Saturday, 31 March 2012

Sin Starts With Me

I can remember looking at my newborn son in the NICU, his little body pierced by tubes and needles, connected to his life support system, and thinking, “Thomas, you are suffering because of sin.” A day later, I knew sin had caused his death.
My baby didn’t die as a result of a sinful act. He wasn’t the victim of violence or evil. He died a natural death caused by a health problem: Thomas was born with lungs too small for independent breathing and so he could never have lived. So why did I think my son died because of sin?
As I watched Thomas’ chest inflating and deflating, a machine taking the place of his inadequate lungs, I thought about what should have been, what would have been… if sin had not entered the world and upset the balance of nature. There would have been no disease, no pain, no newborn babies fighting for their lives, no mothers sorrowing, no tears, no death.
But there is sin and Thomas did die and I suffered.
I have always been a reader and I searched for books to help me cope with my sorrow. But in those early weeks of grief, I found it difficult to concentrate. Every time I opened a book and started to read, my mind almost instantly drifted away. The words were just a blur on the page. And then one day I picked up a book called Looking for Peace? Try Confession by Mary Ann Budnik. From the very first page, the words grabbed my attention.

A book on confession? I would never have imagined such a book could have helped me, a bereaved parent. But it did.
It’s been 12 years since I read that book and so the details have faded. But I do remember how engaging and easy the book was to read, and how it re-ignited that dying spark: my interest in life. Perhaps the book made me realise that the problem of evil in the world can only be put right by each and every one of us taking responsibility for our own sin.
I thought about Thomas dying in a world upset by sin and Jesus dying on the cross because of sin… and I didn’t want to sin. I also didn’t want to suffer but I realised that I was able to offer my sufferings to God, and this gave them value and helped me bear them. I knew I could unite my sufferings with those of Jesus to atone for sin.
Looking for peace? Yes, I wanted to find peace.
I still struggle with sin. I know it will be a lifetime battle. But I did find peace. I found it in an unexpected place. I found peace in the confessional, in the sacrament of reconciliation.
The above paragraphs form a post I wrote yesterday for the Apostolate of Hannah’s Tears blog. Since I published them I have been thinking…
I think back to those early months of grief. I felt so tied to God. I couldn’t survive without Him. He was my only hope. I wanted to love God with all my heart. I wanted to be a saint.
I still do love God and want to be a saint but little things have slipped between me and God.  Maybe I think I no longer need Him as much as I did. Maybe I am not quite as horrified by sin as I was when I looked down at my son who died because of sin, or when I looked up at Jesus who died for my sins on the cross... when I begged Him to save me.
There is so much sin in the world. We are fighting so many evils with prayer and by active means. But sometimes I forget that conquering sin is more than signing petitions or joining prayer chains. It needs to start with me… in the confessional.
God of mercy and compassion,
Look with pity upon me,
Father, let me call Thee Father,
'Tis Thy child returns to Thee.

Jesus, Lord, I ask for mercy;
Let me not implore in vain;
All my sins, I now detest them,
Never will I sin again.

By my sins I have deserved
Death and endless misery,
Hell with all its pains and torments,
And for all eternity.

Jesus, Lord, I ask for mercy;
Let me not implore in vain;
All my sins, I now detest them,
Never will I sin again.

By my sins I have abandoned
Right and claim to heav'n above.
Where the saints rejoice forever
In a boundless sea of love.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Part of the Pack

Last week:

We slide open the backdoor and step outside and then we stop. It’s still dark. Summer has gone and the sun is rising later and later.

“It’ll soon be light,” I reassure the girls and we continue walking down to the park.

“Look! A full moon!” Charlotte cries. We are walking down to the park to go running under a full moon.

“How many mothers would let their children get up at an hour when everyone else is still tucked up in bed, and go running in the dark?” I ask. “How many children get to run under a full moon?” We are adventurous. We are runners. We are The Team.

We drop our water bottles on the bench and march off into the bush.

“We need some of those lights you wear on your head,” someone observes. But we manage.

After a couple of laps the sky starts to lighten.

“Look at that!” I cry. Is the bush on fire? No. It's the sun rising behind the gum trees. It's a glorious sight.

I may not be running as far as I'd like but I am with my girls. I am part of the team. We are out in the bush at daybreak, witnessing a beautiful sunrise.

