Beatitudes for Special Families

shadowIn honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to run this guest post by Ann O’Keeffe Rodgers, founder of Hope Springs Florida, a respite home for families touched by autism, located in Jacksonville, Florida. Thanks so much, Ann!

As Christians, we learn about the early Christian martyrs who gave their lives for Jesus and His kingdom.  Those who chose death rather than deny their Lord and Savior are known as the “red martyrs.”

And yet, there are also those who give up their lives every day, imitating Jesus by giving themselves wholeheartedly in loving service. Theirs is a “white martyrdom,” a slow and painful way of taking up their cross. One example is Pope St. John Paul II, whose quiet endurance of Parkinson’s at the end of his life showed the world what it means to lay down one’s life each day out of love for God.

Through work for Hope Springs Florida and those with special needs, I have been so blessed to meet many other “white martyrs.” They give of themselves joyfully and willingly, out of love for their children. I have been blessed to meet, know, and be friends with them. Through their example and their friendship, they inspire me constantly to return to the Beatitudes proclaimed by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount, recorded in the fifth chapter of Matthew.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Blessed, too, are the men and women who get up every morning before their child wakes, and sacrifice for their child’s peace of mind.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And blessed as well are parents who work two, sometimes three jobs to make ends meet for critical therapy services for their child.

Parents who sleep on the floor of the pediatric hospital because there is no other place for them to sleep that night, while they wait for treatment for their child, remind me: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.”

Blessed are parents who are misunderstood by members of their own church community, and who often feel marginalized by others, who do not see their integrity, character, and strength. God sees the truth, and has promised: Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me.

Blessed are parents who struggle to meet the needs of their neurotypical children as well as those with special needs, mourning the fact that these siblings’ lives will not be the same as those of their peers. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

“Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.” Blessed are the staff of doctor’s offices, behavioral therapists, speech and occupational therapists, special education teachers, and guidance counselors who recognize what a privilege it is to work with these exceptional children, who are absolutely without guile or deceit – simply unconditional love.

Blessed are the staff at organizations like Catholic Charities, Jewish Family Services and other faith based organizations that are committed to serving this population, when they could be working in another business sector making a much heftier salary. God says to you, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”

And finally, blessed are the behind-the-scenes supporters of these children who do not want recognition for their acts of service, gifts of talent or treasure, or their supportive presence alongside families who are struggling with the burdens of caring for these children. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

Years ago, standing in Saint Peter’s Square at Easter, on the very same ground once soaked by the blood of the martyrs who had given their lives for Someone they had only heard about, it was clear to me that the Church is bigger than any one human being.

Today, thirty years later as a parent of four children – including one who has autism – I am an advocate for children with special needs. Just as I saw in Rome, I see in the Church today signs of grace and mercy – and also reminders that, as a Church, we must continue to find new ways to receive as Jesus did the “least of these,” embracing the culture of Life to its very fullest, so that no one is left behind.

Me with JoeyAnn O’Keeffe Rodgers is the founder of Hope Springs Florida and program administrator at Huntington Learning Centers in Jacksonville, Florida. Hope Springs Florida serves families touched by autism, strengthening bonds through respite services in a vacation environment. You can find more information about Hope Springs Florida on Facebook (their website is currently under construction.)                 



“Children’s Liturgy” During Mass?

This morning I received a note from a woman who belongs to a parish in which the parents would like to form a “children’s liturgy” for young children who have trouble paying attention at Mass.  I recently came across this informative article explaining the basis for such a practice, in particular affirming the legitimacy of such a practice:  
Not all parents will want to participate in this.  Some believe their children’s place is in the pew with them, learning reverent behavior by witnessing the participation of adults. And because parents are to be the first and most important educators of their children, this is absolutely their right and should not be discouraged.
At the other end of the spectrum are parents who will want to send their children as much for their own sake than for their children’s — who will not want to participate on the children’s liturgy teams.  Depending on their situation, they may need a little encouragement . . . or a bit of forebearance. There was a time when the demands of parenting were so unrelenting, I desperately needed a few moments’ peace. At that time, children’s liturgy was a Godsend.  Those who serve on the children’s liturgy teams, then, are ministering to both children and their parents.
Having said that, it is crucial that there are sufficient volunteers, so that the responsibilities can be shared. No one should be in a position of absenting himself/herself regularly from participating in the Liturgy of the Word at Mass. (Children’s Liturgy volunteers may choose to attend a second Mass to fulfill their Sunday obligation.)
Children’s Liturgy should not be an extended coloring session. It should follow a form similar to that of the adults, listening to the readings and responding to them appropriately, using visual aids and other resources to help the children understand what they are hearing. The point of children’s liturgy is not to entertain children, but to educate and inform them until they are ready to participate alongside the adults in the prayers and service of the Church.
If your pastor agrees that your parish should begin this kind of ministry, here are a couple of resources that may help you to get started:

