Sunday, September 03, 2017

A Lesson from Mother Teresa

As a Christmas present last year, my parish handed out copies of Mother Teresa of Calcutta: A Personal Portrait  (abridged edition) by Fr. Leo Maasburg. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that it has been sitting in my reading pile since then,  but with her September 5th feast day right around the corner this was the perfect time to read and appreciate this wonderful book. 

Fr. Maasburg was a close associate of Mother Teresa and accompanied her on many trips so that she and her fellow sisters could have a priest to offer the Mass for them. As such, he has many wonderful stories about the saint to share. He testifies to her life of service rooted in prayer, her distribution of over 40,000 Miraculous Medals, her humility, the way she treated everyone from all faith traditions as a child of God, and her work on behalf of unwanted children. 

One could spend a lifetime studying Mother Teresa and attempting to put the lessons she taught into practice, but at this particular time, one lesson stood out to me. Fr. Maasburg shares, “Mother Teresa, as a matter of principle never said a negative word about anyone.” When asked about it, she acknowledged that there was corruption and evil, “but I also know that there is good, and I have decided to see the good.” Fr. Maasburg adds, “Mother Teresa was not so na├»ve as not to see the evil. Instead it was a deliberate act, a conscious decision to live in love and hope. And it was also a very conscious decision to believe in the good in people.”

Wow! I do try very hard not to engage in gossip, but to never say anything negative about anyone is quite a challenge. This did not mean that Mother Teresa did not speak against evil – she did. What she did not do was attack the person – she separated the act from the person committing it. She trusted that God was the judge and that her job was to love everyone regardless of who they were or what they had done. 

That is definitely something to work on and a goal to aspire to. What if instead of complaining about or judging someone, we prayed for them. What would life look like if we chose to see the good in everyone? What would life look like if we treated every person (starting with those in our own family) as a beloved child of God?

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Me vs. The Smart Phone

I've had a flip phone for years and years. And for the most part, I was happy with it. I don't get a whole lot of calls and it mostly existed for unusual circumstances. The one thing I had to admit it didn't do well was text, a fact that caused my teenage sons a great deal of angst when they were out and trying to have a conversation with me. Still, I resisted getting a smartphone because I don't like them.

I realize that the smartphone itself is an inanimate object, a tool to be used for good or ill. But everywhere I look, I see people with their heads down, engaged more with their phone than with the world or the people in front of them. I go to the park and see moms on their phones as their kids are trying to talk to them. I see toddlers being handed phones to amuse themselves. Go out to eat and all the people sitting at the table are interacting with their phones rather than with those around the table. Smartphones have made work a 24/7 experience with people always expected to be a text away regardless of what else they might be doing. It just makes me sad. In carrying the world in our pockets, we have lost something valuable in our interpersonal relationships.

I work hard in my life to maintain a technology/life balance. It's necessary for my mental health. I want the technology to serve me, not the other way around.

In the end, though, I lost the battle. The male members of my household decided I needed one (see inability to text above) and there was a deal through our internet company that made it the same price as what I was paying for my prepaid flip phone. I could even keep my old number. I had no realistic argument I could make other than my own stubbornness, so I had to suck it up and accept the new technology into my life.

I've had it for a couple weeks now. I got it a pretty rose colored case and at son #2's suggestion, named it Juliet. There are things I do like about it. I enjoy having a camera with me everywhere I go and to be able to share pictures without having to hook up my camera to the computer and download the photos. The GPS has helped a couple times already seeing as I lack any innate sense of direction and get lost way more than any person should. I can now text in complete sentences. These are all good things.

I'm working hard to not have it be an appendage, to still only get online a few times a day and to maintain my weekend break from the computer. So far, so good. I don't enjoy having to fight the temptation, though, and despite the convenience find myself missing the days when technology wasn't with us everywhere we go.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Discover the Healing Power of the Sacraments

The older I get, the more I realize that everyone I meet is in need of God’s healing. Young or old, rich or poor, everyone is wounded in some way, whether that be physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, or some combination of the above. It is the price we pay for living in a fallen world. 

Bob Schuchts is a retired marriage and family therapist and the founder of the John Paul II Healing Center in Tallahassee, Florida. In Be Transformed: The Healing Power of the Sacraments (Ave Maria Press, 2017), Schuchts writes “the sacraments are God’s primary remedy for healing the whole person, the whole family, the whole Church, and the whole world. They are powerful because the Holy Spirit is always working in and through these sacred mysteries to usher us more fully into the resurrection life of Jesus.” He continues, “When received in faith, the sacraments have tremendous power through the Holy Spirit to radically transform our lives.”

Schuchts explains that there are seven deadly wounds that we all experience to greater or lesser degree: rejection, abandonment, powerlessness, confusion, fear, shame, and hopelessness. Each of the seven sacraments works to heal one of these deadly wounds.