And that feels very special.

This morning:

We leave home a few minutes later than normal. The sun is already rising. We drop our bottles and head into the bush.

I run a lap, and one lap turns into two. Two laps turn into two and a half... and I feel wonderful. I've never run so far. I take a short break and then run another lap and another. I am satisfied. That was a good run. I decide to walk a cool-down lap.

The girls run past me and suddenly I don’t want to walk. I decide to tuck in behind them and run one more lap. We run over the sand, past the ocean and the pyramid, round the bend and along the flat, up the steep slope and along the straight. Our starting point comes into sight and I am still with the girls. We swing around the trees and back to our water bottles: one lap completed. But I don’t stop. 

“I won’t run much further with you,” I tell the girls. 

A lap later I am still running. We weave in and out of the trees, our feet pounding along rhythmically. We come to a puddle and form a single file and then we spread out again. The girls glance over their shoulders. I am still with them. I am still part of the pack. 

"I can't run much further," I pant to the girls.

But I head back down the track with the pack for another lap. Finally I slow down and let the girls continue without me. Wow! Do I feel good!

“Did you see me run?” I ask the girls as we head home.

“You did so well, Mum!” They smile indulgently at me. I grin back.

“4.8 kms and I hardly walked any of it!” I am on a high. I can almost taste that I-Can-Run-Forever Feeling. I am going to get there. I just know it.

I love getting up early and starting each day with the girls. I love stumbling down the tracks in the dark, watching the sun rise, working hard together, sharing our progress, encouraging each other... I'm part of the team. And now... I’m also part of the pack.

And that feels very special.

Another running story? I couldn't help myself. I am still smiling as I think of this morning's run. I want to remember my excitement forever. 

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

How Children Learn According to Sophie

I've been pondering how children learn. So has Sophie...

Sophie: If you want to learn something you have to be interested in it... like the elephants I was reading about today. That was really interesting and I remember so much.

Sue: What happens if you're not interested?

Sophie: Then it all goes straight out the door. You don't absorb it.

Sue: Can you learn something like times tables even if it's not interesting?

Sophie: Yes, because you can use those.

Sue: So you can learn things that are needed?

Sophie: Yes. I use my time tables all the time. They're really useful for telling the time - the five times tables, you know. Then I use them for calculating money... Did you know you can use multiplication to do additions? And you can multiply back to front. Actually, times tables are very interesting.

Sue: Interesting and needed?

Sophie: Yes. I didn't used to think they were interesting. It depends on how you learn them. There's some really boring ways of learning maths... like workbooks.

I guess Sophie and I came to the same conclusion: 

Children will learn what they need to know or what they find interesting, and sometimes what they need to know actually turns out to be far more interesting than they first thought. I never pointed out the advantages of learning times tables to Sophie. She discovered these for herself. She's been doing a lot of thinking... 

... just like me. And I'm thinking that I can read all the books about education I like but I'll probably discover far more about how children learn by observing and listening to my own children.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

My 'Bad' Homeschooling Days

Some years ago I offended a friend.  She was telling me about her bad homeschooling day. I should have offered some empathy but I didn’t. Before I could stop myself, I tactlessly suggested the problem might lie with the mother rather than her children. I regretted my words instantly when I saw my friend’s upset face. Later I returned with a huge bunch of flowers and apologised profusely and my friend forgave me and all was put right.

So why did I judge the situation so wrongly? I suppose I assumed the friend was like me.

I used to have an awful lot of bad days. On those days all my children wanted my attention at the same time, the baby cried, the toddler whined, everyone bickered, no one did anything without arguing or delaying for as long as possible... A heavy weight pressed down on my head and I wanted to scream and run away. I wanted to run away from all of my children who always chose the exact same day to be out of sorts. Why did they do that?

But one day I realised something. Perhaps all of my children weren’t out of sorts all at once. Maybe it was me that wasn't feeling my best. Have you ever noticed how a mother’s mood sets the tone for the whole day?

I decided that most bad days occurred when I was feeling overtired. I could handle a bit of whining and crying and noise on an ordinary day, even a child or two who were not feeling like their usual selves, but when I was extra tired it didn’t take much to turn me into a dragon mother without any patience at all.

