Mad Lib Theology


Today, I visit my blog to talk about this girl:

Julianna ladybug

Wednesday nights, Julianna goes to “church school” (because it’s easier for little kids to say than “religious ed”) while we’re having choir practice. Usually, in the chaos of grabbing boys from the nursery, cleaning up octavos and books, and getting an overtired family of six out to the van 45 minutes past bedtime, we don’t even catch a glimpse of whatever work she did at school.

So this week, when we gave the choir a week off after Easter, I took Julianna to church school by herself, and in fact I did get a good look at the work she did. Are you ready for this?

Julianna theology

1. I am the Lord your 9: you shall be have mom gods before me. 2. You do not take the chalice of the Lord your God in mercy. 3. Bread to keep three the great Day.

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Once I got done giggling–I mean, it’s like a mad lib!–I realized I was staring at concrete proof of something I already knew: she’s really never going to “get it” from a class. Religious formation is one of the most conceptual things a child can possibly be asked to learn, and Julianna does not do “conceptual.” There’s value in having her in religious ed classes because going week after week teaches her that the faith is central to life. And she’s obviously picked up a couple of key words. 🙂

But with that paper in mind, the lesson I learned on Holy Saturday really gelled. We had gotten Julianna tickets to Disney on Ice at an 11 a.m. show in Kansas City. It was a two-hour drive, and we spent the time listening to the compilation of downloaded Christian music I made her for Christmas a couple years ago. (All legally purchased!) I chose these songs with the idea of having simple, hooky music that still had substantive messages, in order to teach her lessons about the faith. Because music is what Julianna does.

It was an incredibly uplifting drive, singing this music, with Julianna in the back seat decked out in her Miraculous Ladybug getup and dancing. She sang every word, and she danced as best she could while buckled into a seatbelt.

(That girl has jazz hands down.)

And I had this moment of inspiration: to take the essential Scriptures and write simple but hooky songs for kids like her–theologically sound, hopefully theologically dense–but still, simple? Methinks such a thing would be of use to a whole lot wider demographic than musically-gifted 11-year-olds with Down syndrome.

Which also brings up the question I want to ask of anyone reading today:

What songs already out there fit this bill for you?

In case you’re wondering, here’s the playlist we sang on Saturday.


Staying Home vs. Working Mom


Last week, we watched the movie Suffragette. I hope many of you have watched it, so I don’t have to explain that it was…sad. Sad beyond expression. But one thing that really struck me in that movie was the fact that Maud worked full time—more than full time—outside the home. She sent her kid off to somebody else to take care of.

For a lot of people, the stay-at-home/working mom debate probably feels tiresomely passé, but I still see the barbs popping up on both sides. I’ve heard the pain expressed by working and stay-at-home moms alike, who feel beleaguered. Judged. Too often by each other.

I always planned to be a stay-at-home mom. I’ve spent a lot of my adult life cocooned in a community that sees it not just as a valid choice but as THE RIGHT choice.

The thing is, I was less than a year into stay-at-home motherhood when I started working. I remember the moment I received my first acceptance, for the octavo Go In Peace from WLP. I was in the basement of our old house, nursing Alex while working on the computer with a repairman in the next room, and I scared both of them by screaming in excitement.

For twelve years I’ve been wrestling with the balance between work and motherhood/wifehood. There’s no question that my presence at home is a huge value to the family. It would cost $7-9K a year per kid for day care in my area, and these days, the cost would be transitioning into money to pay a nanny/chauffeur. The fact that I can do the grocery shopping and cooking while Christian’s at work means we have more time to spend as a family. That’s a value you can’t quantify. And of course, I’ve been able to shape my kids’ world view without worrying about what they’re exposed to or taught in the brief intervals they were away from me as small children.

And yet. I am more than a mother and wife. The gifts that were given to me as a human being who happens to be female were given for a reason. If I suppress them until my kids get old enough, I’m burying my coins. I was given the passion and gift for writing for a reason. I’m supposed to do something with it.

