Monthly Archives: February 2009

Living the Story

“Mom, can you tell me the story of Monsters, Inc?”

Crap. It’s not that I don’t enjoy telling my son stories.  I do. But the middle part of Monsters, Inc confuses me. It’s the part where I normally get up to go through mail or start dinner or talk to my mother, so I just don’t know it as well.  And now, we’ve reached a developmental milestone that includes getting corrected when you get the story wrong.  (For instance, do not try to tell my child that King Darius threw Daniel in the lions’ den… it was his soldiers.)  So, no offense to Pixar, but this is not my favorite to retell.

In general, though, it’s been really fun to see Isaac get into stories.  It’s hard to think back to the days just a couple of years ago when I would feel like an idiot sitting with my kid reading books with one word per page that were over his head.  Now he can’t get enough.  Cars, the Incredibles,  Looney Tunes and Veggie Tales, “hero” Bible stories, and even family stories are fascinating for him.  We spent many dinners in a row recounting the time Daddy broke his arm or “did lots of things” around his neighborhood growing up.  And he doesn’t just like to hear them. We have to “play” them.  In a very tangible way, running around fighting bad guys or blowing out his tires, he lives out the stories he loves. (Currently, we are calling our child “Dash”. Dash, of the Incredibles, is almost as fast as Lightning McQueen. Or is he faster? A preschool dilema.)

As adults, we don’t just get tired of the cartoon of the week (or month, or year) from reading or watching them ad nauseum with our kids.  We often get tired of our own favorite stories. How sad for us.  We roll our eyes at that story being told again at the dinner party, or skip past the reruns.  And saddest of all is when we settle ourselves down into the pew and tune out because “we’ve heard this story before.”

I spent the better part of today reading the Gospel of Luke for my New Testament class, and then had the great blessing of being able to go to Stations of the Cross tonight.  I’ll admit, after 6 hours of reading Luke with no end in sight, I am beginning to wonder if my Bible contains the “director’s cut”.  But what hit me while reading these stories I’ve heard a hundred times before is this: I want to be re-reading these stories always.   These are my stories!  I am the impetuous James and John. I am the woman bent over who is straightened up by Jesus’ healing touch.  I am the apostles nodding my head at Jesus’ warnings about his impending Passion, clueless and too scared to ask for clarification.  I am Mary, cradling her son’s dead body in her arms.  And, though perhaps I am not going to run around the house pretending to cast out demons, I am called to live these stories out in my real life.  In the Scriptures, we encounter the real, living Jesus, and we need to be as engaged and challenged by him today as were those he spoke with before his death.  And as the procession of the faithful did tonight in Church, I am called to pick up my cross and follow Christ.

One more thing.  Isaac doesn’t play his stories because there is some rule in the Kid Book that says he has to.  His action flows from his love of the characters, the plot, the adventure of it all.  He puts his whole self into becomming Dash, or McQueen or Larry Boy, and plays his part with the utmost enthusiasm.  This is what I want for Lent: to reach Easter Sunday knowing my stories better, and with a deeper enthusiasm for living them out.


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Getting Something Free

Everybody likes free stuff.  I make every effort to get to Chipotle when they are giving out burritos.  Brad and I both stop religiously at the fancy lotion stores in the mall for a free squirt.  I have even regretfully partaken in the free stuff promised at time share presentations.  When faced with the odd fact that Catholics who rarely darken the doorstep of their Church on Holy Days or even Sundays come on Ash Wednesday in droves, some I know joke that it’s because we’re giving something away for free.  (This line of thinking also explains Palm Sunday.)  Though it’s good for a chuckle,  this obviously cannot be the answer.  Getting ashes is not like getting a free trial-sized latte at McDonald’s.  Nor can the ashes be considered some kind of statusgirl-ashes-3 symbol for folks.  It’s not exactly cool to be Catholic these days.  And I would even argue that simple “Catholic guilt” doesn’t explain it, given the array of other teachings people freely reject.

I think they come because there is something within us that longs to hear the words of the imposition: “remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” or “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel”.  We live in a culture that continually tells us that we need to strive for the here and now: to look good, make money, have fun, and do whatever seems right to us.  We are told that all paths eventually lead to God, and that as long as we follow our hearts, no one will go to hell.  I think Ash Wednesday reminds us that there is a place deep inside even those farthest from God that just doesn’t buy it.

