Seven Posts I Haven’t Yet Told You About (7 Quick Takes, Vol. 43)

Hello there!

Gosh, it’s been forever again, hasn’t it? Especially since I keep forgetting to cross-post my Catholic Review blog posts here. Argh. All that time writing and I don’t even share it with you. (Unless you follow me on Facebook. Then maybe you’ve seen my posts.)

When I started that blog I was pretty good about sticking a new post here every time I had one there. But then I started forgetting, and once I started forgetting, I felt like I had to catch up before I could post anything new. (Weirdo-OCD-perfectionist Julie.)

Anyway — this is me catching up!

Here are seven posts (one in two parts) I haven’t yet told you about. And because I’ve (kind of) hit the lucky number seven here, I’m linking up with Kelly for Seven Quick Takes. (By the way, if you haven’t yet read her latest 7QT post — don’t miss it! It’s This Ain’t the Lyceum GOLD.)

—1—

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“Our system is better designed to stop than to do, and for one who fears the direction of a new government, that should be a comfort.

(Conservatives saw the value in that uncooperative-cog concept in the last administration; liberals will undoubtedly see it this time.)

So as worrisome as political developments may seem, I retain my basic trust in that spread-out, clunky system. I may disagree with the people who make it up, I may see few prospects for positive developments, but I trust that if things become truly dangerous, some sticky cog will get in the way.

God bless those sticky cogs.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

—2—

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“Lately I feel like a failure at pretty much everything I try to do: mothering, managing my household, blogging, being a good friend and an involved member of my extended family. (I know I’m not actually a failure, but it sure feels like it at times, especially as the holidays multiply our obligations.)

I feel like I’m a failure at being an attentive and engaged citizen. My post-election sense of being overwhelmed has not gone away. I’ve found it difficult to keep up with the competing news stories and the competing narratives of single news stories. I haven’t weighed in on anything. I haven’t gotten my little “let’s get people of different political stripes together to talk” project off the ground. (Status: information gathered, dates not yet set.)

I feel kind of like I have writer’s block, except it has to do with the thinking of the whole thing, not the writing. As I become more consumed with events at home (some of them pretty stressful), I pay less attention to news from the outside. And as I pay less attention to the news, I feel increasingly less capable of any sort of mental and emotional wrangling with the world.

But I’ve been trying, when I think of it, to rely on a strategy from an earlier point in my life: putting aside my worries about what I’m not achieving and instead focusing on what I am doing in a particular moment. Usually (but not always), that “doing” is pretty constructive, even if it seems insignificant in the scheme of things.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

—3—

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“Why must we choose a side and hold onto it so tightly?

During the campaign, of course, the “side” thing was taken to a frenzied, fevered pitch. Third-party voters like myself were told in one breath that we were essentially voting for Clinton and in the next that we were essentially voting for Trump. (The supposed beneficiaries of our votes aligning perfectly with our critics’ bogeymen.) Our votes – our actual votes – weren’t good enough. We either had to hate Trump enough to vote for Clinton or hate Clinton enough to vote for Trump. People seemed downright blinded by the binary.

But that was then, back when we were facing a black-and-white choice on a ballot. What about now?

No doubt, many will choose to continue carrying on this way. Some will think we owe allegiance to one side or the other. Some will think that any kindness or concession to the opposing side is a blow to their own. Some will think that their own side’s transgressions must be overlooked in the interest of some Important Ultimate Goal.

But I think this attachment to the binary is the absolute worst course we could take as Americans, as lovers of democracy and liberty and justice. No one wins in the downward spiral of suspicious, spiteful, partisan politics.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

—4—

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“For all the focus on national-level politics, many (most?) of the programs and policy decisions that impact our everyday lives are formulated much closer to home than Washington, DC.

Schools, roads, assistance programs, the environment, hospitals and clinics, business incentives and regulations – the State of Maryland (and your state too, if you live elsewhere) has a hand in it all. And in turn, organizations that you and I care about – our faith communities, our schools, labor or business or other advocacy organizations – have a hand in the development of the laws, policies and regulations of the state . . .

Ninety days from now, the Senate will still be debating at least some of Trump’s appointments. We’ll still, I expect, be witnessing a tense back-and-forth between the president and the media. We’ll probably feel stuck on a whole range of issues and relationships.

But in that time, we’ll also have seen much movement at the state level. Maryland will have passed a budget and hundreds of other bills that will impact our lives for years to come. Let’s pay attention, because lot can happen in 90 days.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

—5—

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“Today as we inaugurate a new American president, I sit at home nervous, waiting, wondering what will come of this all. I haven’t decided whether I’ll watch. I’m more likely to listen, the radio humming in the background as I busy myself with lunch and laundry and little ones.

But I’m sure to be praying.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

—6—

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“It’s natural that we should vary in our attachment to various issues, so I don’t mean to tell one set of pro-lifers or another that they’re wrong in focusing their efforts on x,y,z. You do you: pray at an abortion clinic, volunteer at a soup kitchen, donate to Catholic Charities / Catholic Relief Services / National Right to Life. Do your part, whatever it is, to advance the dignity of human life.

But I do think that all pro-lifers should do a better job of talking about it all. Liberal pro-lifers should speak against abortion just as they speak against poverty and discrimination. Conservative pro-lifers should speak for the immigrant and the refugee just as they speak for the babies. Because this divide has become too divisive. There is too much resentment. There is too much misunderstanding. There is too much distrust. There is too much space for evil to sneak its way in.

And there are too many women who hear that pro-lifers “only care about babies until they’re born” and believe it.

The honest truth is, each side of this divide is incomplete without the other. If human life is to be respected, it’s to be respected at all stages. If human life is to be respected, it is to be respected in all forms. If we Catholic pro-lifers truly believe that each human being is created in the image and likeness of God, then we’d better talk like we do. We’d better dwell on that idea, chew on it, practice it by saying it aloud.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

—7—

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“I’m trying to decide when to panic.

Standing where I am (somewhere in the middle, I suppose) I turn to face my friends on the left and panic is pretty much all I see. Well, panic and its more sober, productive, currently-popular relation: resistance. I see people who are more than just dismayed at the direction in which our government is heading; they fear that the system upon which we rely – a system of justice and due process and free speech and equal opportunity – is coming undone. They fear that we could be nearing the end of the American experiment.

Turning to face my friends on the right, I mostly see amusement or bemusement or even satisfaction at the Left’s distress. They think the panic is overblown. If they supported Trump’s “bull in a china shop” campaign persona, they’re thrilled to see it carried over to his presidency. If they weren’t crazy about that persona then, well, they’re mostly just relieved to see Trump heading in the right direction. Clumsy steps in the right direction are better than agile steps in the wrong one, they seem to say.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

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“I used to think of myself as the stubborn, brave, independent type – the type who spoke the truth and stuck up for the oppressed no matter the consequences. After all, I was a kid who stood up to bullies. I regularly stick up for myself. I used to make my living advocating for the poor, the vulnerable, the stranger. I write on contentious issues – issues that wrangle with the concept of justice – all the time.

