Sunday, January 27, 2013

Grace Before Meals

I'm a big advocate of family mealtimes.  In fact, if you read my family blog, you will think all we do is eat.  It seems that way to the "head cook and bottle washer" too!

When we started building our home, Pepper was 15 months old and Sunshine was expected; we had just met her birthmother for the first time.  Our vision for our home included a kitchen in the middle so it could be the center of our family activity.  (Little did I know that it would also be the center of a racetrack.  Every toddler to enter our door immediately runs the full circle several times.)

Since moving in, family meals have been a priority and they are still the norm for our family.   Even in a household with two busy teens, we manage dinner all together several nights a week. When the girls were young, we started a family tradition that remains to this day and is much beloved by "the Littles."  Each person in turn "gets the floor" and they tell us three things about their day:  "What am I proudest of?", "What was hard for me today?" and "What would I have for a "do-over?"  We don't do this every night because with little kids, it's a little repetitive, but we do it so often that our conversations naturally steer themselves that way.  I think the important part about the table conversation was that from the time our oldest were small, we talked, personally, at the table.

You can imagine, then, how happy I was to learn about Father Patalinghug and his movement, Grace Before Meals. I first learned about Father Leo on a re-run of Bobby Flay's Throwdown.  Father Leo is all about the family table and in his book by the same name, he encourages families to gather at the table before a beautiful meal and share. He gives ideas for special days to celebrate and conversation starters for those special meals. He's so inspiring.

He's hilarious too. Corny, kitschy, kooky, however you say it, he's an enjoyable speaker.  We were fortunate today to have him celebrate a Mass at Saint Williams and even the little ones were laughing. Then later, he hosted a "family picnic" and demonstrated his famous Asian Fusion Fajitas.    This is the recipe with which he defeated superstar television chef Bobby Flay in his "Throwdown."  He spoke (and cooked) for nearly an hour about how this time together as a family is the absolute best way to keep the evil one at bay. He pointed out that many (secular) studies showed that kids in families who regularly eat dinner together are far less likely to use drugs, smoke, drink alchohol or join gangs. However, it wasn't only his cooking that inspired me although he has mad skills; it was his honoring of the family, of the Church and of the sacraments that had me at times laughing and at others, moved to tears.

I came away with a copy of his newest book, Spicing up Married Life, but more importantly with a renewed appreciation for the family table and the true value of what we are doing. I'm happy to know that we have a "televangelist" priest finding a new and innovative way to speak up for the family.  If you are not already familiar with Father Leo, I hope you will take time to check out his wonderful ministry and television series!

We pics of Pepper and I with Father Leo but can't seem to get them off the phone.  Oh well!  Maybe next time!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Facebook as a First Step to Advocacy

Yesterday, I attended daily mass which happened to also be a Mass for the National Day of Prayer and Penance.  I regret not having been better informed about this day in advance in order to have properly invited my family into observing this day with me.  On Tuesdays, I attend Mass with my 5 year old and it is our special time together.

Now for the confession: While I have for many years been opposed to legalized abortion, I have not been outspoken in my opposition to it. I've done little to affect change or even to open dialogue about it. If you know me, I'm more of a "doer" than a "debater." And I happen to know that at least half my friends around the world are pro-choice, and many are pro-euthanasia as well.

I hesitate because I know that it is a very complex issue; I know every case is different; I know that I have not "walked a mile in her shoes;" I know the issue is complicated by rape, incest, drugs, genetic disease and other things.  I also hesitate because, frankly, I have known I was infertile since I was 19 years old. A poorly timed pregnancy has never been a concern for me.

Nonetheless, Father Dean in his quiet way convicted me at that Mass. I felt moved to post something on my Facebook feed about it.  Here is what I said, verbatim:

As of today, I have 709 friends on Facebook. If you chose to unfriend me for what I say next, I understand, but I hope you will hear me out first. 

Today I am thinking about life. Today, at mass, I stood by Gabriel (age 5) who has been my greatest teacher (EVER). He was born at 27 weeks and though his odds weren't good, he not only survived, he thrived. He's a fighter. I looked at his sweet face and wondered, what if he had not survived to be born? What if his birthmother had chosen to end his life? Was she the perfect mother to him? No, but neither am I. Yet he is worthy of love and I cannot imagine my life without him or any of my precious children whose birthmothers were brave enough to carry them and bring them to birth.

I am constantly astounded that in the age of ultra sounds where parents can see their in utero baby just days after conception, we are still legally condoning killing hundreds on thousands of babies each year in the US alone. It breaks my heart.

I believe in the sanctity of ALL human life; I believe that the elderly, the frail, the immigrant, the disabled, people of all races and ethnicities, the poor, people who commit crimes and the unborn all deserve our respect and protection. They all deserve life and dignity.

If you don't agree with me, let's converse in person about it (my number is on my info) -- please do not send "poison darts" here on Facebook as that only results in further polarization. I do not have all the answers but I am interested in reconciliation. Let's talk.

I was astounded by the response, frankly.  Only two people responded in a way that could be considered "fighting words."  What resulted was an open-minded, open-hearted discussion about why people believe as they do.

In a later comment, I had the chance to state emphatically that I am not in any way pointing a finger at the women who have made this choice for themselves.  I am not here to judge or to condemn another person's past. I cannot imagine facing that tough decision and I have nothing but empathy for women who have found themselves in that position.

 It's my goal to open the dialogue -- to brainstorm, to open minds, to question -- in order that our country can put an end to this horrible legacy.  Yet, the discussion leaves me with more questions than answers.