Two things made the situation worse. Firstly, I blamed the children for being slow, noisy, demanding... which made them just as upset as me… and secondly I ploughed on with my day regardless of how we were all feeling. Why did I find it so hard to let go and admit I needed an ‘easy’ day? Perhaps I was afraid every day would end up being an ‘easy’ day and we’d never get anything done.

These days we don’t have babies and toddlers in the family but I still get overtired. On days when my head is hurting and I’m not feeling my best, I try and admit it. I don’t carry on in a vain attempt to be the perfect mother. I try to arrange a relaxed day and maybe do something for myself. Does it really matter if we have a day when all we do is read books, or draw, or write blog posts or watch some DVDs or go for a walk or even sleep? The things I’d hoped to do with my girls or the things they were hoping I’d help them with… they can wait until another time. I suppose it's all to do with abandoning myself to the circumstances of each day.

I am aware we have an advantage over many homeschoolers. We don’t have a curriculum that is guiding us, a curriculum that has to be kept up with. I don’t make plans. Every day’s learning is a bit of an adventure and so it’s easy for us to be flexible about how we spend our time.  Learning is just part of our life and it doesn’t stop even when I am tired and we have a slow day. I have discovered that learning occurs on every sort of day... every sort of day except those that are filled with yelling mothers and unhappy children.

All we learn on those days is how much we hate bad days.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Multiplying Potatoes and Other Surprises

“What shall we have for dinner tonight?” I ask the girls.

“Well… there are lots of potatoes. We could have shepherd’s pie,” suggests Imogen.

Gemma-Rose gets out her fabulous orange top-of-the-line potato peeler and starts peeling, and later we enjoy a delicious shepherd’s pie.

The next day I ask, “Any ideas for dinner, girls?”

“We could make a chicken curry and add plenty of sweet potato and potato,” suggests Sophie licking her lips.

Gemma-Rose again peels a mountain of potato with her trusty peeler, and we enjoy a spicy chicken and potato curry.

Of course, I ask the usual dinner question the next day.

“How about fish and mashed potato?”  This is one of Gemma-Rose’s favourite meals.

“Have we got enough potato?”

Charlotte checks the pantry. “Plenty!”

Plenty? Haven’t we eaten our whole supply yet? I shrug my shoulders and Gemma-Rose starts peeling.

A few days later we are still eating potatoes. I vaguely wonder if there is a never-ending supply. But I shrug my shoulders without thinking too much more about it, and peel and cook and enjoy. Eventually we eat so many potatoes I can’t help thinking about them. Why do we have so many potatoes when I can’t remember buying any? Are they multiplying as fast as we are eating them? I can’t work it out.

And suddenly the answer pops into my head. Why didn't I work it out sooner?

When Duncan arrives home from work, I ask, “Do you know anything about potatoes, a never-ending supply of potatoes?”

Duncan grins.  A huge smile lights up his whole face. “I wondered how long it would take you to mention the potatoes. I’ve been buying them from a road-side stall that I pass on the way to work.” He laughs with evident enjoyment.

Duncan is famous for his surprises. He likes to arrange special moments for the rest of the family, ones that will bring a smile to our faces or some joy to our day. He likes to use his amazing power.

It is the evening and the girls are wondering what to do. Duncan appears. “You could watch this… and eat these…” He hands the girls a DVD and a bag of chocolates he’s bought for them.

“Oh Duncan! You’re such a wonderful big brother!”

 I walk into the lounge. On the table is a vase of lilies. “How long have they been there?” I wonder. I catch sight of Callum. “Did you buy me flowers?” I ask.

I can see him thinking about it: Did I? I sometimes buy Mum flowers . Yes, perhaps I did. “Well… um… yes,” he starts to say.

“No you didn’t!"  Duncan appears in the doorway. His voice is indignant but he has a huge grin on his face. He’s the secret flower buyer. It’s another of Duncan’s Magical Moments.

Andy and I and the girls spend the afternoon at my parents’ house. We arrive home hungry and tired and no one feels like cooking dinner. On the kitchen bench is a note: “Dinner’s in the fridge. Help yourself. Love Duncan.” He has surprised us again.

Duncan is second in line, one of our adult children. Many people assume he is shy. But inside that quiet exterior is a surprising person. Duncan finished his arts degree last year and although he has been working a few casual jobs, he hasn’t yet found full time work. It isn’t easy, especially as we live in a small community away from the city.

Does God have something special in mind for him?