But the older, or the more self-aware, or the more flawed I become, the more I see how gutless I can be.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

~~~

Thanks for indulging my little catch-up! I hope you’ll check out the posts and I hope to have more for you (both here and there) soon. Have a great week!

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

A Prayer For Our Country

(Everyday Bravery, Day 17)

A day before the election, I’m over at the Catholic Review offering a prayer for our country, including:

“Help us to give generously, to work hard, to understand that our citizenship conveys both opportunity and obligation.

Help us to elect upright, honorable individuals who will put the common good above personal gain.

Help us to remake our political parties so that they reflect different strategies for achieving human rights – not differences as to who deserves them.

Help us to weather this storm. Help us to awaken to its destructiveness and resolve to overcome it. Help us to renew our country, to remember its promise.”

(Read the rest.)

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This post is the seventeenth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month From October through however-long-it-takes-me-to-get-to-31-days I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

Talking About Hard Things (With Kids)

(Everyday Bravery, Day 4)

As I related on my other blog last month, my six-year-old son recently asked me about the Zika virus:

While I was driving, my boy spotted a bug in the car and I told him that I’d seen a mosquito. “Is that mosquito virus here yet?” he asked.

“Mosquito virus? Do you mean Zika?”

He did.

“Well, it’s here in the United States,” I told him. “But it’s not here in our area. It’s in Florida.”

“Oh, that’s too bad for the babies there. There will be a lot of babies dying in their mommies’ tummies.”

Most people would probably be appalled to know that my six-year-old was thinking of such things. I’ll admit to feeling a little guilty about it. But mostly, I just felt proud. My boy is paying attention. He’s understanding. He’s asking questions. He’s caring. And he wrapped up our conversation by suggesting that we pray for the babies.

“God, please take care of the babies in their mommies’ tummies. Please keep them from getting the mosquito virus. That’s all.”

In reality, the conversation was a little longer than I made it out in my post. When he mentioned the babies that would be dying in their mommies’ tummies, I explained to him how Zika works. I told him that it impacts the brains of babies born to women with the virus, causing them to be too small. That the babies wouldn’t necessarily die from the illness, but that it would cause a lot of problems for them. I was as honest as I could be.

Because in our family, we talk about hard things with our kids.

We talk about death. We talk about life after death and about war and illness and guns and racism and bullying. We answer their questions as honestly as we can. We try to simplify these sometimes-complicated concepts so that our kids can begin to understand them.

Our boys know that all people – including them and us and other people they love – will die. We tell them that we hope it won’t happen for a long, long, long, long, long, long, LONG time, when we/they have become very, very old and have lived good, long lives – but that we just can’t know.

When they ask what happens to people when they die, I tell them that we hope they go to heaven. I say that we should try to be very, very good during our lives and to love Jesus very, very much – so much that when we die we go straight to heaven to be with Him. And I encourage them to pray for the dead: “Dear Lord, please help Grandpa Ed go to heaven to be with you.”

Our boys know that sometimes very sad things happen and that younger people – including children – die too. When we admonish them for dangerous behaviors, they routinely ask if they (or their siblings) could die from them. If they could, we tell them so. (The other day we caught one of them shaking the baby, so I brought up shaken baby syndrome.)

Sometimes I hate these conversations. I absolutely hated planting the horrible sadness of shaken baby syndrome in my kids’ minds. Sometimes I worry that we’ll make our children too fearful by talking about such things. (And I’m sure others will think we’re wrong to be so blunt.)

But so far, we haven’t made them too fearful. And so far, I think we’ve struck the right balance between honest information and loving tenderness.

We talk about hard things with our kids because we want our children to have their bearings. We want them to have a sense of the importance of it all, of consequences and underlying reasons. We want them to know that life here on earth is temporary, because you never know when that lesson will fly at them with ferocious sadness.

I listen to NPR almost all day long, in the car and in the kitchen, so my boys routinely hear snippets of war and shootings and unrest and disaster. (That’s how my son knew about the Zika virus.) Sometimes I turn it off if I think it’s gotten to be too much for them. But mostly, I welcome their questions about what they’re hearing and I try to help them process the information:

“Sometimes people become very angry with one another and they begin to fight. Sometimes people make mistakes. Sometimes people aren’t careful enough. Sometimes people don’t like other people because of how they look or what they believe about God. Sometimes the ground shakes. Sometimes big storms come.”

And then, “What do you do when you’re angry?” or “Do you sometimes make mistakes?” or “It’s all very, very sad. How about we pray for those people?”

We pray when something sad comes up on the news. We pray when we hear sirens. We pray when we learn that someone is hurt or ill or has died.

We talk about hard things. We try to help our children to understand them. We try to give them context. I do my best to plant the idea in my children’s minds that they have a role in it all – that they will encounter difficult things in life and that they will sometimes have opportunities to make them better. And that no matter how hopeless something seems, they can always pray.

I hope all of this – the talking about hard things, the honesty, the questions, the praying – I hope it encourages them to be brave.

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This post is the fourth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

These Walls - Everyday Bravery

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

 

All I Know

What a day for the pick-pick-pick-everything-apart news shows, hm? There seems to be something for everyone in Orlando’s tragedy. Terrorism, Islam, gay rights, gun rights, gun control, mental health, politics, security, freedom, racism, persecution, division…

Grief.

My own mind swirls. I have no answers. I have no admonitions to issue. I have no suggestions for how such events can be prevented. All I know is that the problem is bigger than any one of these things. (And that anyone who tells you there’s a simple solution is mistaken.)

We are human and we hurt. We hurt others and we suffer hurts ourselves. We wrestle with evil and anxiety and anger and fear, goodness and love and service and sacrifice.

I know good and loving people who are Muslim, who denounce and abhor the terrorism committed in their faith’s name and who suffer its after-effects. I hurt for them and I pray for their safety. But I think the West should be more, not less honest about the social and religious turmoil feeding terrorism today. I think we should be more active in confronting it and I think we Christians should be brave enough to offer our alternative to a theology that takes violence and domination as its central tenants.

I know good and loving people who are gay, who struggle to feel welcome and safe and loved. I grieve for the loss their community sustained in this attack and for the fears it will kindle in them. I pray for their safety and peace of mind. But I disagree with our culture’s take on love and sexuality and marriage, including its championing of homosexuality and other lifestyles too. I don’t think I should have to agree with someone to mourn their loss or pray for their wellbeing.

I know good and loving people who own guns, who abide the law even when they disagree with it, who feel scapegoated for the terrible actions of a few. I want people to understand them. But sometimes I wonder whether it’s all worth it – whether something that is overwhelmingly enjoyed as a hobby should trump the safety of those who are the targets of terrorism and domestic violence and achingly-damaged attention seekers. I just don’t know.

I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know what will work, what can be fixed, what we simply have to accept as members of a free society.

All I know is to plead:

Lord, help us.

Lord, be with us.