T’is the Night Before Thanksgiving

T’is the night before Thanksgiving, and all through the house,
The Bad Dwarfs are lurking — Grump, Grumble, and Grouse.
The kids are all hyper, the dog is in hiding,
Guilt-ridden and banished from pumpkin pie swiping.

I’m sitting here, trying to type to the beat
of the metronome by Dad on the piano seat.
“And ONE-two-three, FOUR-five-six” I urge him to play,
While he manfully tunes out each word that I say.

Then, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
the clock that chimes eight … the sight brings a tear.
It’s bedtime for wee ones and lessons for him,
the realization makes me not a bit grim.

The pies are a’chilling, the bird is at rest,
Cranberries are jelling, the table well-dressed.
My family will head out to morningtime Mass,
and come back to dig in to the festive repast.

So how did those Bad Dwarfs get in to the place?
How dare they show up, take Gratitude’s space?
Now, Grumpy; now Snarky; now Lonely and Sad;
Hey, Ugly; say, Tired, Disgusted and Mad …

In this season of thankfulness, why are you here?
What gives you the right to mess with my good cheer?
“You called us,” they told me. “You made us a place
at your Thanksgiving table, in your thoughts and your face.”

Oh, dear. I need a new guest list, and fast
Get Peace, Love, and Joy to this festive repast!
Make us grateful, dear Lord, even for the great pains,
for those difficult dwarfs, for the sorrows unnamed.

Ours is no Norman Rockwell-type tableau.
The cracks and dustbunnies are sure bound to show.
Still we offer to You our thanksgiving, sincere,
Secure in Your unfailing kindness each year.

Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home.
All are safely gathered in,
e’re the winter storms begin.

God our maker doth provide
All our wants to be supplied.
Come, ye thankful people, come.
Raise the song of harvest home.

“A Time to Remember, A Time to Forget”

Five years today. That’s how long we’ve been a family. Time to mix up a batch of my pasta salad and hit the beach! (In our case, it will be Lake Michigan — we spent the weekend at Craig’s parents’ cabin in East Jordan.)

Looking back over pictures from the first months together, I realize just how much the kids have grown. The “baby” has lost her chubby knees; our son bears only the slightest resemblance to the wild-eyed child who used to camp out under tables. They are taller, yes — but they are also more confident of their place in this world. The questions they ask are more thoughtful, grown up. They can be rough on each other in their play — but they are also more empathetic if a family member is in distress.

Memorial Day is a time to recall those people who have touched our lives, usually for the better. It’s a good time to honor those who have made sacrifices on our behalf (not only soldiers, but teachers and parents and friends as well), and to forgive those whose actions have caused us pain.

Ironically, some people fit equally well into both categories. When you love someone, you leave yourself vulnerable to an infinite variety of thoughtless (and even pre-meditated) hurts. Watching my kids play with one another, I am reminded that God gives us family to help us grow in perfection.

If “perfection” is the bountiful garden you survey with satisfaction out your patio door, family is the pruners, the feeders, the nurturers, the weeders … All are needed, not all are pleasant. But they are an intrinsic part of who we are — part of our memories, our history, our blood. We would not be who we are — for better or worse, or both — without them.

Is there someone you need to call today?

Weekend Ponderings: Sabbath Rest

The other day I was challenged to consider the concept of “Sabbath rest” as it pertains to mothers — perhaps especially “working mothers,” those of us with significant responsibilities (often but not always wage-earning) outside the home, making it difficult to cover all the bases at once.