In Baptism, we received “a public blessing declaring that you and I are precious and unrepeatable gifts of the Father.” This helps heal the wound of rejection. “In the Father’s household, there are no unwanted children, only ones who have not yet realized their true dignity.”

Holy Communion heals the sense of abandonment. “Jesus gave us the sacrament of his presence as a means for us to continually abide in him.”

Confirmation gives us the Holy Spirit’s power, thereby counteracting the sense of powerlessness we so often feel.

By setting up rightful spiritual authority, the sacrament of Holy Orders works to end confusion. We are called to submit to our Father’s authority and the authority given to the Church.

The sacrament of Matrimony counteracts fear. “God intended the sacrament of Matrimony to be the source of love and life in every family and the foundation of security for every human person.”

Reconciliation heals wounds of shame. We repeatedly fall into sin, but Christ offers forgiveness to all who seek it. “The full restoration of our identity is a lifelong process,” but the sacrament of Reconciliation aids that restoration and gives us courage to continue in spite of our brokenness,
In times of sickness or at the end of life, the Anointing of the Sick heals wounds of hopelessness. It is the sacrament of resurrection, promising us that Jesus is stronger than death and that eternal life awaits. 

Schuchts offers many stories from his own and others’ lives, testifying to the power of the sacraments to transform lives. God wants to heal our brokenness and has provided His sacraments as a major way of being present to us in our times of need. Be Transformed invites us to take a deeper look at the sacraments and the power God exercises through them. 

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Friday, August 25, 2017

New Catholic Fiction - The Table by Deacon Dennis Lambert

by Dcn. Dennis Lambert
   A table built by the grandfather of Jesus Christ…
           Protected for centuries by a line of table bearers…
                    Encounters a man in his time of greatest need.

A Little About Dennis Lambert
  Dennis Lambert and his wife Debbie live in Phoenix where he serves as a Deacon in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix.   A graduate of Lake Forest College and the Kino Catechetical Institute, Dennis recently retired from a twenty nine year career in the pharmaceutical industry in order to dedicate more time to writing and to serving the Church.  In addition to his passion for writing, Dennis and his wife share a deep love of music and have performed together in bands, both in the Chicago and Phoenix areas, for almost three decades.     

First century Christianity and present-day musical aspirations meet in the story of a miracle table built by the grandfather of Jesus Christ.  The table is placed in the hands of a Centurion named Cornelius following the death of the Messiah. Given the title of table bearer and a mission, Cornelius begins a history of bringing peace to those who encounter the table, a mission that will be sustained for over two thousand years.  In the later years of that mission, the table and its current bearer, an autistic young man named Anthony, encounter Michael Fortunato.  At the very moment of his breakthrough in the music industry, Michael loses the only thing that really mattered to him, his wife Debbie. The loss sends Michael into the center of darkness which he seemingly can’t escape. That is until he meets Anthony, a table, and a story that is over two thousand years old.  

En Route Books and Media is a Catholic publishing company based in St. Louis which specializes in all genres of Catholic literature. Being the outstanding publisher they are, En Route donates 10% of all profits to Pro Life causes!

  •   “The Table is an inspiring, soul-stirring and thought-provoking read. Lambert’s writing seamlessly transports the reader back to the early Church, giving insight and context most Christians lack but sorely need. The Table tackles many of life’s greatest themes and contextualizes them in the light of Christ. The story was fascinating, the characters intriguing and the story, compelling. I highly recommend this book and will be reading it again!” – Mark Hart, Executive Vice President, Life Teen, Best-Selling Catholic Author, Speaker and Radio Host  
  •  “Deacon Dennis Lambert’s The Table deftly and delightfully interweaves ancient and modern tales that uplift, edify, and entertain. Grab a cup of coffee, pick it up from your table, and prepare to be enthralled.” – Kevin Vost, Psy.D., author of books including Memorize the Mass!   
  •   “The Table is a gripping and beautiful story that displays the peculiarity of God’s plan and how He can bring all things together for good. Lambert creatively weaves a narrative that follows what one might call a conspiracy of grace that spans over two thousand years.  The Table serves as a reminder that our needs and God’s interest in drawing close to His people are the same as when He set His saving plan into motion through a family in a small town all those year ago.” – Ryan Hanning Ph.D, Asst. Professor of Catholic & Theological Studies University of Mary – Tempe
  • “A fascinating Christian legend with a matching contemporary drama, The Table will capture your heart and inspire your soul.” – Ronda Chervin, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy and Catholic Writer

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Catholic Puzzles: Word Games, and Brainteasers

Do you enjoy puzzles? Want to learn a bit more about your Catholic faith? If so, you'll love Matt Swaim's new books: Catholic Puzzles, Word Games, and Brainteasers, published by Ave Maria Press.

Types of puzzles included are code scrambles, crossword puzzles, cryptofamilies, word searches, syllacrostics, and much more. If you get stumped, the answers are in the back of the book.