We keep praying and trusting…

We hope it will be something surprising. We hope Duncan, who spends so much time arranging magical moments for other people, will receive one of his own.

Does anyone else have young adults who are trying to find their place in the world? 

Monday, 19 March 2012

Finding Meaning in a Baby's Death

“I’ve been able to accept Thomas’ death but I just can’t imagine how any good can come out of it,” I told Tanya, the leader of a local grief support group.

“Good coming out of a baby’s death? I will never believe any good can come from a baby dying,” declared Tanya.

I thought, “Something good must come out of so much pain. Otherwise my son’s death is meaningless. He died for nothing and I will never be able to make any sense of it.” I also wondered how someone who hadn’t been able to find any meaning in her own child’s death, even after five years, could help me.

Tanya interrupted my thoughts. “You’re the only mother in the local area that’s lost a baby recently. Normally we only hold meetings when we have several or more grieving parents who need support.”

Two babies would have to die before support meetings would be scheduled.  I didn’t want two more babies to die. I didn’t want two more local mothers sorrowing over the loss of their children. But I did need someone to talk to, someone who knew all about the throbbing pain in my heart.

But two more babies did die.  

And one Tuesday evening three bereaved mothers, the group leader and a social worker gathered in a dismal old meeting room at the back of the hospital. A few chairs were placed in a circle around a box of tissues.

“Shall we share our stories?” asked Tanya. “My son died in the womb a few days before he was due. I’d been out to dinner and I contracted food poisoning. My baby was stillborn…”

“I’m Angela. My baby was born prematurely at 22 weeks due to an incompetent cervix. We called her Lily. She was our first child…”

“My name is Katherine. My daughter failed to thrive during pregnancy. My doctor advised us to abort her but I hoped… At about 6 months, I gave up hope. It was obvious my baby wasn’t growing. The doctor induced her birth. I didn’t want her to suffer any more…”

“Hi, I’m Sue. Thomas had a diaphragmatic hernia which allowed many of his internal organs to pass through the diaphragm and enter the lung cavity. There was no room for his lungs to grow. He died after 28 hours…”

Tissue after tissue was pulled out of the box. So much sorrow filled that small room. So much darkness. So little hope.

We met again the next month. We once again took our seats around the box of tissues. We told our stories all over again. And the next month… Every month was the same. We went round and round in circles. No one moved forward. There was so much pain and so little hope. How were we to reach healing?

Occasionally one of the women would express the longing for another child. Would this help us? Perhaps, but what if we weren’t blessed with more children? Would we never heal? And what if another child didn't take away the pain?

I wanted to break away from our never-ending retellings of our stories. I wanted to search for meaning. I knew the answer to healing lay in God but no one mentioned Him. I found myself talking about Him anyway, putting forward ideas, offering suggestions, … and I realised I was taking over and leading the group which wasn’t my place, nor was it wanted. I drew back and stayed quiet.

One evening I came home from the group and told Andy, “I’m not going back. That was my last meeting. I’m tired of sitting around in a circle talking about the same things. We’re not getting anywhere. I want to move on. I can’t sit still, drowning in misery forever. I can’t live like this much longer. I want to smile again.” I had made a conscious step towards healing.

I knew I had to make a little sense of the whole situation before I could heal properly. And I found myself mulling over so many questions to do with suffering and trust and God.

Did I believe that God was looking after me? Could I trust Him with my life? Was His plan for my life better than my own? If the answer was yes then I had to accept what He was allowing. I had to accept the pain I was feeling and trust that God would bring me through it all to a place of healing.

But if God loves us so very much why does He allow us to suffer?  Does suffering have any value? I thought about Jesus dying for us on the cross. He suffered for love of us and yes, His suffering has infinite value. But ours? Could we unite our pain with His? Could we also suffer with love? Was my suffering going somewhere and was it not meaningless at all? And is suffering actually necessary? Could it be that there is no other way to reach Heaven than by the cross? Was suffering changing me?

I stopped fighting the pain and tried to accept it. It wasn’t easy. At times I felt completely abandoned and bowed down with the weight of suffering. Some days I hung on to my trust only with my finger-tips. Some days I let go completely and fell into that deep pit of near despair.  There were times when I didn’t want to get back up onto my feet and keep plodding along. But I did. I knew I had no other choice. I kept repeating, “Jesus, I trust in You”, even when I wasn’t sure I did.  I put one foot in front of the other, offering up all the heart-ache of each day, hoping that God would help me. And He did. Eventually I came out the other side.