Lord, bless the souls of the departed and grant them eternal rest.

Lord, give comfort to those who mourn.

Lord, heal our brokenness.

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~~~

Afterthought:

When I went outside this afternoon to snap pictures of broken things for this post, I (obviously) chose a tree which had some of its top branches snapped off in a storm.

A few minutes later as I was walking on past, I noticed the base of a tall, strong-looking tree and stopped to admire it. The tree gave me a sense of peace, of well-being; I took comfort in how sturdy and resilient it looked.

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In a moment, I realized I was looking at the very same tree. The brokenness that had seemed its primary characteristic from one angle was insignificant from another.

I can’t help but think that maybe we — we humans, our world — maybe we are something like that tree.

These Walls - All I Know

 

Becoming Community: Mid-Atlantic Conference for Catholic Women Bloggers

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I hosted a small conference for Catholic women bloggers at my home last weekend, and it was just lovely. The weather, the people, the talks, the general feeling – it was all so lovely that I’m really kind of pinching myself at how well it went.

Because I was not ready for this thing.

I greeted my first guest (thankfully, someone who’d arrived early to help set up) in my bathrobe, my hair and make-up undone. I’d had three hours of sleep the night before. I hadn’t read up on the materials I was supposed to. I hadn’t put together the folders. I hadn’t arranged the flowers I’d bought or cut the lilacs I’d planned to. I hadn’t made the coffee or the mimosas or the iced tea or the sangria. (Yes, this was a fun conference.) The tables weren’t set up. The tablecloths weren’t ironed. The outdoor chairs were filthy from being stored in a shed alongside a tractor.

And all this was after running myself ragged for 48 hours, getting everything else accomplished.

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Like the indoor chairs! I had set up the chairs!

So when my helpers arrived (several ladies came early to help – thank you, kind souls), I threw jobs at them like I’d known them for years. (Though I most definitely had not.) One – poor lady – ironed linens that just wouldn’t be tamed. Another, who’d spent the night at our home, had already ironed the more cooperative ones. Lovely Mary, who had brought flowers for the lunch tables, also arranged the flowers I’d bought, set them all out, put together the folders, and served as my weary brain’s go-to question answerer. One woman poured the mimosas. Another made the decaf. Several directed our (potluck) food to the table and refrigerator. They pulled out the cups, plates, flatware, and goodness knows what else.

In short, women did what women do: they helped.

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Photo credit: Rosie Hill

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Photo Credit: Rosie Hill

(I can’t neglect to mention my wonderful husband: By this time, Brennan was knee-deep into his third straight day of helping me prepare. He’d already mulched flowerbeds and cleaned bathrooms and taken our older boys up to my parents – thanks, Mom and Dad! Now he was setting up tables and making coffee and cleaning those dirty, dirty chairs. God bless him.)

(Nor can I neglect to mention the two ladies who helped me organize the event – Rita Buettner of Open Window at the Catholic Review, and Erica Saint of Saint Affairs. Without them, I surely would have burnt out before the conference day even arrived. Both were generous, wonderful collaborators and valuable sounding boards.)

So as this big day began – and as I grasped at every bit of help I could get – all I could think about was how badly I’d screwed up by not having everything ready when my guests arrived. I’d wanted the day to be peaceful, elegant, relaxing. Instead, we – all of us – found ourselves plunged into a confusing jumble of bodies and baked goods.

And I was embarrassed.

The Idea(s)

Now, allow me to back up for a moment.

Because the more I reflect on our conference, the more I believe that there was something important at play here – that our day was guided by One who knew what each of us needed, and who helped us to meet those needs for each other.

I’d first thought of hosting a gathering of local Catholic women bloggers a couple of years earlier. Jen Fulwiler had mentioned attending a “salon dinner,” at which guests listened to a speaker and split into groups for a sit-down dinner/discussion. Information about the guests had been circulated in advance to help people get to know each other, and groups were assigned in such a way as to introduce guests to those who might be new to them.

I thought it was a brilliant idea. It was right up my sociable/nerdy alley.

When I thought about how I might implement the concept in my own life, I landed on the idea of using it to try to get to know other Catholic women bloggers in my area. I’m not far from Washington, D.C. and I figured that there had to be plenty of such ladies around – right? So I tried, along with a couple of other local bloggers I knew, to get something going.

But the timing just wasn’t right. For a number of reasons, it became very clear, very quickly, that the idea would need to be set aside for a while. So it was.

Fast forward to a few months ago, when members of a Facebook group I’m part of began to discuss blogging conferences and what they’d like from one. Soon those conversations turned into efforts to put on regional Catholic Women Blogging Network conferences across the country.

Quick as I could, I stepped forward to host one for the Mid-Atlantic. The time was right. And just as I’ve learned so many other times in my life, the right circumstances make all the difference.

Out of the Weeds, Onto the Meat

Now, back to my embarrassment.

I focus on it because it shows where I was as our day began. I was months into the planning of the event and sunk deep in the weeds. I hadn’t actually given much thought to the meat of the conference: how the talks would go, how the day’s events would fit together, what people would get out of it. And I’d only recently – since reading re-caps of the California conference – come to realize that some of my guests might be nervous about attending. Until then, I hadn’t thought of what they might be feeling as we started our day together.

Then we began.

We started our program a half-hour late, but we started well. I gave a short welcome and had everyone introduce themselves. (And one woman hit on the wonderful idea of introducing the babies!)

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Gabriel, Peter, Margaret, Felix, Heidi, Magdalena, and Isaac. Photo credit: Rosie Hill

I recited a special Prayer for Peace issued by the Archdiocese of Baltimore in light of the riots there last week. Then I introduced our first speaker.

Meg Hunter-Kilmer, of Held by His Pierced Hands, was terrific. She (I’m stepping into my emcee role here) has two degrees in theology from Notre Dame. After five years as a middle and high school religion teacher, she quit her job to be a “hobo for Christ,” traveling the world speaking about the love of Christ.

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I was still moving around the house a bit, making sure things were set up properly and that my guests had what they needed. (I was also grabbing my own coffee and breakfast, thankyouverymuch.) So I didn’t catch Meg’s entire talk, called “Living an Examined Life.” But I was blown away by her enthusiasm, and what I heard from her renewed my desire to set aside some daily quiet time in which to just be – to listen, to pray, to simply sit in the presence of God.

Besides providing us with some general encouragement and commiseration on that front, Meg taught us about the Examen – a daily form of prayer that encourages one to examine his life and pay attention to how God is moving in it. It struck me as a beautiful and useful exercise, and I’m eager to put it into practice in my own life.

Restoring Reality

After Meg’s talk, we welcomed our keynote speaker, Leah Libresco, of the Patheos blog Unequally Yoked. Leah grew up as an atheist and started studying Catholicism “in order to have better fights with the most interesting wrong people she met in college.” She ultimately conceded the fight and became Catholic herself. But she still likes to argue: On her blog, Leah discusses anything from dating ethics, to approaches to almsgiving, to ways to forge communities in cities. She runs a monthly debate group in Washington DC and hosts sporadic Christian forums.

Leah says that she likes to find ways to have fights that turn into friendships and she makes sure to infuse disagreements with charity and love.

