somewhat glazed-eyed, his lips moving, but barely, I get twisted into knots. It’s my job to help him find his way into a mature, healthy faith. But I’ve seen myself how pushing too hard can cause a child to push back and reject what he most needs. On the other hand, if we don’t take a proactive role, he’ll fall away anyway, because people don’t just fall into a mature, healthy faith by accident. They need guidance. Mentoring. Others can and will provide those to him in the years to come, but the fact is the primary responsibility is ours; it’s one we took on when we had him baptized.
I just don’t know how to do it right. Punitive measures are clearly ill-advised. What kid is going to respond to “You may not have the XBox unless I can hear you sing at church” with a healthy faith? Um, nobody.
On the other hand, smiling & cajoling doesn’t work, and anyway, it turns into nagging almost instantly.
I think I need to have a heart to heart with him, involve him in the process, and attempt to awaken the sense of the Other inside him, the “there is, in fact, something bigger than me out there.” But I’m not sure of the right way to do that.
I would like to hear from older parents—those with grown kids who have stuck with the faith and made it their own. What wisdom can you offer to those of us in the trenches?
For weeks, I’ve been debating stepping into the online political fray. I have a lot of opinions, and I’ve been driving around town distilling them into a collection of pithy one-liners that, as a Catholic rather than a Democrat or a Republican, would be certain to offend virtually every single person I know.
Conventional wisdom for writers says “If your professional thing isn’t politics, then shut up about politics. You’ll only shoot yourself in the foot.”
But if we don’t talk about the most important subjects, how can the world ever become a better place?
I began planning my post, and simultaneously praying whether or not I should go forward with it.
On the first day the Spirit reminded me of the importance of quiet.
On the second day, a fiction writing friend told us she was going offline until after the election.
On the third day I read a post, titled “I’m Pro-Life, and I Don’t Care About The Supreme Court“, and made the mistake of continuing on into the comments, where I found multiple examples like this:
“You just want an excuse to continue the racist and genocidal America Holocaust to include partial birth and full birth infanticide and the sale of lucrative murdered baby parts. Give Mrs. Clinton her money back.”
This man signed off with, “God bless, (name),” as if he hadn’t just spewed a mouthful of anything BUT blessing. Worse, he didn’t even seem to recognize the inherent contradiction, or the fact that he was giving the entire prolife movement a bad name.
At the end of Day Three, I got involved in a Facebook conversation preceded by the instructions “be polite and reasonable, please,” in which a particular individual lit into me for what I was saying without even stopping to read it carefully enough to hear what I was, yanno…saying.
And I realized:
It’s time to bow out of this crap.
Since the primary season, I’ve been following, reading, listening, and interacting, and it has done nothing except impoverish my spirit. I am far more anxious; I am constantly grieving the state of humanity. This political season has made it very difficult to cling to my belief in the ability of humanity to approach the world with reason, honesty, good intentions, and empathy.
I still believe that at heart, human beings are good. But we are not showing ourselves to be so this year. Actually, any time politics comes up, the worst parts of ourselves come out to play. But it’s so much worse this year. And it helps nothing, all this vitriol, all this angry, half-thought-out, buy-into-and-regurgitate-whatever-half-truth-mostly-lie-suits-your-political-color. It only hurts our ability to be what we were called to be. It doesn’t just damage the human dignity of the people we’re ripping to shreds. It damages ours, too.
I will vote, of course, although there’s little satisfaction in it this year. But I’m done being a political consumer. Nor will I be adding my collection of pithy one-liners to the fray. It’s bad for me as a human being, and being a good human being is what I am supposed to be doing.
Care to join me? #Boycottpolitics2016