Sometimes I think about Tanya, Angela and Katherine and the question, "Can any good come out of a baby dying?" Did they go searching for their own answers to this question? And were they eventually able to answer, "Yes," like me?

If we can't answer yes, how can we accept fully what God allowed? How can we have hope? How can we heal properly? 

To say, "I will never believe any good can come out of a baby's death," is to believe our babies lived and died all for nothing, that their short lives were meaningless. And to me, that doesn't make any sense at all.

I found the book "Abandonment to Divine Providence" by Fr de Caussade invaluable as I learnt to accept my suffering, and trust in God. 

There are many posts full of hope at The Apostolate of Hannah's Tears blog.

The BeNotAfraid Facebook page also has many helpful posts for those facing a difficult prenatal diagnosis or those who are grieving after the loss of a child.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

A Few Deaths, an Epilogue and Heaps of English

Scene 1: Family room

Sophie and Gemma-Rose are sitting together at a computer, reading

Sue enters the room

Sophie: (looking excited) Mum, look at this! Can I do this… please?

Sue looks over Sophie’s shoulder

Sue: Script Frenzy?

Sophie: Yes, it’s another writing month like NaNoWriMo. This time we have one month to write a script.

Sue: (reading from the computer screen) "Script Frenzy is an international writing event in which participants attempt the creatively daring feat of writing an entire script in the month of April. For 30 days, you get to let your imagination take over and create the film, TV show, play, or graphic novel of your dreams!"

Sophie: Can I register please?

Gemma-Rose: Me too!

Sue: What will you write?

Sophie: I want to write a play… like Shakespeare.

Gemma-Rose: Me too!

Sophie: Mine will be a romance.

Gemma-Rose: I’m going to write a tragedy. Everyone will die just like in Hamlet… I’ll have to think of some good ways of dying.

Sophie: Perhaps you’d better let one person live. You’ll need someone to read the epilogue.

Gemma-Rose: If you write a romance like Romeo and Juliet, you can have some of your characters die too.

 Sophie: I’m going to write my play the Shakespeare way without stage directions.

Sue: Then you’ll have to make sure the directions are obvious from the words.

Imogen and Charlotte enter the room

Sue: Are you going to do Script Frenzy too?

Imogen: Oh yes! Charlotte and I are going to write a musical.

Charlotte: We’re going to write a Gilbert and Sullivan.

Sue: Will your musical have a magic lozenge in it?

Imogen: (looking delighted with this suggestion) It might do. It hasn’t been done yet even though Gilbert kept trying to put a magic lozenge into each of his operettas. Sullivan always protested. He didn’t like the idea.

Sue: Will you compose music to go with your play?

Imogen: I might. I’ll write the words first and then see about the music.

Charlotte:  We can be writing buddies and work together. I’m going to work on the play and Imogen is going to write the songs.

Sue: So you’ll be Gilbert and Immy will be Sullivan.

Imogen and Charlotte smile

Scene 2: Lounge room, later the same day.

Andy: Where are the girls?

Sue: They’re all doing Script Frenzy research.

Andy: Script Frenzy?

Sue: They’re all going to write a script for a play or a musical during April, more NaNoWriMo…

Gemma-Rose appears

Gemma-Rose: I’m making a script writing workbook. I'm writing notes for my play and I need some good names for my characters. I want them to be unusual.

Sue: Athanasius?

Gemma-Rose: (looking very pleased) Perfect! How do you spell it?

Andy opens his computer

Sue: What are you doing?

Andy: Preparing tomorrow’s lessons for my school students. I need some ideas for English.

Sue: Don’t you wish you could do Script Frenzy with your class?

Andy smiles at the idea

Sue: (trying not to look smug and not succeeding) I don’t need to prepare any lessons. My students have sorted out everything for themselves. They will be doing heaps of English next month and I didn't need to organise a thing.

Andy: All right! All right! Don’t rub it in. You’ve got it easy. If you were teaching my students…

Imogen appears

Imogen:  Mum, do you want to do Script Frenzy with us? You only have to write 100 pages of script in 30 days.

Sue: I don’t know if I’m interested in script writing.