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Boy, does it show: I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk about arguments with as much light and joy as Leah did. She spoke on “Sharing Our Faith in Secular Spaces,” giving us plenty of smart, insightful strategies for making arguments that are not just compelling, but also life-giving.

Maybe that sounds strange. First, that we had a talk on arguments at all, and second, that arguments could possibly be life-giving. (My label, not hers.) But consider our lives since the advent of social media (and indeed blogging): how many of us witness our friends and acquaintances snipe at each other over politics or current events or parenting practices? How many comment boxes have become so nasty, we don’t even bother with them anymore? Which sort of radio and television programs thrive most today? The running theme to me, at least, seems to be: conflict, conflict, conflict…

And not the constructive sort.

Leah works hard to counter that culture – not by acting like disagreements don’t matter, but by respecting them enough to encourage them to be aired openly, respectfully, fairly, and in good humor. She remembers what so many seem to have forgotten: that behind every disagreement lies real people with (usually) honest motivations. Not one of us is a caricature of our beliefs. We’re individuals who deserve to be viewed as such.

So Leah said things like this to us:

  • Learn what your opponent loves about his argument and re-direct those goods to a better cause.
  • Discern what the strongest argument is for the particular person you’re arguing with.
  • It is more important to keep people dialoging than to “win.”
  • Leave things a little unsettled, because settling a debt exactly implies the closing of a relationship.

She also told us a story that, in my mind, somehow has come to represent our whole conference:

Leah said that she once had a couple of friends who were having quite the argument on her Facebook wall. Eventually she popped onto their thread with a suggestion: “How about you guys come over to my place and have this argument in person? I’ll make cookies!” (Leah seems to pair many such challenges with “I’ll make cookies!”) They – smart guys – took her up on her offer.

When the debaters arrived, however, Leah (deliberately) didn’t have everything ready. The cookies were still in the oven and she was scurrying around in a (manufactured – shhh!) rush. She tossed out a few directions: move this sofa there, those chairs here, carry these glasses of milk, please.

Leah took two people who’d been duking it out online and not only did she bring them together to resume their argument in person, but she made them work together on common, non-controversial goals beforehand. She brought them together so they could stand shoulder-to-shoulder and see eye-to-eye, literally. In doing so, Leah was “restoring reality” to the situation, as she put it. Working together, sharing food – these are things that bond people to each other. And when people are bonded, their arguments are more likely to be respectful and fruitful.

As you might guess, Leah’s story struck me for its similarity to our day’s beginning. Though my own rushing was genuine and my guests had not come to argue, their helpfulness served a similar role. Before many of our ladies had even met each other, they were working together. They – we – were building bonds through service, which would then be strengthened by sharing prayer, food, and conversation. So as I scurried through the jovial chaos that morning, embarrassed and a little panicky, I was unknowingly playing my part in the day’s success.

Honestly, I could listen to Leah’s talk all over again. Meeting her left me feeling a little resentful of the fact that I’m no longer a young single thing living in DC, with plenty of time (and the Metro access) to crash her homemade-cookie-fueled debate parties.

(By the way, Leah just released her first book this past Thursday! Consider checking out “Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers That Even I Can Offer.”)

Faithful, Social Friends

After Leah’s talk, we broke for lunch. I threw more jobs at people (“Who wants to make the iced tea?!”) and we all scurried around to get the food ready. Soon enough we were settled at one of four tables, where we participated in small-group discussions with ladies who blog on topics similar to our own. I’d assigned the groups in advance and asked each attendee to submit links to the three posts which best represent what she’d like to do with her blog. Theoretically, everyone was supposed to read their group-mates’ links before arriving. (Though I’ve already confessed that I did not personally get to this!)

I can’t vouch for the other groups, but mine was great. We relaxed, we chatted, we asked questions, we commiserated, and we laughed. What more could you ask for?

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Photo credit: Rosie Hill

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Photo credit: Rosie Hill

After lunch we re-grouped to hear Cristina Trinidad speak. Cristina – who blogs at what was Filling My Prayer Closet, but is now, as of this week Faithfully Social – is a married, full-time working mother of two boys. Working in corporate by day, she is a blog and social media coach by night (or whenever she can get a minute).

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Cristina says that she enjoys helping other bloggers get noticed, or providing just the right prescription to manage their social media. Accordingly, her talk, “Blogging Smarter, Not Harder,” was full of insights into social media and tips as to how to better engage with it.

Images, titles, search engine optimization, pins, schedules, branding, design software, videos, keywords, alt tags, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram… it all kind of made my head spin. But in the best possible way! Cristina was friendly and energetic and she left me with pages of notes and several ideas for improving my outreach to current and potential readers.

We spent the remaining 15 minutes of the conference in a lively wrap-up session, which was moderated by Rita Buettner, of Open Window at the Catholic Review.

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I have to say, up until this point in the day, there were many things that made me happy. But now, as people enthusiastically offered ideas as to how we could collaborate and be helpful to each other going forward – I was thrilled.

One woman offered to host everyone for a day of quiet, uninterrupted writing. Another suggested meeting for a “write-in” at Starbucks. Ladies talked of a blog carnival. They mentioned Doodle and Google Docs and a resource page on our Facebook group where people could list their expertise.

The ideas bounced around the room haphazardly but the consensus was clear: We were excited about what we’d found here and we were eager to build up relationships with one another. We wanted to get together again soon – as soon as this summer. We wanted to offer a variety of ways for people to meet up and help out and collaborate.

(The activity on our Facebook group this week has reflected that excitement: multiple posts per day, questions, request for and offers of support. It’s been really beautiful to witness. I feel so grateful for this burgeoning community – and just a little proud.)

After our conference formally broke up, women lingered to say goodbye after goodbye. They took with them lovely boxes of delicious fudge, which was generously made by Emily Borman, Editor-in-Chief of Conversation With Women. (For the writers among you, Conversation With Women is a blog made up entirely of anonymous submissions from women who have struggled with, but ultimately found joy in living the Catholic faith in regards to marriage, sexuality, fertility and society. If you have such a story to share, stop over to Emily’s to see about submitting it.)

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Photo Credit: Rosie Hill

As the others headed home, eight of us struck out to enjoy dinner together. We walked to a local restaurant for some amazing pizza and more laughter than probably should have been allowed. (Seriously – we were the loudest party there!)

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I was so happy as I looked around at our group – women of different ages and backgrounds and family make-ups, women who write on different topics, whose lives have taken different turns – we chatted (and hooted and hollered) like we were a real thing, like we were a solid group.

And, I guess that now we kind of are.

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Photo credit: Rosie Hill

Back row: Patti Murphy Dohn, Marie Bernadette Griffiths, Meg Hunter-Kilmer, Cristina Reintjes, Laura Scanlon, Mary Lenaburg, Jamie Gewand, Lisa Mayer, Abbey Dupuy, Laura Wright, Leah Libresco, Abigail Benjamin, Emily Borman

