Easter Blessings

As thousands of new Catholics celebrate their reception into the Church, those of us who were received in years past look back with a mixture of gratitude and wonder. In particular, we wonder where has the time gone?

christopher-comm-brother-and-sisterIf I needed a visual, I have only to look at my children’s faces and see it. This one, taken for Christopher’s first communion in 2008, captures a time of sheer joy and innocence. They had been officially “ours” for just three years. Three years since they had been baptized, and had joyfully shouted “We have a new name!”

Fast forward nearly a decade, and …  Here the kids just received a surprise from my Chris and Sarahfriend (and theirs), Maria Johnson, handmade Franciscan rosaries. Seeing this image, I am reminded of the many friends (like Bego) who reached out to us over the last twelve years. And I remember how the kids have grown into their own faith. I smile as I watch Chris entranced in the flame of his own taper at the Easter Vigil, and thrill at the sound of Sarah standing next to me in the choir, belting out the high notes better than I ever could have hoped to do myself.

For Craig and me, it has been a journey of blind trust and faith in God, too. We have learned how limited are our own resources, and how bountiful are God’s mercies. We have experienced the power of prayer to create small miracles and change hearts. And we have learned how unique and unrepeatable is family life. To take small victories where we find them. And that the point of parenthood is not to turn small souls into replicas of ourselves, but to help them become — as fully as possible, in good times and bad — the best versions of themselves.

Wishing you and yours the richest blessings of the Easter season.

Revive Us Again

shroud.jpgHeading into Holy Week, my parish (Queen of Peace in Mishawaka, Indiana) is hosting a special display of the Shroud of Turin. (Not the original cloth shroud, but a photographic likeness flanked by displays outlining the history of the shroud and the scientific research done to ascertain the identity of the man whose image was miraculously imprinted upon it.)

As I sat pondering the display, I found myself thinking about a homily I heard a couple of weeks ago, while traveling to Atlanta to visit my elderly parents. It was serendipitous; I had merely picked the church closest to our hotel. But when the priest started talking about the raising of Lazarus as a “resuscitation” rather than a “resurrection,” his explanation stayed with me.

When Jesus raised Lazarus and others, prior to his own resurrection, these miracles served as a sign of who Jesus was — and what he had come to do through his atoning passion, death, and resurrection. And yet, the priest reminded us, this was not “resurrection” in the same sense that Jesus was raised, in his glorified state.

“Imagine what Lazarus experienced,” Father said. “He awakened, no doubt stiff and sore from lying on a stone bench for three days. He was still subject to pain and illness, and would one day die again. His was not the glorified state, a true resurrection. Rather, it was a sign that he still had work to do.”

On Saturday, the Church welcomes thousands of new Catholics — some receiving all the sacraments for the first time, others are simply confirmed. But each in some way suffers a little death, a putting away of the old and a putting on of the risen Christ. And each of us, whether our faith can be measured in minutes or decades, have work to do.

As a Catholic mom and writer, I confess that right now I feel very much in need of revival. If parenting were a marathon, it feels as though I am sorely in need of a second wind. And so, this year I look forward to the Easter season with great anticipation, trusting God for a “second wind” for my family. Like Lazarus, may Jesus breathe new life into us by the Spirit, that we might finish the race strong.

What it is like to parent a child who can never be left alone

Coping with the well-meaning but hurtful comments of those on the peripheries is one of the hardest parts of parenting a special-needs child. This woman speaks her truth with great courage … pass it on to someone who needs a dose of empathy! (Then pray for this family. Thanks!)

faithmummy

When your baby is born you promise them the world. You promise to look after them, keep them safe and be there for them. When they are tiny and lying so innocently in your arms fully dependent upon others to meet all their needs it is so easy to promise them you will never leave them.
The reality is though that children grow. As they grow they need to learn responsibility, resilience, and independence and all three of these require periods of not being constantly supervised by a parent. I want to say I never ever set out to be over bearing, or a so called ‘helicopter parent’ or paranoid in any way.

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Unfortunately though life changed the way I parent my son. He has multiple difficulties and wether I want to or not he simply can NOT be left unattended at any time, even at age 8.
Going to…

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True Confessions

Holy FamilyOn March 21 over at “Reconciled to You,” Allison Gingras is hosting a Lenten blog hop called “How do you really feel about confession?”