Sue looks thoughtful for a few seconds

Sue: I know what I’ll do. I’ll write my next blog post as a script. I can then say I tried scriptwriting.

Sue turns on her computer and starts writing

Later… reading what she's written

Sue: I’m hopeless at script writing. This is such a boring script (and post). Would a bottle of poison, a few rapiers, some unusually named characters and a song liven it up? A few deaths and an epilogue? A romance?... 

... Perhaps I should do Script Frenzy after all. I might learn something.

Sue follows the link to the Script Frenzy website

Sue: (thinking) This could be fun!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

What Fred Taught Me About Love

Each morning after Mass,  Fred would follow us out of the church.

“How’s my girls?” he’d ask and then he’d grin at my daughters and say, “You’re the only girlfriends Laura will let me have!” They’d smile. They liked being Fred’s girlfriends. 

We loved Fred Allan. He had a lot of time for our family. Whenever we met up, he was never too busy to stop and chat.

“I'm a convert like you,” he told me one day. “Laura’s a cradle Catholic. Many years ago when we were courting, we attended some marriage preparation classes. But there was something Laura didn't know. The priest was preparing us for marriage but he was also giving me secret lessons about the Faith. The week before our wedding, Laura and I went to Mass together. When it came time for Communion, I stood up and approached the altar and Laura kept whispering frantically, ‘Fred, you can’t come up for Communion!’ and I whispered back, ‘Yes, I can! I’m a Catholic!” Fred laughed out loud as he remembered that once-in-a-lifetime moment. “You should have seen Laura’s face!”

I thought about that story for a long time.  I know I couldn’t have arranged such a surprise for Andy. On the day I entered the Church, Andy was standing right beside me, just where I wanted him. I could never have kept such a secret from him. But Fred was different. He could keep things to himself. And then later enjoy the surprise.

“How’s that daughter of yours, the one who entered the convent?” he asked one day. I confided how difficult I sometimes found having a daughter who was technically not my daughter any more. Fred listened intently.

Before we parted, he said, “You and Andy are doing a great job with your family. You have such a great love for each other. I can see that. You and Andy have something very special. You’re not like me and Laura.” I floated home with my head in the clouds. Andy and I could do anything together. I was absolutely certain about that. Weren’t we bound together by a unique love that would see us through any difficulty?

Later I told Andy about Fred’s words. “Well, if Fred says we have a very special love, perhaps we do,” he grinned. "Maybe we're not doing so badly after all."

Several years ago we moved to a village outside town, and discovered Fred and Laura lived only one street away from us. One day Andy and I went for a stroll together up to the village shops. We met Fred getting out of his car.

“When Laura and I were younger, like you two, we’d walk up here all the time.” Fred waved his walking stick in the air. “But I can’t walk very far anymore. Now I have to drive.”

That was the first time I’d noticed Fred was getting frail. But he was still cheerful. He didn’t complain about the walking stick. He just made the most of it.

“I met Mr Allan up at the shops,” announced Callum. “He’s dangerous. He has a new weapon!” Fred may have been an old man but he could hold his own with teenage boys. “Mr Allan chased me out of the shop with his walking stick.” Callum laughed. Fred knew how to have fun with the kids.

About 18 months ago, I was in the village post office. While I was waiting to be served, I glanced at the community notice board and read:

The funeral of Fred Allan will be held at St Michael’s Church on Thursday at 11 am…

It was Friday. Fred had been buried the day before. I stood in the queue not believing what I’d read. How could Fred be dead? Had he been sick? I’d seen him only a few weeks ago and he’d looked as lively and as cheerful as ever.

I asked the post mistress about the notice: “Did you know Fred Allan? Do you know what happened?”

“Fred had cancer. It was discovered only recently. It had already spread to all parts of his body. He might have lived a little longer if Laura hadn’t been involved in a car accident.”

Laura had been nursing Fred at home. One night she needed to drive into town. On the way out of the village, she was overtaken by an impatient driver on a narrow dangerous section of road. With nowhere to go, Laura drove straight into the cutting. The rescue team cut her from her vehicle and she was taken by helicopter to hospital.

There was no one at home to look after Fred so he was also admitted to hospital – a different hospital to Laura.  When Laura was finally released from hospital she came home to an empty house… and a life without Fred. Fred had died while she was recovering from her accident. She never got to say goodbye to her husband.