I consider myself unfathomably blessed, because the work I feel called to do can be done from home. It’s stressful and requires a lot of self-discipline, but I actually do get to “have it all.”

But what about women for whom their calling, the talent that they can offer the world, can’t be done from home? Do their gifts not matter?

Even I, working from home, have been tormented by messaging like “You’ll have decades left to have a career; your kids are only little once.” How much worse must it be for women who work outside the home? Those words may be true, but the reality is that if you drop out of the work force for three or five or ten years to raise a family and then try to come back, you’ll spend the rest of your life fighting a losing battle for equity.

And the more I think about it, the more I realize this SAHM mom ideal is really a pretty new construct. Even this book on Our Lady of Fatima that my mother gave me to read to the kids talks about how Lucia was the go-to child care provider for the entire village. Even in a peasant village in the 19-teens, a lot of “at home” moms were sending their kids out to be tended by someone else.

Which brings us back to Maude, from Suffragette. Yes, she is a fictional character, but I get the sense that she was an amalgam of many of the experiences of women involved in the suffragette movement in England. You could argue that it was different for poor women; that families of more means did, indeed, have mothers who stayed home with their kids. Except those kids had nannies and governesses.

Then, too, wrestling with all this has made me realize that without women in the work force, and a lot of them, issues of just compensation and so on would be shunted aside even more than they already are. That might not impact those who choose to stay home, but it sure as heck would impact single moms, who have no choice.

And now that I have a son on the cusp of adolescence—a son who watched Suffragette with us and who stopped the movie more than once to ask questions about what it means to be a woman in this day and age—the importance of this question is becoming ever clearer. I am a Catholic mother. My #1 job is to form my children in the faith. Not some warped version of it that picks the simplest parts to explain and ignores the real challenges the Gospel poses to people living in a real world, where there are no straightforward, cut-and-dry answers, because when you yank on one thread several dozen others move, too.

Mothers who work outside the home aren’t less-worthy mothers. One woman who’s close to me says, “I am always a mom first, even when I’m at work.”

I’m not belittling staying home. Quite the opposite. For all the hair-pulling moments I’ve experienced the last twelve years of being entirely or almost entirely at home with my kids, I can’t imagine going back and choosing any other path. It has been exactly what I was called to do.

But nor will I stand for a world view that belittles those who do choose to work outside the home. We all have to discern our lives and our vocations based on our individual circumstances, the personalities, strengths and weaknesses of all the family members. And above all, we have to stop minding everyone else’s business.

The Problem Of Teaching A Child The Faith


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?


What preteen wouldn’t be proud to be the child of these two? Chomping at the bit to be JUST LIKE THEM? (Don’t answer that.)

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?

The Grace to Let Enough be Enough


More“What come next?”

There was a period of several months recently when Julianna was constantly asking this question: when a song ended on a CD, at the end of a scene in a movie, whenever we got back in the van after running an errand or going to a lesson.

Lately, it feels like the two younger boys have taken up the standard she dropped. The whole time we were at the Lake last week, it seemed the moment we left one attraction they were demanding to know what the next one was. Frequently asking to do other things that weren’t on the agenda at all. Since we got home, I’ve been on full-speed ahead, trying to catch up with everything I didn’t have time to do before we left and while we were gone. And yet the kids are coming to me with deep sighs and saying things like “When do we get to go on the carousel?” and “I want to go to the arcade at the mall!”

I came down pretty hard on that last one. “We just went to an arcade–at the Lake!” I said. Quickly followed up by a (short) lecture on ingratitude and an attitude in which nothing is ever enough. (Because we all know how effective Lectures were when we were growing up.)

But short as that lecture was, I could see in their eyes that they Weren’t Getting It. And I took a look inside myself and had to wince at what I saw.