Front row: Erica Saint, Rita Buettner, Colleen Duggan, Kate Abbot, Rosemary Callenberg, Cristina Trinidad, Nicole Cox, Julie Walsh (me), Rosie Hill

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Photo credit: Rosie Hill

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Photo credit: Rosie Hill

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Photo credit: Rosie Hill

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(Many thanks to Theresa Conlan for designing our logo.)

 

Lord, Be With Them

This morning, I saw the following text begin to trickle onto my Facebook newsfeed:

From Sister Monique, via Filles de la Charite, PARIS

FROM : Sister Monique

Late Sunday afternoon on 1 March 2015, I received a message from M. Francoise, a delegate of the International Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and I managed to reach her by telephone.

She was leaving for Paris, and collapsed at the news she had just received: members of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in Syria were kidnapped, along with their wives and children. The children were isolated and put into cages. Adults who do not deny their faith will be decapitated, and their children burned alive in the cages. M. Francoise had been in regular contact with several of them before all this occurred. She asked me to transmit the news and make a fervent appeal for prayers for these people, and all who are held hostage.

Let us remain fervently united in prayer, and have as our intention the welfare of all brothers and sisters in our Christian faith who are being held hostage

Now, I have no way of knowing whether this information is true (I haven’t found any mention of it in the media), but it is posted on the website of the Eastern Province (USA) of the Vincentians, a Catholic order of priests and brothers. I would hope that they confirm such accounts before sharing them.

(Please note that there was a publicity stunt in February, in which Syrian protestors dressed children as ISIS hostages and placed them in a cage to protest the Assad regime. So if you see any pictures purported to be the children referenced by the Vincentians, please know that you might actually be seeing images of children who are alive and well – other, of course, than the fact that they live under a brutal, oppressive, even murderous regime.)

But in any event, thinking of the Christian hostages held by ISIS in Syria and Iraq (and we know that there are indeed many of them), I pray, over and over:

Lord, be with them.

Lord, protect them. Comfort them. Strengthen them. Give them Your peace.

Lord, touch the hearts of their captors. Kindle in them the virtues of prudence, justice, and charity. Guide them to feel sympathy, to have mercy, to love.

Lord, help the hostages to know that they are loved and prayed for by their brothers and sisters in Christ the world over. Move us to offer them whatever help and solidarity we can.

Lord, shield them. Cover them. Hold them.

Lord, be with them.

This morning, shortly after I read the disturbing news above, I heard my own child cry. He was fine – just frustrated with his clothing. But his cries were like daggers to my sense of wellness, of stability, of the way the world should be. All I could think of were those parents, having to wrestle with the most horrible decision one could possibly face.

Their children’s cries… surely their children would be crying.

I have no idea what I would do in that situation. No idea. I am cowed just by the suggestion of such a choice. Though half a world away, I feel injured by the kidnappings, the rapes, the mutilations, the beheadings of my fellow Christians in Africa and the Middle East. I am wowed by the grace with which some of those who are actually close to the victims have borne their losses. I feel pain, too, for the Muslims and other non-Christians who have suffered at the hands of ISIS and Boko Haram.

Over and over, I recognize Evil in the work of those extremists. Over and over, I mourn and I pray:

Lord, be with them.

I hope you’re praying too. I hope that you and I and the elderly lady at my church choir practice who lead us in prayer for the Jordanian fighter pilot, First Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh, on the day we learned of his immolation – I hope that we (whatever Faith we call our own) will always far outnumber those who claim to do God’s will, but instead do the work of the one who opposes Him.

Lord, be with them.

Thanksgiving Eve

This morning I sit surrounded by unexpected, soft quiet. From the corner of my eye, I see our first snow of the season. It falls fast and thick. My boys are entranced, and so am I.

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How soothing that this lovely blanket has come to fall upon us, covering our unraked leaves and the toys my boys leave scattered behind our house. It smoothes our roughness, disguises our messes. It insulates us. And when we glance at our windows and see only a mottled span of white and gray, somehow the space inside our home seems softer and smoother too.

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Of course, we don’t have to drive in it. We’re snug indoors, ready to commence the prepping and the baking for tomorrow. Butternut squash, onions, cranberries, cherries, and chocolate – they all lie in wait.

But I have a few minutes to think and pray on the things and people for whom I am grateful – and I’ll take them. I know how blessed I’ve been.

I have a lively, loving, little family and a big, beautiful home. I have an extended family who support and love and even entertain. I have layer upon layer of good, smart, interesting friends: The few I’ve known since childhood; those I acquired in high school and college, in Washington and Annapolis; those I’ve worked with and prayed with; those alongside whom I’m raising my children. I even have some I’ve never met in person: lovely, kind women I know through blogging and long, thoughtful emails.

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We have sufficient heating oil and plentiful food. We have electricity and too many clothes. We have peace in our home and our community.

Layer upon layer of goodness.

And I know, of course, that there are far too many people who do not have these particular blessings. Loneliness, hunger, cold, unrest and violence visit too, too many. So alongside my gratitude, I think of and pray for them. For those who long for families of their own, who struggle to provide for the families they have, who suffer violence, who live in fear.

If you’re among them, know that you’re in my prayers.

And whether you are among them or you’re not, I hope that you too get a few soft, quiet moments in which to sit. I hope that this Thanksgiving, you feel the weight of your own particular blessings. And I hope that your blessings do nothing but increase in the coming seasons of Advent and Christmas.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, from me and mine.

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It Is The Same Evil

I know I haven’t been alone among bloggers in finding it difficult to write over the past couple of months. Such sad, disturbing news we’ve had. It’s seemed to me like waves upon the shore: one powerful, jarring story crashes into us, then recedes into the background of our lives, only to have another follow before we’ve quite gained our footing.

There are the Central American children jostling to get into the United States… fire after return fire in Israel and Gaza… fighting and its unintended fallout in Ukraine… depression and suicide… Ebola in Western Africa… racial tensions re-emerging at home…

And Iraq. Oh, Iraq.

There, religious minorities have been systematically executed. Genocide is sought. Survivors flee. Whole dioceses have been emptied of their faithful. Women are raped and sold into slavery. People are ripped in two, cut in half, decapitated – even children suffer such atrocities.

How does one begin to process such horrors? How can I, tucked away in my comfortable home half a world away from those events, answer them with anything like an appropriate response?

For most of August, I didn’t want to ask myself that last question. While ISIS/ISIL/the group calling itself The Islamic State increasingly made itself known to the world, I lingered on the periphery of awareness. I learned enough to know that I didn’t want to learn more. And I reacted to the little I did learn with nothing more than a dull, heavy feeling in my chest and the desire to escape before I felt the horror of the situation more acutely.

But gradually (mostly through the admirable persistence of Elizabeth Scalia and her fellow Patheos writers), I was pulled out of my comfortable discomfort with events in Iraq. I shifted from the dull, uneasy urge to escape from the news to a sharper, more pressing realization that I’m obliged to pay attention. That I’m obliged to feel and pray and do whatever I can, however humble, to combat the evil that is spreading in that far-away land.