As I get ready for Easter, I think back to the first time I ever went to confession, back in 1995 just  before my confirmation at Holy Family Parish in South Pasadena, California (pictured here). I was such a difficult candidate my first sponsor actually quit — and the DRE took me under her wing. I will always be grateful to Dawn Ponnet for welcoming me into the family, and to the silvery-haired, golden-tongued Irish priest and pastor emeritus Monsignor Clem Connelly, who invited me out for lunch and, over spring rolls, assured me, “Ah, Heidi, you are a gift to us.” I still tear up when I think about it.

Truth be told, I did not feel like such a gift. My decision to become Catholic had alienated friends and estranged my family. I was in a toxic relationship from which I could not readily extricate myself. And, having recently graduated from college and on my own, I was just this side of homelessness. For many reasons, I was at an all-time low point.

And so, as the Vigil neared and Dawn talked with us about making our first confession, I knew it was a good idea. I also had no idea where to begin when I found myself face-to-face with a youthful Filipino priest who had recently joined the parish. I found myself rambling about what a horrible person I was, and he stopped me.

“You are not a horrible person. You are a GOOD person. You are God’s beloved daughter.”

I argued. With the priest. In the confessional. “NO! I’m NOT good!” And I started again, listing all my many faults and failings.

He shook his head and held up his hand. “No. I tell you, you are full of goodness. That is how God sees you. He wants to take these things from you. Will you give them to him?”

Of course I was a blubbery mess by this time. Utterly defeated. If he knew the worst of it, and declared that God wanted me anyway … who was I to argue?

Exhausted, I left the priest’s office and made my way to the church, where I knelt down in my favorite spot in front of the mural of the death of St. Joseph. It was the Holy Family at their most human, most vulnerable, most exposed to the realities of human existence. I knew God was offering me a fresh start. Both then and now, I am eternally grateful.

Are you in need of a fresh start? If you are Catholic, why not begin your journey toward wholeness and freedom with the sacrament of reconciliation? Don’t worry about how long it’s been, or what to say. God is ready to welcome you home. For more information about reconciliation (making confession) here is a one-page pdf you can print out and bring with you. Go with God!

Special Needs Teens: Afraid to Dream?

jesseAs children grow, it’s only natural for parents to dream of the day they become full-fledged adults, capable of making their own decisions, paying their own bills, and deciding where to live and work.

When you’re raising special needs teens, however, that dream can take very different forms. For us, the dreams are less often about personal achievement than a quest for simple independence:

  • If we invest in that private tutor, negotiate the right IEP, nag and push until we are blue … can he get him to squeak by enough of his classes to get a diploma?
  • Can she really live with her friend in an apartment, or is she going to need a group home and a guardian?
  • If he gets a certificate of completion, what jobs can he get after graduation?

Yesterday my friend Diane and I went to an event at Goshen College for parents of adult (and soon to be adult) children with developmental disabilities: Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, autism spectrum, and other life-long disabilities. As parents of disabled teenagers, we needed to make plans to help him transition to some kind of independence.

In addition to the keynote sessions on creating trusts, guardianship (and less drastic alternatives, and how to secure disability services (from the Bureau of Developmental Disabilities Services, or BBDS – pronounced “BEEDS”), there were a variety of organizations represented to help families make timely, informed choices. Here are some of the organizations that caught my attention:

  • The Arc Indiana (Indianapolis, Indiana). Karly Sciortino-Poulter, their Outreach Grants Administrator, presented information on guardianships and guardianship alternatives (such as limited guardianships, powers of attorney, healthcare and/or educational representatives. She also urged families to make a “future plan” using the “Center for Future Planning” tool (https://futureplanning.thearc.org/) to guide conversations to protect and provide for the disabled adult while allowing him or her to participate as they are able in the decision making process. For more information, call 800-382-9100 and ask for Laura.
  • Camp Mariposa (www.moyerfoundation.org; summer camp for students with disabilities, with other camps specifically for children who are living with a family member coping with addiction or bereavement). Founded by the Moyer Foundation, with branches in Seattle and Philadelphia.
  • Erskine Green Training Institute (Muncie, Indiana: erskinegreeninstitute.org) This post-secondary school certificate program is for disabled adults who have obtained a diploma, GED, or certificate of completion. Each ten to thirteen week session prepares students for careers in hotel, medical, and food industry.
  • Logan Institute/Community Resources (South Bend, Indiana, logancenter.org). Provides social, emotional, vocational, and other support to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities – including residential services and family supports.
  • GateWay Services (Benton Harbor, Michigan gatewayvro.org). Provides transitional and independence services for disabled adults in Michigan.