Because I have this problem, too. Christian ends every day by taking a survey, generally of what went right: what we accomplished, what he’s thankful for. Meanwhile I’m always fighting this rumbling dissatisfaction, this desire for more, more, more. If I managed to write a text for one verse, I’m dissatisfied because it wasn’t two. If I write half a chapter on a novel, I’m frustrated because it wasn’t a thousand words. Or because I’m afraid it’s episodic, and I’m terrified that it’s never going to live up to the potential of the concept. (Because this concept? It’s a good one. Really good.) When we finish a project, I feel a brief satisfaction, and then it’s right on to the next thing I haven’t gotten done yet. And of course, the list of things I want to get done literally never ends.

This is how I’m able to “do it all,” as people always put it, but it definitely has a dark side. I love everything I do, but, German-like, I have trouble drawing a line and letting go when it’s time to do so. I have trouble living in the moment.

But it drives me crazy when I see it in my kids. Perhaps it’s because they are trying to make their ingratitude my problem. I look at the kaleidoscope of experiences they’ve had and I’m just thunderstruck at how it’s never enough. I take a deep breath and I remind myself that kids are always clueless, self-absorbed, and developmentally incapable of the kind of awareness I’m able to exercise. I tell myself surely I was the same way, and this is just part of the process of raising holy terrors into holy men and women.

But I also think I have some work to do in my own soul. This Chade Meng-Tan book I’m reading is slow going because I feel I should be practicing, not just dinking around with it, and I have too many other irons in the fire to devote the time properly. But in the way it resonates with my experience reading Thomas Merton, whose words in turn resonated with what I have experienced sitting in nature, I know that the key to this whole puzzle resides in a quietness of spirit that has to be cultivated.

So there’s my next challenge. And perhaps—just perhaps—my efforts will enlighten my children’s lives, too.

Mercy In The Age of Facebook


Because the spiritual works of mercy have always been a little tough to pin down, I offer this today:

The Spiritual Works of Mercy – in the Age of Facebook

Mark Piper


Image by mkhmarketing, via Flickr

🔶 To Give Counsel to the Doubtful, in person, without a shield of anonymity, with charity and goodwill as your motivation

🔶 To Instruct the uneducated, including oneself, and to recognize ones lack of knowledge and to refrain from instruction when necessary.

🔶 To Advise Wrongdoers, in person, without a shield of anonymity, with charity and goodwill as your motivation, and to use prudential judgement to know when not to offer advice.

🔶 To Comfort the Afflicted, in person, in prayer, in silence

🔶 To Forgive Offenders, your offenders, when the time is appropriate and to do so with intimacy not anonymity

🔶 To bear patiently the troublesome, employing silence often, and avoiding trite exchanges online.

🔶 To Pray for the living and the dead recognizing that clicking like on a prayer does nothing for your soul or the well being of the deceased. Take time to unplug and simply be.

Most importantly, avoid hate. One cannot always avoid anger, but anger can be constructive, hate however, blocks fraternity, charity, and love.

“Hope has two beautiful daughters named anger & courage; anger at the way things are, courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” – St. Augustine

Author: Mark Piper, Director of Lay Association, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, West Midwest Community

For more “Mercy on a Monday” posts, click here.

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Two Pieces of Candy


Photo by Mr. Ducke, via Flickr

I must have been six or seven, not yet old enough to be fully aware of the vague sense of financial worry caused by growing up on a farm in the 1980s. But plenty old enough to know better.

I stole a couple pieces of candy from the open Brach’s bin at the IGA.

I knew what I was doing was wrong.

I also knew I wanted that candy, and that in my family, you didn’t ask for stuff like that. It wasn’t like there was a prohibition; I just always knew some things you didn’t ask for.

I don’t think most people understand this, so let me try to explain. Once, coming home from a trip, we were half an hour from home at suppertime. My parents had a long discussion about whether to go out to dinner or to go on home, pull a hunk of meat out of the deep freeze, thaw it out, and make something, even if it meant supper was an hour and a half late. I remember holding my breath, because we never, ever, ever went out to dinner.