Because that’s what’s driving this: evil.

And I don’t mean “evil” in that secular way that reserves the term for only the most obviously bad, bad guys like Hitler. I mean it in the way that makes secularists most uncomfortable: evil as the work of the devil. “The evil we confront is not just an abstract idea, but an evil, fallen angel who wants to prevent our salvation.”*

I’m not suggesting that the devil has gone and animated a bunch of limp, unwilling (and therefore unaccountable) bodies to use as mere puppets. Nor am I suggesting that the members of ISIS are inherently evil, wholly incapable of doing good. No person is born so lost.

I’m just trying to call it like it is. When people do such terrible things to one another, I can’t help but see evil’s mark. I can’t help but envision evil seeping like a deadly, insidious disease from the heart of one man to another. And then another, and another, and another…

Some situations seem ripe for spectacular displays of evil. Evil must find fertile soil, after all, in lands where oppression, poverty, and war have been present for generations. What terrific places to be planting seeds of anger, fear, and hopelessness. What good chances that they’ll grow in individuals’ hearts until they spill over, manifesting themselves in violence and injustice towards others. What likelihood that those fruits will begin the cycle anew.

That’s how I think of the ISIS fighters: as men whose circumstances and life experiences have made them angry and resentful… men who have sought sympathy and camaraderie amongst those who would encourage their indignation… men who feel more powerful and more right the more they work together toward a dramatic goal… men who have so convinced themselves of their righteousness that they view those who are unlike them as less than human… men who start by seeing violence as a necessary tool and end by relishing violence for its own sake. I trace evil’s influence throughout.

But that – that far-away place, in those foreign hearts – is not the only place where evil lurks. Evil would not be content to bear only a few thousand ISIS souls away from God. Evil works on the rest of us too.

A few weeks ago at mass, a visiting priest spoke to us on evil. (It’s funny, isn’t it, when a topic that you’ve already been chewing on, even distracted by, comes back to you via someone else’s mouth?) He told us that evil works in four ways: Deception (making us think that evil is good), Division, Diversion (drawing our attention away from those things that are critical to our salvation), and Discouragement (making us think that God is not there).

We are all vulnerable to those tactics.

Evil tells us that what we have is insufficient, that we will always need more. It encourages us to nourish our anger and resentment. It emphasizes our fears. It helps us divide people into “us” and “them.” It tempts us to seek fleeting satisfactions that harm our bodies and souls. It entices us to take pleasure in media that glamorize violence and disordered relationships. It convinces us that righteous indignation is indeed righteous. It leads us to think we’re alone and unloved.

Evil finds success in such “small” things all the time, all over the world. I can’t help but wonder whether, when evil has become sufficiently emboldened by its quiet successes, perhaps that’s when it taunts us, leers at us, with acts so glaringly evil that we’re stopped short.

We don’t know what to make of beheadings and systematic executions. We don’t know what to make of atrocities committed against children or efforts to snuff out entire peoples. We learn of the horrors perpetrated by ISIS and we don’t know how to process them. Because even though we recall the evils of slavery and murder and abuse, of Hitler and Stalin and Rwanda, we’re sufficiently unused to thinking about evil that it makes no sense to us.

So we find ourselves today.

For weeks, I think most of the world – or at least those in the world who have been paying any attention to events in Iraq (and Syria; I shouldn’t neglect to note that ISIS is there too) – have been standing around, stunned. We’ve been allowing ourselves to be immobilized by the very evil we encounter all the time. It is more obviously demonstrated by ISIS, yes – but it is the same evil.

More recently, the gears seem to be slowly cranking to life. Many are still coping by looking away or minimizing the situation or proclaiming our inability to make a difference. But others are calling for action. Some are beginning to take it.

I won’t claim to know exactly how the United States can defeat ISIS. But I think doing so should be our goal. And I think it’s unreasonable to expect that we can do so entirely from a distance. An enemy that functions in cities and villages thick with innocent civilians can’t be eradicated by airstrike. And one that utilizes medieval methods of warfare can’t be fully defeated by 21st century technology. The sword will never be located as easily as the tank.

(By the way, I find it more than a little ironic that Vice-President Biden vowed that the United States will follow ISIS “to the gates of hell” while Secretary Kerry and President Obama have made it painfully clear that they do not intend to send American ground forces to Iraq or Syria. I suppose the message to ISIS should be that the United States intends to follow ISIS to the gates of hell, unless of course Iraq and Syria lie just before those gates. In which case the United States will wait patiently at their borders and simply wave ISIS on.)

At any rate, where does the situation leave those of us who are not policymakers? What role can we play in combatting the evil perpetrated by ISIS?

I can only tell you what I’m doing.

I’ve stopped hiding from the situation: I’m reading and listening and watching reports on what is happening. I’m paying attention. I’m writing about it.

I’m guarding against evil’s influence in my own life: I’m examining my motivations. I’m trying to be careful (and charitable) about what I think and say and do. I’m being watchful of the darkness that makes its way into my heart when I pursue certain topics or dwell on certain old hurts. I’m trying to do my small part to stop cycles of fear, anger, resentment, and injustice where I find them.

I’m praying: It’s been three years (that is, since the birth of my second child) since I regularly made time for daily prayer. It’s so hard with several littles underfoot to pick up that old (very healthy) habit, but I’m trying. I do my usual, random prayers cast up to God whenever I think of them, but I’m also working on carving out regular blocks of quiet time to devote to nothing but prayer. When I’m successful, I dedicate my blocks to the people of Iraq and Syria.

I know these small, quiet things are nothing like the magnitude of what it will take to defeat ISIS. However, I can’t help but hope that evil might back off the leering a bit if it finds that the leering generates an increase in prayer and charity throughout the world. So I try.

There are also more tangible contributions we can make. We can contact our Senators and Representatives to tell them we’re concerned about ISIS and that we think the United States should play a significant role in defeating it. (Click here for links to the Senate and House of Representatives.) We can donate to charities that provide aid to the peoples affected by fighting in the region. (Click here to reach Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.) We can write blog posts, letters to the editor, Facebook comments, make calls to radio shows… We can all find small ways to contribute.

In his speech last night, President Obama said, “We can’t erase every trace of evil from the world.” That may be true, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Nor does it mean that we’re incapable of achieving triumphs over evil. Indeed, we all have roles to play in thwarting it. But we must begin, I think, by acknowledging that evil is real and that it is here. We need to be watchful. We need to be deliberate. We need to be brave.

 

* United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2006, page 489

Some Monday Musings On… Death (Yes, Death)

—1—

I’m (kind of) picking up my “Monday Morning Miscellany” idea again here because I’ve got another case of I-had-plenty-to-put-in-a-7-Quick-Takes-Friday-but-couldn’t-stay-awake-to-write-it. I don’t know whether it’s my schedule lately or the fact that I’m moving deeper into the third trimester, but I can’t remember the last post I wrote that I didn’t fall asleep on at some point. Including this one.

Hmm… and I wondered where these boys got it…

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But this Monday’s collection of miscellany didn’t turn out to be so miscellaneous after all. As I started writing, I was surprised to realize just how much of what’s on my mind right now pertains to death. (Yes, DEATH.)