 I do believe that outlawing abortion would lead to people seeking it in back rooms and unsafe conditions, and that has its own consequences. I think there are complicated instances in which a woman could see abortion as the only viable option.  If only there were a middle ground that right now seems impossible given the state of health care and the economic variables in our country. What if pro-life forces started with small steps and began with the most controversial abortions -- late term terminations -- and we worked at it piece by piece?

As well, we are far from having social support that can uphold women in crisis pregnancy; these supports are mostly only available through financially strapped non-profits.  We would need a stronger, faster, (possibly non-religious) and more efficient delivery system of support for mothers who chose to parent (against tough odds) and for those who made adoption plans.  Roe v Wade was upheld at the time when most adoptions were closed and the results were not so good for some of those kids. Adoption education would be an absolute necessity and in order to affect that education,  many more large scale studies on adoption must be done. I can tell you first hand that adoption is hard on kids. Is it better than being raised by an ill-equipped parent?  In many cases, but probably not in all cases. We have a lot of learning yet to do.

We are a fractured and itinerant society; it truly does "take a village" and we would need many kinds of healing to make such a support system viable. We're not even close.

Nonetheless, for many, the question seems to come down to one of life.  When does life begin?  At conception?  At 16 days after conception, when a heartbeat is visible on an ultra-sound?  Certainly by the second or third trimester, life is hard to deny.  This is an important question and one that will not be answered by shouting, picketing, name calling or bumper stickers. My experience through Gabriel Project was that once mothers saw an ultra sound of their child in utero, they saw a human life. Perhaps there is a way in here; perhaps federally funded clinics could be required to offer ultrasounds before a termination plan is made.  Pie in the sky, I know.  But it would be a step in the right direction.

For me, it's clear.  If we were in a war in which over 1000 (some say 1600) American lives were being lost every single day, the country would be up in arms. Even the quiet, non-political people (like me) would be involved. We would not stand for it. If I have learned one thing as a parent, it's this: I make mistakes, big ones. And when I do, it's "on me" to apologize, take back, rethink, reconsider and course-correct. I seriously doubt that those arguing in Roe v Wade ever dreamed their battle would lead us to where we are today. It is time -- high time -- that we said, "enough."

I am still discerning my part. What's yours?

(Post script -- after a lively discussion by dozens of my friends on Facebook and after about 20 hours, I still have 708 friends.  I am inspired by our ability to engage in civil and respectful discourse in a such a diverse group.  It gives me great hope!)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Hope for my Resolutions

Yesterday's readings reminded me that Jesus not only forgives my human weakness, he understands and has experienced it for himself:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been similarly tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help. (bold print mine)
Hebrews 4:15-16
. . . Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the religious, but sinners.
Mark 2:17b

These are perfect (of course!) readings for this season, nearly three weeks into a brand new year.  Almost three weeks after promises and resolutions were made and most, I suspect, like I, are struggling to say true. 

This year, at least, I know what I have not known before (at least not known it "in my bones"), it is not about will power. It is all about acknowledging my human weakness --my sin -- and availing myself of the abundant grace that is within reach and freely flowing. It is truly about washing myself in the stream of living water, the font of grace, that is always right here where I am. It is, in fact, "the river of life-giving water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb." 

It is available, flowing freely, the living water of God's grace and forgiveness.  At any moment in time, I can avail myself of it, splash in it, drink it in, immerse myself, bathe in it. The question then remains, "What am I waiting for?"

Friday, January 11, 2013

Epiphany Season Epiphany

I feel sad that the Christmas season is almost over.  It's a sense of letting go. The perennial question is, "How do I keep the sense of joy, connection and wonderment going through the year?" (Although it's very good the feasting has come to an end!)

When I dig a little deeper into that sadness, that reluctance, I think of a few things I love about our celebration of Christmas this year:

  • I love the way the house looks decorated for Christmas
  • I like the sense of celebration
  • I enjoy my own renewed dedication to the sacraments and my faith practices
  • I enjoy the break from so much running around to appointments and "kid stuff"
  • I treasure hearing from people with whom I am rarely in touch
  • I relish (tee-hee) preparing special meals (and feasts!)
  • I love the candles and theme of "light in the darkness" 
  • I focus more on altruism
The question then becomes, how can I create this at other times?  Thinking aloud, here is my short list of ideas:
  • Do something decorative in the house each month.  For example, this month I'm going to put some plants on the shelf behind where the Christmas tree now stands.
  • Have dinner in the dining room with the china every weekend
  • Continue attending daily mass and my morning practices which include meditation, scripture reading and journaling.  (I have actually already spent time with the calendar and three different parish bulletins to make this a reality.  I'm so blessed to live where I have 5 parishes within 15 miles of me!)
  • Consider what "running around" I can let go of; re-institute weekly "no driving" days.
  • Weekly, write a note (or last resort, an email) to someone who matters to me.
  • Keep the candles around and light them. Light the fireplace. Gather the family.  Enjoy! Savor!
  • Do a better job of keeping the holy water full. The kids love it!
  • Like at Christmas, making a family effort, at least monthly to give a gift of time, talent or treasure to someone in need.  Right now, in fact, I know a family who could use some meals.
My task now -- right now, in fact -- is to calendar these items so that they actually occur.  Even if I need to reschedule them, they will remain in mind.  

It can't be Christmas every day but I can keep the spirit alive in our home and in me. I want the feast days to stand out -- to be a contrast to every day life -- but they don't have to be as much of a contrast as they have been.  I remember as a child, things of faith -- primarily sitting in church -- seemed like work to me. I want to bring more of the joy of our faith into our home; I want the kids to have the "fun" of it, so to speak.  

If you have any ideas on keeping the spirit of Christmas alive in your home, please share!