Most people can’t comprehend the marvel, the excitement I felt when they decided to go out. But you see, we never went out to eat. We couldn’t afford it, so we didn’t do it. And by “never,” I don’t mean “once or twice a month.” I mean never. When we took twelve-hour road trips to see family, we packed breakfast and lunch and ate at rest stops. On a field trip in junior high, I got made fun of for ordering a happy meal–but I picked that because I knew what was in it, which wasn’t the case with anything else on the board. When I went to dinner with my boyfriend’s parents in college, I was so overwhelmed by the menu, I ended up picking the cheapest thing, even though I knew I didn’t like it, because I didn’t know how to process all those options, and I didn’t want to spend too much of someone else’s money. I just had no experience eating out.

Whether I was aware of it or not, all that background was exerting an influence on me the afternoon when I pocketed the candy from the bin on the end cap at IGA. I knew it was wrong, but I also knew how much I wanted it, and without being able to articulate it, I knew I wasn’t going to get it any other way.

Mom was still loading grocery bags into the trunk when my big sister found me out and told on me.

Mom marched me right back into the store and made me give the candy back to the cashier. I can’t remember if I had to apologize or not. I’m sure I did. And then she told me we’d wait until Daddy came home, and Daddy would decide on my punishment.

It was a horrible, horrible afternoon. I don’t think I left my room. There was fear of punishment, and there was the equal pain of my conscience. And when the big, dust-caked pickup rolled into the driveway, I remember the awful feeling in my stomach. I knew I was in for it. I mean, this was far and away the worst thing I’d ever done.

It seemed to take forever. No doubt they had a parental conference in the kitchen, while I tried to read, or write, or draw, there in my room at the northwest corner of the house.

And then came the heavy footsteps, creaking on hard wood floors. Dad came into the room and sat down on the bed next to me.

I don’t remember much about that conversation. There must have been some lesson about the Ten Commandments, but the only thing that’s clear in my memory is the moment where Dad paused and folded his arms and leaned back, and I thought, This is it. And then he said:

“Well, I think you’ve been punished enough, so we’re going to let this go now.”

I was stunned. In the moment, my relief was all about escaping punishment. But in retrospect, I realize that his choice to extend mercy was the single most effective discipline he could have imposed. Because I knew I deserved punishment, and escaping it made me so very aware of the need to be better. My dad’s mercy didn’t so much wake my conscience as set it on fire.

It’s never shut up since. It directs everything I do and say. (Well, almost everything. The occasional thoughtless comment gets out, and causes bounteous conscience exercise afterward.)

I don’t know how my dad knew I was already punishing myself. And I don’t know how to recognize it in my own children. In the moments when my kids tussle or act out, I often wrestle with discipline. They need to understand that what they’ve done is not acceptable. It’s our responsibility to form our children’s consciences, and you can’t do that without the concrete imposition of limits. But the point of discipline is to create discipleship—a desire to follow out of love, not out of fear of punishment.

And that gives me a question to ponder today, which I share also with you: In my parenting, am I looking for the moments when what is most needed is mercy rather than consequences?

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Pictures From The Big Day


A young lady’s big day in the Basi household begins with dancing with your little brother…

…continues with joining the choir for one of your favorite songs (“Love Has Come, by Matt Maher”)…

Blog J Love Has Come

…peaks with receiving your first Communion (officially this time)…

Blog J First Communion

My favorite picture of the day. Unfortunately, it’s trimmed so much, the quality’s note great. Sorry.

Blog J First Communion-cup

…forces you to tolerate having lots and lots of pictures taken….

J First Communion with KC


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(There’s a wonderful symmetry to having this man present to administer her first two sacraments of initiation, nine years apart.)