So here I go with some sober musings for this Monday: tragic deaths at the Mall in Columbia, the sadness of a death in the family, an NPR piece on a “death class,” remembering an experience at a cemetery in Ireland, the delicate task of explaining death to very little ones, and the (BIG) question of life after death.

What a cheerful way to begin the week!

—2—

I’ve got to start with this weekend’s big, awful news from our corner of the world: three people (including the shooter, it seems) were shot and killed inside the Mall in Columbia. It’s yet another senseless, heartbreaking episode of violence to splash across the national headlines. But this one is ours.

This is the mall we typically go to. I’m not familiar with the exact store where those poor people were killed, but I know that it’s very near the store where I buy my boys’ shoes… and the Starbucks I stop in for a pick-me-up… and the carousal my boys love to ride at the beginning of our shopping trips. So this one hit home.

Even so, (and I hate to say it) I reacted to the news with resignation. I was nervous to know whether any of my loved ones were at the mall and in harm’s way; I was concerned for all who were there at the time, whether I knew them or not. I prayed. I worried. But I wasn’t as surprised as I might have been. And my reaction was not as dramatic as it might have been.

The fact is, we’ve had enough of these tragedies in the U.S. in the past few years (not to mention the multitude of horrors that have happened abroad) that they’re no longer surprising to me. Even, apparently, when they’re in my own back yard.

The fact is, these tragedies lurk in my mind just about every time I head out in public – and certainly every time I head to the mall. That mall. For years now, I’ve walked into that mall aware that something like this could happen. So I only go when I have a particular errand I need to accomplish. I don’t stay long. I look around for exits. I think up strategies to keep my children as safe as I can.

Isn’t that awful?

It is. It’s sad. It’s a shame. But it’s simply an acknowledgement of the world we live in. And it’s only an echo of how so many people in other parts of the world live every day: in insecurity, in fear, perhaps in resignation. It is what it is.

—3—

It’s been a sad couple of weeks at our home, all-around. Two weeks ago yesterday, my husband’s stepfather died.

Brennan’s parents divorced when he was 10 or 11 years old and his mother remarried a couple of years later. Then when Brennan was barely 14, his father died. Similar situations have probably made for more than a few challenging stepfather/stepson relationships. But fortunately for our family, that’s not what happened with Ed and Brennan.

Brennan recalls his father’s memory with fondness and I know he wishes that he could have gotten to know him better. But he’s also very grateful for Ed’s presence in his life. I am too. Ed is the man who taught my husband about responsibility, about devotion to his wife, about a million little practical things that people need to learn in order to be independent adults. Brennan attributes part of who he is today to the lessons he learned from Ed.

As I mentioned over the summer and again on Veterans Day, Ed was a veteran of World War II who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was wounded just before the war ended. I wrote then:

With my own parents still in their ‘50’s, it was more than a little difficult for me to get used to having a (step)father-in-law who is a member of the “greatest generation.” And I have to admit that, having seen him only once or twice a year for the past six years, I don’t know Ed very well. But I know that my husband loves and respects him. And I know that he has lived a long and interesting life, with his fair share of pain.

Some of it, of course, can be traced to his service in that awful war. Shortly before it ended, Ed found himself in Passau, Germany. In trying to rescue his sergeant, who had been shot, Ed was himself shot in the lung and the arm. He earned the bronze star for his actions. And he has lived with the repercussions of his injuries ever since…

Whenever I see an elderly person, particularly one who looks weak or ill, I wonder what kind of a life they’ve lived. I wonder at the events and the change they must have seen in their lifetime. Whenever I see an old man wearing one of those hats that veterans wear – the kind that denotes the ship they served on – I envision the young, strong man he must have been. I don’t know what to say or do, except to show a little kindness and maybe a little love. I want to ask, but I don’t want to intrude. I want to thank, but I don’t want to sound trite. So mostly I just wonder. And I say a little prayer.

With Ed, I know something of his story. But I still don’t know what to say. So I show some kindness and some love. I give him a hug and a kiss. I encourage the boys to do the same for their “Baba Ed.” Every once in a while, I have the boys color him a picture and we stick it in the mail. And I pray.

Ed had been seriously ill for some time and confined to a nursing home for a couple of years, so his death didn’t exactly come as a surprise. Still, it is an ending, and it is sad. It’s downright heart-breaking for Brennan’s mother, Hilde, who loves Ed with an attachment and a devotion that I’ve seldom witnessed.

So if you’re the praying type, we would greatly appreciate a few prayers at this sad time: for the repose of Ed’s soul, for comfort and strength for Hilde, and for peace for Ed’s children, step-children, and grand-children. Thank you.

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—4—

I heard a fascinating piece on NPR last week. It was about a college course on death. Students in the class visit a funeral home, a cemetery, and other places that deal with death on a regular basis. They learn and talk about death in its most physical, scientific senses and also in more abstract, emotional ones. They talk and think about their own personal experiences with death.

What an idea.

We’re fortunate to live in a time and place where we can go years – maybe most of our lifetimes – without having an intimate experience with death. Due to good sanitary conditions, abundant food, and advanced medical practices, we can go through our lives expecting that we’ll make it safely through our own births, our childhoods, our sometimes-wild youths, our pregnancies and deliveries, our illnesses, and even our advanced years.

This is an incredible blessing. Yet is also removes us from one of the most basic realities of life: all of us will die. You, me, those we love – all of us.

So when we do encounter death, I think it can be rather more shocking and damaging to us than it’s been to those who have lived throughout most of human history, those who were more used to death than we are. I think it can also contribute to a lack of appreciation for just how precious life is.

Maybe it’s something we should work on.

When my husband and I were in Ireland for our honeymoon, we had the incredible opportunity to visit with some of his father’s cousins, who still live there. (Brennan’s grandfather came from Ireland.) Most unfortunately, one of the cousins had died just days before, from breast cancer. I believe she was in her early ‘50’s. We were fortunate enough to be able to pay our respects at her grave, as well as those of Brennan’s great-grandparents. While in the cemetery where his cousin had just been buried, we saw a young woman drive up, hop out of her car, walk over to the cousin’s grave, leave a flower, and pause for a few minutes in prayer. She then proceeded briskly away.

I was struck by the experience. How often do we see (or do) that here? Sure, we’re somewhat familiar with cemeteries from the burials we’ve attended. And if we’ve lost someone we love dearly, we may make repeat trips to visit their graves. But do we make such a practice common? Do we make a quick stop at the grave of a friend or acquaintance on a random Thursday, just to pray and pay our respects? When I remarked on the young woman’s visit, another of Brennan’s cousins said that such behavior is common in those parts, even for young people. She said something to the effect of “For the Irish, death is a very real and present thing.”

—5—

Ed’s death, of course, has prompted us to talk about death with our boys for the first time. Our two-year-old seems oblivious to the discussions, but our three-year-old has had a lot of questions: “Will I die? Will you die? Is our cold yike Gwanpa Ed’s?”

It’s been interesting and a little scary to answer his questions. It’s a challenge to explain death in a way that a three-year-old will understand, without making such a sensitive little guy too nervous. I keep having to tell him that yes, we will all die someday. Everything that lives will die. But Grandpa Ed was very old and very sick, and we are neither of those things. Hopefully we’ll all live a long, long, long, long, long time yet. And no, Grandpa Ed did not have our cold.