“How is Laura?” I asked.

“Laura is devastated. She and Fred were soul mates, you know. They were everything to each other. They had a very special love. Fred couldn’t live without Laura. I don’t know how Laura will live without Fred.”

 I remembered Fred’s words to me: “You and Andy have something very special. You’re not like me and Laura.” Fred certainly knew all about real love, so why did he say such a thing? And why didn’t I realise the truth of the situation?

I guess I wanted to believe Fred’s words about our love being unique. I wanted to believe we had something no one else had. And Fred wanted me to believe that too. He was quite willing to keep a low profile and let Andy and I be the shining stars in order to encourage us. Yes, Fred knew all about love. Love sometimes means keeping quiet, not making comparisons, not talking about ourself, not singing of our own achievements but instead taking an interest in others, putting them first, making them feel special, telling them what a great job they're doing...

The last time I spoke to Fred we were chatting about our homes. “I could tell you a few stories about your house!” he declared, his eyes sparkling. For some reason, he didn’t elaborate. Maybe we were distracted by something. I assumed we’d return to that subject another day. But time ran out. What would Fred have told me? What would he have surprised me with? I often wonder but I’ll never know.

It took a long time for me to get used to the idea I'd never bump into Fred unexpectedly ever again, never hear another of his surprising stories or see him smile. Yes, he has gone. But there is something that will stay with me forever: what he taught me about love.

In real life, I can try to put into practice what I learnt about love. But "Love sometimes means keeping quiet, not making comparisons, not talking about ourself, not singing of our own achievements but instead taking an interest in others, putting them first, making them feel special, telling them what a great job they're doing..." seems very much at odds with the blogging world. Is it possible to reconcile the two?

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Problem with Unapproved Visions and Private Revelations

Once upon a time I was fascinated by apparitions, visions, private revelations… When I entered the Church as a new Catholic, I didn't realise this world of supernatural happenings existed. When I found out about them, I was excited. I couldn’t read enough about such places as Medjugorje, and I soaked up book after book of ‘end times’ prophesies.  Jesus and Mary are appearing here on earth today with important messages for us? I was hooked.  I was drawn away from the 'ordinary' towards the spectacular.

A friend began to worry about me: “The Church hasn’t given its verdict about the messages of Medjugorje. They might all be a hoax. Don’t you think it would be better to ignore them, at least for the moment?”

“Ignore them? A hoax? How could they be a hoax? You only have to look at the fruits of Medjugorje. Thousands and thousands of people have turned back to God because of those messages. You can judge a work by its fruits,” I insisted.

My friend thought for a moment. “What will happen to the faith of those people if the Church decides the visions are not from God?” she asked. “How will they feel if they find out their faith is built on nothing but a hoax? I guess Satan will be laughing. Or what if it’s all just one big money making exercise?  Medjugorje certainly is a big business.

“And look at all the people who are taking matters into their own hands. There is nothing wrong with going to Medjugorje but what about all the official pilgrimages led by priests? Are some people refusing to be guided by the Church? And some people are saying that if the Church doesn’t approve the visions, they will ignore that verdict. That’s disobedience. That will weaken the Church.

“Now I’m not saying any of these reasons explains Medjugorje. I’m just musing… We can’t possibly understand the situation. That’s why we have to leave the judgement to the Church.”

“But what if these are warnings and messages from God? We can’t just ignore them. What is the point of God going to all the trouble of giving us messages if we don’t pay attention? For example, what if we aren’t prepared for the ‘end times’?”

My friend had an answer: “Don't you trust the Church will tell us all we need to know? God speaks through the Church. We don’t need to go elsewhere for information. All that the 'end times' revelations are doing is causing a lot of worry about the future. Could it be the Devil wants us to be anxious and start despairing about what lies ahead? And Medjugorje? If those messages are authentic the Church will tell us in time. Then we can read about them. Until then, we should just ignore everything and let the Church look after us. That’s the way God works.”

Deep down I suppose I saw the sense of my friend’s words but I was still reluctant to let go of something that was so full of interest and so out of the ordinary. I didn’t want to wait for the Church’s decision. I didn’t want to be guided by the Church. I wanted to make up my own mind. And I wondered: if the Church declares Medjugorje to be a hoax would I accept that? I had a dangerous thought: I might consider ignoring the verdict. 