And of course, it’s not so hard to smile when you have cousins and grandparents to pose with…

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…and when you get cards and presents and singing, it’s a good day all around. But for mommies, the most fun is seeing cousins from both sides of the family making friends. I call this cross-pollinating cousinship. They’re already plotting a pool party together this summer. To me, that spells success!

Blog Cross-Pollenating Cousins

That’s First Communion Day in the Basi house! And today is Alex’s birthday. If you want to fill up the comboxes with well wishes, it will make my kids’ day. 🙂

Maybe I Really Am Living With An Angel (A Mercy on a Monday Post)


Rocking new-to-her polka dots

It was last December when I read the post that kicked off this exploration of mercy. This post, specifically, in which Rory Cooney suggests that we have a bad habit of substituting confession for actual mercy. I thought, “Wait…there’s more to mercy than confession?”

Then I thought, “Maybe I’d better dig into this a little more deeply.”

And here we are. For three months, I’ve deliberately avoided the subject of forgiveness and reconciliation, because I want to get to the heart of what makes “mercy” something we live, not something we do twice a year at a communal penance service.

But Julianna had her second confession a week ago, and I realized I do have something to share about this most familiar aspect of mercy.

Julianna approached her first confession, last November, with the same unbelievable, adorable excitement she approaches everything. But we haven’t gone since. So a week ago I said, “Christian, we’ve got a free day. Let’s all go over to confession this afternoon.”

Julianna Reconciliation KitAnd only then did it occur to me that Julianna was going to need some serious review. I admit I groaned inside. You just can’t comprehend what a chore it is to teach Julianna anything at all. Plus, Saturday afternoon confession is the real deal, not the tweaked-for-time-management communal penance form they use for First Reconciliation.

And then, of course, there’s the examination of conscience.

I have an allergy to “helping” my kids identify their sins for confession. It seems to me to void the whole thing. How can repentance be authentic if it’s directed from the outside?

And yet I couldn’t think of any way around it. I could just imagine Julianna doing that adorable side-to-side walk into the confessional and regaling Father with stories about how they didn’t have a fire drill or how Sophia the First finds a big giant baby.

Katfish Katy 3So early that afternoon, we sprawled across my bed and talked through the sacrament. I tried to guide her through an examination of conscience without telling her things outright. But to do that, I had to direct her toward the sins I’d seen her commit. So I started thinking about it, and after a blank couple of moments, the truth smacked me in the back of the head:

This girl doesn’t sin.

Yes, all right, she and Michael occasionally fight over a baby doll.

And yes, she’s manipulative and self-centered—the manipulation and self-absorption of young childhood, which isn’t exactly confession material. It’s not a sin until you’re doing it with intent, which she isn’t.

Besides, you can’t think of her conflicts with the world without being reminded of a dozen times she’s tried to comfort someone else who’s upset.

I tucked that little moment of awe in a corner of my heart and went on with the process. And an hour later, on the way to church, I was reviewing the procedure with her again…because that’s what it takes with Julianna…and Christian turned toward me with a bemused look on his face. “You know what?” he said. “It just occurred to me. She doesn’t really…sin!”

As parents, we’re painfully aware of our children’s failings—because we’re constantly correcting them, and all too often because they so closely mirror our own.

I’ve spent so much time focused on alphabetization and reading comprehension and addition/subtraction, it never occurred to me that I truly was living in the presence of something amazing.

Among the Down syndrome community, the fastest way to evoke an eye roll is to tell a family member that their kids are “angels.” Our kids are not perfect. They can be stubborn and manipulative, and exceptionally resistant to learning the skills that allow human beings to live in harmony with each other.

But it occurs to me that perhaps we are too close to our struggles to recognize the gift of mental and emotional simplicity for what it is. It’s hard for a mama who got straight As without really trying to deal with a kid who can’t—not struggles to, can’t—draw the simplest connections between academic concept and reality. It’s hard for a mama who has spent so much time and energy trying to bring the faith down to a practical level to accept the fact that one of her children is never going to “get” the connection.