I’m also having to make my attempts at explaining to him what happens to people after they die. I know that a lot of people will tell their children (and really, often themselves) that when the people we love die, they go straight to heaven and become angels that will watch over us. But I see that as an over-simplified, fairy-tale kind of explanation. I don’t want to feed it to my children now, only to disabuse them of it when they’re older and starting to wrestle with moral questions. Because I don’t think heaven is a given for anyone.

I’m Catholic, and though I am no theologian, I think I’m in-line with Church teaching when I say that heaven and hell are not assigned to us “at the pearly gates.” And they’re certainly not assigned as popular culture seems to: everyone we love gets into heaven, while everyone who’s really, really bad, like murderers and child abusers, goes to hell. I think that if we’re truly close to God, we get to be with him after we die, and we call that heaven. If, however, we’ve removed ourselves from God, we are without him after we die, and we call that hell. I also believe that prayers count, even for the dead. I believe that it’s worthwhile to pray for our beloved dead, that they may become ever closer to God. I hope people will do so for me when I die.

So, what do I tell my boy? I tell him that we really hope that Grandpa Ed gets to be with God in heaven. And I invite him to pray with me to that end.

—6—

Somehow, I don’t think that’s quite the way to end this post. So let me just draw your attention back to that NPR piece: “‘Death Class’ Taught Students A Lot About Life.” I hope you’ll follow the link and listen to the story. It’s just five and a half minutes long. Perhaps it will pique your interest, like mine, in reading journalist Erika Hayasaki’s book about the class: “The Death Class: A True Story About Life.” And perhaps it will cause you, like me, to ponder death for a little while — your reactions to it, your fear of it, your appreciation of it (and therefore of life), what you think will come of it…

As repulsive as the subject might initially be, death isn’t really such a bad thing to think on for a bit. It seems like a worthwhile investment to me, at least.

Monday Morning Miscellany (Vol. 6)

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I promised myself that I would stick something, even if just a bunch of miscellany, on the blog every Monday morning. I like myself some fresh reading material on Monday mornings, when I’m working to recover from the weekend and gear myself up for the week ahead. I thought perhaps you good people would too.

But more Mondays than not lately, it seems, I’ve written nothing. I blame morning sickness. And boys. But mostly morning sickness. Now that that fog is (hopefully? please?) beginning to lift, I’m trying to get back into it. I’ll start with a couple of updates:

— 1 —

That whole fiery, electrical knives stabbing me in the side of the head thing? In case any of you (maybe as many as two or three?) were wondering, it’s been resolved. I gave in and took myself to the doctor’s on Friday, who diagnosed my usual nemesis: sinus infection. She said that the faulty sinus was probably pressing on a nerve, thus all the burning, shocking, stabbing pain. Three days into my five-day antibiotic, I’m feeling worlds better. What a relief!

— 2 —

I still haven’t read that America piece on the Pope. Maybe this afternoon? After I’m done I’ll have to read a handful of the reactions/explanations, to get a little lay of the land on the controversy. I’ve been holding off on these pieces until I take a look at the original. Which is, I think, a good thing to do. Except that by the time I finally get through it all, I’ll be a good week behind everybody else. Such is how I roll.

— 3 —

My three-year-old had a massive temper tantrum on Sunday – possibly his worst ever. It couldn’t help but make me think of Ana and her girls’ expert tantrum-throwing abilities. (My sympathies, Ana!) But I have to admit that, ugly as it was, I couldn’t help but find some humor in the whole thing. Mostly because of the underlying reason for this tantrum: he did not want to be home.

This kid never wants to be home; every time we’re out somewhere, whether a play date or the doctor’s office, he wants to stay. In fact, he has never once asked to go home. Ever since he was a baby, he has fussed and whined (or worse) as we drive into our neighborhood. He knows the signs: x scenery = almost home. Nooooo!

This Sunday’s tantrum started on our way home from church, when the little guy asked, “Can we get wunch on da way home?” He didn’t like our answer. So we heard variations of “Wunch! I wan wunch out! Not at home! Don’t go home! Picnic wunch! Wunch at park! Paaarrrk! Go back! Not home! Stop! Stop dwiving, Mommy!” (when I wasn’t even the one driving) punctuated with sobs, for our entire twenty minute drive. He grew absolutely desperate as we came up the driveway: “NO! STOP! DON’T! GO BACK!”

We had to wrestle him out of the car seat (he tried to stop us from unbuckling him) and drag him into the house while he tried to throw himself on the ground and/or escape down the driveway. It only got worse when we came inside. He was inconsolable: lots more shouting and sobbing and thrashing around on the floor and trying to get out of the house.

I suppose I’m fortunate in that tantrums have no power over me. I think I see them as something distinct and separate that (so long as no one is getting hurt), I can just ignore. I tend to just zone out and wait for them to end. But I could tell that this one was starting to get to my husband, so I tried to calm my boy down. I held him on my lap and did my sweetest best, but it was no good. I finally had to carry him upstairs and put him in his crib. (Yes, he’s still in a crib. Yes, he’s three. I like to keep them contained as long as possible.)

Anyway, to make a long story less long, I’ll just say that the crib only served to kick his tantrum up a notch. He went wild. I’ve never heard him scream like that: I thought he’d lose his voice. But he also began to tire himself out. So after a while, I was able to bring him downstairs and start feeding him his “wunch” and the tantrum finally, finally broke. Whew.

— 4 —

There were, however, two upshots to the tantrum. First, this:

20130922_170648

They almost looked drugged, don’t they? My mom says it looks like I slipped something in their milk. But on my honor, I swear that it was nothing more than a missed nap on the little one’s part and The Big Tantrum on the big one’s.

— 5 —

But better than that short-break-because-the-boys-fell-asleep-on-the-sofa: we got a dinner invitation out of the tantrum! Woo-hoo! I complained about it on Facebook (of course) and one of my aunts commented something to the effect of: “Don’t make dinner tonight, Julie. Come over here. We’re eating at 5:30.”

Seriously? I complain about a tantrum and a boy who doesn’t want to be home and we get a dinner offer out of it? Yes, please! It was great: lots of yummy food, adult conversation, and lots of space and toys and cousins for my boys to run around with. I love this living-near-family thing. I did not grow up with it, but I feel oh so lucky to have it now. Thanks again, Aunt Barb!

— 6 —

To shift gears quite a bit here, what awful news we got this weekend from around the world, didn’t we? First (and still!) the attack on the mall in Nairobi, Kenya. And then yesterday, the attack on the Christian church in Peshawar, Pakistan. At least 60 people have been killed in the former, at least 80 were killed in the latter. Such horror. To suffer a shocking, sustained tragedy on what you thought would be a cheerful Saturday? It’s almost unimaginable. And worse yet, to be targeted in church, while you were worshipping God? It’s a special kind of horrible.

Do you know what I regret at this moment? I regret my reactions to these two terrible events. I normally feel such things acutely; they normally get to me regardless of how far away they seem. But this time, my reaction was muted. I said a few prayers, but mostly, I didn’t want to think about it. I was tired of tragedy. After Egypt and Syria and the anniversaries of September 11 and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, after the Navy Yard shooting last week, after hearing of a few very sad local deaths and incidents, I guess I was just tired of grieving.

I don’t want to live like that. I don’t want to be numb to sad news and indifferent to others’ suffering. There’s quite a lot I need to work on right now, spiritually. I’ll be adding this one to the list.

Please, join me in praying for those affected by the awful attacks in Kenya and Pakistan.

— 7 —

Have a good week, everyone. I’m hopeful for a brightness, a lifting of my own mood. And I hope to be back in this space a few times in the coming days. ‘Till then, be well.