This book would also be fun for a high school religious education or homeschool class.

Want to see a sample puzzle? You can download one here: Sample Catholic Puzzle

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Friday, August 04, 2017

My Summer Project - Natural History Illustration with

It was an impromptu decision. I saw an online EdX course on Natural History Illustration being offered through the University of Newcastle in Australia and decided to sign up. It dovetailed nicely with my New Year's Resolution to draw a little bit each day (a resolution that I've mostly been able to keep), plus it was something I wanted to learn more about. It was advertised as a class for people of any artistic experience level.

This turned out to be both much more interesting and challenging than I expected. I was blown away by the quality of the artworks produced and while I could keep up, every week's lesson and homework stretched me as an artist.

I've always had a realistic, but somewhat impressionistic style. I was never one to try to capture every detail in a drawing or painting, but this class required that. It is less about the beauty of the art and more about the accuracy of the rendering. I also learned a great deal about the structure of plants and the anatomy of birds and animals.

I just submitted my final project of a sunflower that is growing in my front yard (I love sunflowers!). I'm pleased with how it came out and I'm very glad that I decided to take this class. It's made for a great summer project.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The "Primal Wound" of Adoption

This is a recent conversation I had with my six-year-old adopted daughter. It’s important to note that this whole conversation was said with sadness, not attitude. She wasn’t having an “I hate you because you wouldn’t let me do something” moment. She was just being honest and hurting inside. 

“I wish I had never met you”
Me: “I know.”
“I miss my real mommy.”
Me: “I’m sorry,” and I hugged her while she cried.

My daughter was taken from her biological mother at birth (taken, not relinquished). I have been her mother since she was four months old and loved her and cared for her in every way. We are bonded, but that bond will never be as strong as the one she has with the woman who carried her for nine months. Being separated from her causes my daughter so much pain that it impacts almost every area of her life. 

I was incredibly ignorant about the pain of adoption, especially for a baby, before being thrust into the situation. I had two biological children who were ten and eight at the time. While not a perfect parent, I was fairly certain I could take care of a baby. Like many, even most, people, I thought that if a baby had a chance to bond with a primary caretaker while young enough, he or she would be fine. 

While the Department of Children and Families was very thorough about our home study and our fitness to be parents, they never discussed what we might be getting into. It wouldn’t have changed our mind, but understanding one’s child is a huge component of parenting. The majority of therapists don’t even understand the special issues that adoptive families and children often deal with. 

Instead, adoptive parents seek out others in similar situations hoping to find an empathetic ear. We are often judged harshly by others for our supposed lack of parenting skills and our children’s inappropriate behaviors. I get it. People don’t understand until they have walked in these shoes. I certainly didn’t. So, adoptive parents speak in quiet whispers to each other or in secret Facebook groups seeking support and advice. 

People, especially pro-life people, want adoption to be good, but the reality is that being adopted is always the child’s loss. Even the best adoptive parents can never replace the ones that the child has lost either through being given up, taken, or through death. Open adoptions can allow a child to have contact with their biological family, but these relationships are often fraught with challenges. My daughter misses her biological mother so much, yet whenever she sees her, the emotional fall-out is huge. Her barely scabbed over wound is ripped open. She doesn’t understand why she can’t be with her biological mom. There is no easy solution.

I just finished reading The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child by Nancy Newton Verrier. Every foster and adoptive parent as well as anyone who loves or works with an adopted child should read this book. It is based upon the author’s psychological work with adoptees as well as her own experience as both a biological and adoptive mother. Verrier shares:

What I discovered is what I call the primal wound, a wound which is physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual, a wound which causes pain so profound as to have been described as cellular by those adoptees who allowed themselves to go that deeply into their pain. I began to understand thus wound as having been caused by the separation of the child from his biological mother, the connection to whom seems mystical, mysterious, spiritual and everlasting.

Even when children cannot consciously remember being taken from their mother, their hearts remember that profound loss the rest of their lives. The book goes on to detail the way that grieving that loss is expressed in an adoptee’s behavior. While not advocating that a child remain in a dangerous situation, Verrier raises an important question, “What if the most abusive thing which can happen to a child is that he is taken from his mother?”

What does this mean for us who are pro-life and who encourage adoption rather than abortion? First of all, we need to recognize that adoption is not an easy answer. No one escapes unscathed from that separation – not the birth mother who has made a selfless decision, nor the child who is given up. We need to work as hard as we can to help mothers keep their children and to offer them whatever support they need to do that. In terms of taking children from their mothers due to unsafe situations, we need to truly have that be a rare situation. Once again, support, not separation, should be the goal.  

My daughter wishes she had never met me, and in a perfect world, she would not have. I pray every day for Jesus to heal her heart and to help me be the mother she needs. I know I can’t heal her wounds. Only God can do that, but I so wish that she never had been wounded in the first place.

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