CS Lewis makes a great case for this natural law in our hearts in the beginning of Mere Christianity.  No one holds up laziness or selfishness or greed as a virtue.  We all want to be seen by others as dilligent, caring and generous, and when we are caught doing otherwise, we make arguments not that laziness is actually a good thing, but for all the ways that we were not actually being lazy in the given situation.  Lewis points out that we will get mad at a man who means to trip us and fails, but not at one who does so by accident.  Also, even the pickpocket gets angry when his own goods are stolen.  Our culture can feed us all the relativistic garbage it wants.  It just does not pan out.

The other side of the natural law inside us is that we all recognize that though we want to do what is right, we rarely do it.  We cut corners, take the easy way out. In a word, we sin.  This is what Lent is all about.  It reminds us that yes, there is more to life than this world.  We are sinners who will one day die and face our maker.  Luckily, the other part of Lent is the great mercy of God.  We cannot be the people we long to be without supernatural help.  Lent is about emptying ourselves enough to allow that merciful savior in to give us that aid that we desperately need, and aid He gives totally free.

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Time Heals All Wounds?

I hate buying sympathy cards. I can never find what I am looking for, though I don’t think my expectations are unreasonable: a simple picture, maybe a tasteful scripture verse and a message that says something like, “I’m so sorry for your loss. You are in my prayers.” If needed, I could even stomach the orange sunset with gold embossed Helen Steiner Rice poems. But instead, the majority of cards I open are a buffet of bad theology. They say things like, “May the memory of your loved one comfort you in this time,” or “Your loved one is the breeze that blows, the flower that grows…”, or even “May you be comforted by whatever comforts you” (I really saw that one!). I could dissect what is annoying to me about each of these but I will spare you. (I can also offer my critique of birthday cards for dads. Yikes. Another time.)

What reminded me of the sympathy cards was the common phrase: “Time heals all wounds”. Recently that phrase came up and Brad remarked how untrue it is. I agree. While it is true that the shock and pain of a loss tends to lessen over time, I would argue that it is not time that is curative. I have met people who are just as wounded today over a loss as they were 20 years ago when it happened. Perhaps they have grown used to the pain, or have become good at numbing it, but it’s there nonetheless. For some, time can even twist the original injury, heaping further resentments on top. These people can end up progressively more angry and bitter as the years go by.

Of course, this is not to say that there is no relief in sight for those who suffer! But I would submit that it is love, not time, that does the healing. After all, what is a wound but a deprivation? Something precious which is lacking? Such a thing can only be cured by being filled up. The sincere outpouring of support from friends and family in the form of meals, cards or listening can be helpful, but ultimately, if real progress is to be made toward wholeness, one must be filled with God.

I think this is why we can be so tempted to anger and bitterness after a loss. If Satan can get us to turn our backs on the physician, we will remain in our sickness forever.

This past weekend, I was on retreat (with grown-ups!), and both witnessed and experienced some of this amazing healing. Like the paralytic on the mat, God gave me some sisters who, by their prayers, lowered my mat down before Jesus. Ever so gently, He forgave me and then cured me of that which was holding me bound. It is funny how God works: He did not change any of the circumstances of my life, and yet my peace has returned. I am reminded of that which I knew all along, but had allowed myself to forget: He is there. He is upholding me. If I allow Him, He will do great things in and through me.

So, thank you to those of you who prayed me out of my pity party, to those who planned and ministered on retreat, and especially to that Love which heals and fills all wounds.

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Gift of the Disabled

When Gianna was in the hospital this summer, there was one day when Brad stayed with her while Isaac and I ran our summer program at church.  That afternoon, our “fun” activity was a trip to the zoo.  We ate lunch across from a dad and his son, who had some kind of cognitive disorder.   This dad obviously loved his boy immensely.  That afternoon I saw what I have to believe was a larger than normal number of disabled kids.  Down Syndrome, missing limbs,  wheel chairs.  At the time, the thought was that due to Gianna’s loss of head control, her brain was being seriously affected.  They told us that even a successful liver transplant would probably leave her “profoundly disabled”.  We were looking at either death or a lifetime of medical issues.  As I looked at all of the special-needs children at the zoo that day, I may have been the only parent there longing to have a child just like them.

I still think of that day when I see special kids out in public.  This past week a family with a little girl in a wheelchair was at the indoor playground.  The girl’s aunt, who was watching the kids so her sister could do some shopping, so lovingly held the girl’s hand and stroked her hair.  I wanted to blurt out, “what a beautiful girl! I would love to have one just like her, but my daughter died instead.  It seems like you love her a lot. I’m so glad.”  Instead I just smiled and engaged in normal parents-at-a-playground conversation.