For those of us who grew up with stay-at-home mothers, our “inner critic” can be especially loud on weekends, when we return home and take in the collateral damage from our week in the saltmines. Instead of spending the weekends catching up with each other, we find ourselves playing catch-up with the laundry, scrubbing, shopping, and cooking we didn’t get done earlier in the week.

Then there’s Sunday, with rhythms that pick up pace as the day progresses, speeding steadily and inevitably toward Monday. The Third Commandment tells us to “Rememer the Sabbath Day and keep it holy,” a day set apart for worship, rest, and family. But practically speaking, what does this mean? No housework of any kind — coldcuts and premade salads, no electronics or gadgets, no turning on the dishwasher or washing machine? Or — taking it to the other extreme — “focus on the family,” running from one activity after the other (even skipping church) to get as much done as possible.

What does the Catechism say about it? From CCC 2186:

Sunday is traditionally consecrated by Christian piety to good works and humble service of the sick, the infirm, and the elderly. Christians will also sanctify Sunday by devoting time and care to their families and relatives, often difficult to do on other days of the week. Sunday is a time for reflection, silence, cultivation of the mind, and meditation which furthers the growth of the Christian interior life.

“Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.” Can a mother truly honor God and family … while tidying up an accumulation of weekly debris? Can a family revel at McDonalds as wholeheartedly as around a four-course dinner made by loving hands? When the rhythms of family life spill into Sabbath preparations, where is the line of demarkation? At what point does the payoff of interior peace justify a suspension of physical rest? In other words … does the satisfaction of being able to begin a new week with an orderly home, justify doing a few loads of laundry or scrubbing a kitchen floor on Sunday afternoon?

“Do small things with great love,” Blessed Mother Teresa admonished her Sisters of Charity. Her sisters observed regular rhythms of rest and work and prayer — the marathon of service that was their life demanded it. So, too, with us.

The line of demarcation, then, may be more cerebral/spiritual than physical. Are you getting adequate rest? Do you feel connected to God and to your family … or are weekends filled with nagging and pushing? Are you really enjoying one another, recharging the batteries of intimacy that keep families connected over the long haul?

Are you taking time to find your “Sabbath Rest”?

The Lost Sea — Vacation is ALMOST Over!

I’m writing this from the road, sitting in a motel in Lexington, Kentucky with my two little cherubs snoring softly in the double bed beside my writing table. I think the 200th lap in the hotel pool tonight really did them in!

This afternoon on our way back from Cartersville we stumbled on this wonderful family excursion, and I wanted to mention a few details before they slipped away.  I don’t know about your kids, but mine are constitutionally incapable of riding seven hours in the car without duct tape and rope. (Yes, I am kidding. But only because, being the VERY wise parent I am, I don’t ask them to sit seven hours so the tape and rope are unnecessary.) So about an hour north of Chattanooga, I spotted a billboard and decided it was time for a Family Adventure! (Yeah!!!)

The Lost Sea Adventure is an underwater lake — at 4-1/2 acres, it is the largest underwater lake in the U.S., and the second largest in the world (the largest is Lake Vostok in Antartica). The cavern was alternately a site for Cherokee Indian ceremonies, Confederate soldiers (who gathered bat droppings to make salt peter/gunpowder), a speakeasy (in business for only two months because overly inebriated customers kept injuring themselves trying to get out of the place). It was also a bomb shelter (Federal Government provided the people of Sweetwater enough food to feed 3,000 people for three months; remants of these boxes containing 50-year-old Saltines are still visible.)

The cave contains a large, off-limits room (due to the 90-foot hole in the middle of it, which made insurance adjusters so nervous they closed it to the public) where of an Ice Age jaguar was discovered (think Diego on Ice Age). At 130 feet below the surface, the “Lost Sea” itself was discovered in the 1905 by a 13 year old boy named Ben Sands (no one believed him until a team of scientists “discovered” his find decades later); the site was declared a Registered Natural Landmark in 1976.

The hike down to the lake is about a mile; tickets are about $15.95 adults, $7.45 kids. The lake is stocked with rainbow trout (whose colors and eye sight have both been damaged from being in the dark for so long), who feed on liver pellets and come right up to the glass-bottom boat to say hello.

The Sweetwater Village (across the driveway from the Lost Sea) contains a glass-blowing site as well as other period artisan shops. Admission to the village is free — nice area for picnics, etc.