And yet for the past nine years, Julianna has been quietly living out a much simpler form of mercy, right under my nose. And I never even realized it.

I now realize that I need to spend as much time watching and learning from my child as I do trying to teach her. Because she does “get” it. She “gets” it on a level so fundamental that it went right past me. And in the end, her approach to mercy might well be the one I most need to learn.

(For more “Mercy on a Monday” posts, click here.)

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Down Syndrome and the Sacramental Year

Julianna Reconciliation Kit

We didn’t have Christian’s phone handy to catch the squeal of excitement when she realized this was for her!

It’s That Year for Miss Julianna. Second grade.

If you’re not Catholic, you may not know what I’m talking about. But second grade is a big year, involving firsts of two major sacraments: Reconciliation and Eucharist.

In other words, it’s crunch time for this mama who’s been convincing everyone she knows what she’s talking about in teaching faith to kids. Child #1 did his sacramental prep work at school, so Christian & I only had to support the process. Child #2 is in public schools and there’s not time to do it in one hour a week at “church school.” So the prep work is all on us.

And then there’s that extra chromosome, which has implications for the “age of reason.” The idea is that kids should be capable of understanding what they’re doing before they receive the sacraments. (Well. Officially receiving the sacraments, that is. I learned that a good friend of mine, who happens to be a priest, served himself Communion well before he was supposed to, too. I take hope from that.)

I had some anxiety about whether we’d get resistance about having Julianna receive the sacraments this year. Her conceptual understanding is spotty, to say the least. On the other hand, who ever really understands? Even as adults, we receive the Eucharist with a sliver of belief and a hair of understanding, and all the rest is shaky faith. We only know that it changes us. That it fills some place inside, that we are incomplete without. That we hunger for it.

The Eucharist is very, very conceptual, but to Julianna it looks concrete. You hold your hands up, you have the host placed in your hand, you eat. Same with the cup.

But before First Eucharist comes First Reconciliation. And Reconciliation is all conceptual. How do you explain the concept of sin to a girl who answers the question “What did you do at school today?” with: “Good!” Let alone figure out how to surmount the difficulty of getting her to have a rational conversation with a priest without Mom or Dad there to act as go-between.

We have a new pastor this year at our parish, so I laid out the situation. He was very open; he gave me the go-ahead, and so now we’re deep in preparation work. It’s high time. I’ve always whispered in the kids’ ears about what’s going on at Mass, trying to help them connect with something that is over their heads, but let’s be honest. When you have four kids and one of them participates loudly and keeps herself occupied, it’s easy to let her do her thing and focus attention on the wigglers, the movers, and the shakers, who sometimes think church is a boxing ring or a LEGO construction (more accurately de-construction) lab. But that means she draws the short straw in faith formation. And when that same child has to have your help counting out every math problem, and every reading comprehension worksheet is a painstaking process, the your time and energy is often exhausted before you ever get to the point of doing faith formation at home, either.

But as with all things in the realm of parenting, when Mom and Dad decide it’s important, it happens. It’s happening now, and she’s so excited about it. I’ve been going through her Reconciliation book with her, a page or two at a time. I can see the big picture in the lessons, but I know when I was a kid I couldn’t, and if I couldn’t, then Julianna has no chance. She’s game, but she’s just along for the ride.

So it was like Christmas for both of us yesterday morning when the religious ed director walked into choir warmup and handed us a box that said ADAPTIVE RECONCILIATION KIT. I had to abandon my leadership role for a couple of minutes to get the box open and see what was inside. Julianna latched onto a set of picture cards to illustrate good choices and bad choices, and for a while, even at Mass, she wrapped her arms around that box and just hugged it.

It’s a good set, very visual, with a simplified act of contrition in pictures and “I’m sorry” cards” and an easy-to-read picture book that boils down the concepts and the procedures to their essence. We spent some more time with it yesterday afternoon. And now, at last, I feel like we’re on our way.

Updates to come as the year goes on.