What a gift such people are to us.  They teach us love.  I know parents who are raising disabled kids who do not hide the difficulty that this cross brings their families.  But each parent I have talked to will sincerely describe the ways that their special child has stretched them in love and brought great love to the whole family.  Mother Teresa once said, “I have found that when you love until it hurts, there is no longer hurt, only more love.”  When we are forced to give of ourselves to the extreme, as in the case of parents who care for children with challenging medical issues, we grow in love.

Also, the disabled remind us that we are not the sum of what we can contribute to society, but human persons created in the image of a God who is Love.  We live in an age where we can be tempted to view our worth in terms of our marketable skills, sales records or W2 forms.  But we are all just one bad knock in the head away from not being able to even tie our own shoes.  And truly, there is infinitely more distance between Einstein and God than between Einstein and someone in a “vegetative” state.  This is not to instill fear in us but to liberate us from it.  If we are defined by the love of God, then we have nothing to fear.

May we reverence those who teach us such lessons, from conception to natural death.

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One summer we had a program where the teen leaders were supposed to give a reflection to their junior high peers on one of the beatitudes. It was kind of a disaster. The beatitudes are hard enough for well formed, college educated Catholic adults. Badly catechized high school students? Rough.  I have always struggled to understand exactly what Jesus is getting at in the beatitudes.  For what it’s worth, though, here’s my best shot at one of them that caught my attention in prayer today.

“Blessed you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied” (Luke 6:21).  There is nothing inherently holy about poverty.  One could easily be starving and evil, in which case the eternal bliss implied by this beatitude would not apply.  Also, Jesus makes it clear that we are supposed to try to help the poor by providing for their needs.  So, He is not making a blanket statement about those who go without enough food.  I think He is speaking about a specific type of hunger.  A kind I’ve been feeling lately.

My particular brand is a hunger for a baby who won’t die on us.  It’s pretty clear that given our genetics, this is no easy appetite to fill.  Any naturally born child of ours has a one in four chance of having Peter and Gia’s condition.  The wisdom of the world would suggest one of two options to a couple like us: 1.) render one or both of us permanently infertile and just enjoy the one healthy child we have, or 2.) get some outside help on the next baby making project.  Neither one of these are acceptable options for us as Catholics.  I can understand why couples turn to such things, I really can.  It sucks to lose a child and frankly the thought of going through another medical drama is terrifying.  However, I also firmly believe that acting out of fear is also not the solution.  I trust the Church and her wisdom.

And so we continue to hunger.  We won’t “break the rules” to get what we want, and we suffer for it.  This is the hunger that I think Jesus is talking about.  In Matthew, it’s “hunger and thirst for righteousness”, which I used to think meant “want what’s right”.  Of course, it could still mean that.  But I am thinking now of people who are hungering precisely because they did what was right.  People who refuse to steal to make the money they need, who get back-stabbed for defending the underdog, or voted out of office for not compromising on principle.  The kind of people who are willing to die for their faith, in small or large ways.  What can we expect then, from the Lord?  (Isn’t that sweet? In your own blog you get to lump yourself in with martyrs!) We will be satisfied.  Somehow, some way, this hunger will be filled.  And I don’t think He’s just talking heaven here.  Somehow, in the end, that desire of my heart will be met, even if not in the way I expect.

And I think the opposite is true, too.  Luke includes the “whoa”-atitudes, too.  “Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger.” Do you think the fruit in Eden tasted really good? Even if it was the sweetest honeycrisp ever, I can guess that once their act sunk in, it was no longer tasty.  I don’t believe that taking matters into our own hands- that is, going outside God’s moral laws to fill our hunger- ever really satisfies.  I think it solves one problem and causes another, thus, creating more hunger.

I know a woman who conceived in rape and placed the child for adoption while in college. Later she married and had difficulty with miscarriage.  Today she has a small family, with a mix of biological and adopted kids.  It’s been a rough road for her, and she has struggled with some of the same questions I am facing.  She looks back now on her life and is at peace.  She can see why God allowed some of the things He did, and how He brought things full circle for her healing.  She is so grateful for the life she has been given, even with the pain.

So, I don’t know what God has in store for our family.  But I know I will be blessed.

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