Then a supernatural experience occurred that involved another dear friend, our unborn baby Thomas and me. I wrote about this in my story, The Miracle. There is no doubt something occurred at a healing service my friend attended. What happened and where did the supernatural experience come from? It could have been from God. I am quite open to that idea. But even so, I think I should have ignored it. I interpreted the experience wrongly and I ended up confused, hurt, angry with God…  

After that experience, I rethought visions, apparitions and private revelations and decided to stay well away. They were the Church’s concern, not mine. I returned to reading the Bible, the catechism, the encyclicals, the writings of the saints... There is plenty of helpful spiritual reading available without stepping into the possibly dangerous waters of private revelations.

These days I steer clear of any unapproved visions. There are plenty of Church approved ones I could contemplate if I want to: Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Divine Mercy... Yes, I do realise God does still send us messages in the hope of drawing us all back to Him. But I don’t believe, even the approved visions, are an essential of our Faith. They reveal nothing new, even if they might "help (us) live more fully... in a certain period of history." Maybe if we were living our lives as God intends, we wouldn’t need any visions at all.

I no longer go looking for the spectacular and the out of the ordinary. I don’t need to. I have already found it in a safe place, inside the Church. All I need to do is contemplate Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The gift He has given us and the extent of His love for us is truly an incomprehensible mystery.

Isn’t that enough of a miracle for anyone? 

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Handwriting Matters or Maybe it Doesn't

Some of my children have beautiful handwriting and some don’t.

“What are you going to do when you go to university? Your tutor won’t spend time trying to decipher your essays. If he can’t read them, you’ll fail.”

My eldest children went to university. “Handwritten assignments aren’t accepted, Mum. See, I didn’t need good handwriting after all!”

So I was wrong. Times have changed. Good typing skills are now more valuable than beautiful handwriting. Even I don’t handwrite much these days. I type most things. So how can I insist my children acquire a skill they don’t see me using? Mostly my children type their stories and blog posts just like I do.

But at some point they have all decided that they’d like to learn cursive writing regardless. Usually they notice a friend can do ‘running’ writing and they want to be able to do the same. Maybe cursive writing makes them feel more grown up. And then I offer to show them how…

I have taught my children the basics of ‘running’ writing in a very relaxed manner which probably accounts for the fact some of them have less than perfect handwriting! No one liked using handwriting workbooks. And no one, especially me, liked the Foundation font, used in those books.

All I do is write a few sentences on a page: the more interesting the words, the better. After showing my children how to form the letters and join them together, they then copy them out.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have children with perfect handwriting?  I imagine someone saying: “Wow! Your children write so beautifully!” I can just see the big satisfied smile on my face. I feel so proud of my children and my teaching methods… but that’s all a dream. I have let go of all that. These days I try not to fuss and nag and criticise. I have learnt not to insist on perfection. I have decided that handwriting can always be improved if they ever decide there’s a need.

But if anyone does want help, I am there with suggestions and I am always on the lookout for useful resources to strew in their pathway…

The other day I found something I’d never seen before: adhesive clear sheets with guide lines for practising handwriting.  I bought a pack plus a clipboard to stick one to. Then I waved the board in Gemma-Rose’s general direction.

“What’s that?”

“It’s something to practise cursive writing on.”

“Cursive writing? Could you show me how to do that?”

I wrote ‘Gemma’ on a line using a fine-pointed black white-board marker, showing Gemma-Rose how to form each letter and join them up. A little while later she had a whole page of ‘Gemmas’.
A day later and she wanted to know how to write ‘Rose’.

There were three adhesive sheets in the packet. When Sophie realised this, she asked if she could have one. “If I had a sheet and a clipboard and a marker like Gemma-Rose, I could improve my handwriting,” she said.

So for a few days my youngest girls have been writing away. Soon Gemma-Rose should be able to write cursively and maybe Sophie’s writing will become more presentable. And I won’t have had to nag her once about her messy writing. 

I just love self-motivated learning, don't you?

So does handwriting matter? Perhaps I will come to regret my relaxed attitude. Is beautiful handwriting a skill worth insisting on? What do you think?

In case anyone is interested, I bought the adhesive handwriting sheets in Big W for $10 

Here's an interesting link: Sandra Dodd talking about Cursive, Unschooling, Change, Musings