If you have a teenager and need to make a transition plan, and are a resident of Indiana, I suggest you begin by reaching out to the Indiana Family & Social Services Administration (100 W South Street, Suite 100, South Bend, IN: 877-218-3059). Or contact the Arc to begin the process. The application for BDDS can take a year, so it’s best to begin the process well in advance of the child’s 18th birthday.

Crafts for Lent!

Advent-and-Lent-paper-chains-resuseableAre you looking for some fun things to do with your family as we journey toward Easter? Today I came across Monica McConkey’s blog Arma Dei, and her post entitled “Equipping Catholic Families for Lent” as part of the Catholic Women Bloggers Network Lenten round up. You can find more Lenten-themed blogs on Allison Gingras’ blog Reconciled to You.

Stay tuned for the next round up on March 21, when the Network will be buzzing about … true stories about going to confession!

When It Hurts to Pray

palmsDuring the season of Lent, many times we start out with the best of intentions. We want to sense the presence of God in our lives. We long to encounter Christ at Mass or at Adoration. We teach our children, and rightly so, that God loves it when we pray.

And yet, this longing often goes unsatisfied. Depending on what is going on in our lives, God can seem very distant. It happens to all of us at times. It even happened to Mother Teresa, as her friend Father Brian Kolodiejchuk revealed in the book of her private letters and other writings that was published after her death in 1997, Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the ‘Saint of Calcutta.’  He wrote of Mother Teresa:

“The smile that covered a ‘multitude of pains’ was no hypocritical mask. She was trying to hide her sufferings – even from God! – so as not to make others, especially the poor, suffer because of them. When she promised to do “a little extra praying & smiling” for one of her friends, she was alluding to an acutely painful and costly sacrifice: to pray when prayer was so difficult and to smile when her interior pain was agonizing.”

For Mother Teresa, joy was an act of obedience. Prayer was her daily sustenance. Now, I am no Mother Teresa; there have been times when I found it difficult, if not impossible, to pray. And yet, even in those moments, God lavished amazing graces upon me, until I became thankful even for the darkness that pushed me relentlessly toward the light.

I remember a time in my life, on a short-term mission trip to Poland, when I found it difficult to pray because of anxiety. As the leader of my team of nearly 30 college students (half American, half Polish), I had been responsible to get the group to the rendezvous point in Frankfurt Germany at the end of the trip. But as the weeks went on, the trip fell apart. Our accommodations fell through at the height of the tourist season. Our Polish team members were unable to obtain visas. We lost our “chaplain,” the only member of the team who spoke fluent German (which we needed to communicate with our Hungarian bus driver). Our interpreter, whose wife was six months pregnant, had to return home prematurely. Somehow we made it to the meeting point – where the director of the sending organization chastised me for “allowing” team members to discuss the gifts of the Holy Spirit with each other. I couldn’t believe my ears . No apology. No acknowledgment for how difficult the trip had been. Just, “You should have handled this.”

The injustice of this man’s silly accusations ate at me, and I became depressed, a combination of exhaustion and outrage. Returning home, I went back to the non-denominational “mega-church” I had attended and felt my prayers bouncing off the ceiling. Had God had abandoned me, too?

Weeks went by, going to church with a plastered smile, and returning home feeling empty and utterly alone. One Sunday, walking toward my church I passed a little mission-style Catholic parish, and decided to sneak in. I didn’t know anyone — frankly, at that point it was a good thing, since I didn’t want anyone to know where I was. But as I sat at the back and breathed in the aroma of incense and beeswax, my shoulders relaxed … and I knelt down to pray knowing that — in the last place I expected it — I had God’s attention.

Long story short, about a year later, I stood with my sponsor at the front of that sanctuary and received the sacraments. That was 22 years ago, and I will always be grateful to the people of Holy Family Catholic Church, who welcomed this little Prodigal Daughter, and patiently led her back to God.

Are you in a place right now where praying is hard for you? Are you in difficult circumstances, unable to see a way out? Do you pray, and feel your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling? Do you feel like a fraud in your faith community? Take heart. Listen to the assurances of another great saint, Teresa of Avila:

Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you.

All things pass away, God never changes.

Patience obtains all things.

Whoever has God lacks for nothing. God alone suffices.

Teresa-21

Heidi Hess Saxton is the author of Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Servant).

 

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