Saturday, December 8, 2018
Tuesday, November 6, 2018
The puppy looked at me eagerly from behind the wires of her cage. Anxious eyes and a wagging bobbed tail expressed anticipation that she could not keep contained, as her entire little body shook with excitement and apprehension. I slid open the door to her pen and reached for her. I knew that it was all over now. I knew that the moment I held her, I would be hooked, and that she would be coming home with me.
I did not really want another dog. My husband and I had already owned what we knew would be the best dog we would ever have. A pure-bred mutt, she’d been the most obedient, gentle, loyal, and intelligent pet anyone could possibly imagine. When we’d found her, left abandoned as a puppy on the side of a forest road, she too had shaken with apprehension mixed with excitement. My husband and I were newlyweds when we found her, and she became our first “child”. Little did we know that she would be our only child for the next decade to come. We named her “Sage”, in hopes that once she outgrew her puppy years, during which she acted like she didn’t have much of a brain, she would live up to her name and become a wise and faithful companion. By the time she passed away, silently in her sleep on our front porch sixteen years later, she’d become all that and more. She’d become irreplaceable.
Soon after we lost Sage, my children began asking if we could get another dog. Not yet, I’d said. Maybe not ever, I thought. How could we replace a dog that was irreplaceable? No other dog could ever meet the standard that Sage had set. Besides, we had three children now, including a toddler, and that was more than enough to take care of. Getting another dog, especially a puppy, would just add to the load. And so, for over a year, I’d pushed back when they’d asked. God will send us a dog when he is ready, I would say, but I certainly wasn’t going to go looking for one. And as I tried to explain my rationalizations, I felt an old familiar feeling, and my mind went back to a memory from many years ago.
Sage was five years old in this memory, and my husband and I were in our mid-thirties. We’d been trying for five years to have a baby and had just lost our first pregnancy in miscarriage. I sobbed and wrapped my arms around Sage, our only “baby”. I thought about how hard this had all been, how unfair, how perhaps I wasn’t meant to be a mother. I thought about how old I was getting, how long it had taken to get pregnant just once, how I’d likely never get to parent more than one child, should I ever get that lucky. I thought about how my biological child whom I’d just buried, was irreplaceable.
And I thought about adoption. But not much. Not seriously. God will send us a baby when he is ready, I would say to myself, but I certainly wasn’t going to go looking for one. How could any child replace a child of my own flesh and blood? How could I understand any child that did not share my or my husband’s biological background, with all the personality quirks and habits that our genetics express. It all just seemed too risky, to take on a child with no real knowledge of his or her ancestry, genetics, and with having no control over the environment to which they’d previously been exposed. Much like taking in a puppy, I wasn’t ready for that load of unknowns and unpredictability. What I was ready for was a child like the one I’d created in my mind, one that I considered irreplaceable.
As time passed, I prayed for the hole in my heart to heal, but instead, it grew bigger and bigger. I begged God to take the pain away and felt abandoned by him as my prayers for a child remained unanswered. Another year passed, and by the time it ended, I was emotionally and spiritually spent. I had no more energy left with which to fight God. As experienced by so many of the saints, I felt trapped within my own “dark night of the soul”. No longer convinced that my desires were those of God’s, I slowly began to surrender my plans and slowly open myself up to his. One night, wiping tears from my face after yet another month of disappointment, I spoke the words that I had been trying to push out of my head for over a year. “I want to adopt”, I said to my husband. It was a moment of complete surrender for me and once I actually said the words, I realized it was the calling that I had been resisting all along. My husband agreed quickly. His heart ready and now, so was mine.
The healing began almost immediately. Hopelessness turned into hope. For the first time in years, I felt like God was hearing me again and helping me along my journey. Was this what he’d wanted all along? We excitedly began the long, arduous process of contacting adoption agencies, weighing our options, calculating the financial costs, starting a home study. Fingerprinting, background checks, training sessions, profile books, interviews, and writing lots of checks dominated all our free time for the next few months. None of it was fun nor easy but we embraced it all nonetheless, knowing that each step brought us closer to filling the hole in our hearts. And then the waiting began. Waiting to be chosen by a birthmother. Waiting for someone to say that we were good enough to be their child’s parents. Waiting for someone to believe that we were irreplaceable.
I thought about all those feelings as I scooped the little black and white puppy in my hands. As she looked up at me with coal black eyes, she relaxed in my arms, just as my children had done the first time I’d held them. Her coloring and markings reminded me of Sage, who also had been a black and white lab-mix. But this was not Sage and I was finally ready to accept that. I was ready to receive what God had been preparing for me.
Placing the puppy in her crate, I loaded her into the passenger side of my car and took her home to her new family. To my family. To three happy little boys, two of whom had come to us through adoption, and who were, without a doubt, irreplaceable.
Saturday, September 22, 2018
When you grow much of your own food, and process it, summer means more work. A lot more. The long days of sunshine bring twelve or more hours of activity, and by season's end, I am wore out. Rising early and squeezing the most out of every moment before sunset, I parcel my day out into pieces. This summer, in particular, was a challenge, as I added some part-time biologist work (away from home) to an already heavy load. Tom traveled more than usual on business this summer, and homeschooling, summer camps, and a couple of short family trips filled in the gaps. Together, we all made it work, and we have a lot to show for our efforts, but I am ready for the season to end.
Right now, at the moment that I write this, I am part of a perfect, universal balance...the autumnal equinox. Beyond this day, there will be more darkness which, for me, brings more rest. Six months from now, the balance will be struck again, and I will feel the anxiety and hurriedness that comes with each extra hour of sunlight. But not today. Today, I celebrate a productive harvest and all that summer brought, but most of all, I celebrate the fact that for a few months to come, I no longer have to keep up.
looking for potato bugs
sweet potato slips under the jugs
|a natural beauty we found in the woods (yellow fringed orchid)|
conquering a fear of the water slide
when you forget your swim clothes, you swim anyway
school on the front porch and breaking beans
capturing the morning sunshine full-faced
|a furry friend I found while working|
too many cucumbers. again.
Wednesday, August 22, 2018
I stared at the grass growing tall in the raised bed in the corner of my garden and tried to find the motivation to start over. Three years ago, this same raised bed had produced plump, juicy, red strawberries that my sons would squabble over as they picked their way through the leaves to find the biggest one. But that was three years ago, and now, as I stood staring at it, this bed of strawberries looked only like a patch of weeds, and I had no one to blame but myself.
It’d happened so slowly and so effortlessly. The first summer, I’d allowed the weeds to move into the edges of the bed, and told myself that the strawberries would be fine, that there were only a few weeds and still plenty of strawberry plants mixed among them. The second summer, I’d allowed a few more weeds to move into the spaces between the strawberry plants, and as a result, my harvest began to decline. Now, well into the third summer, I had no strawberry plants left to be seen, and my last harvest had reaped only a handful of fruit. With feelings of guilt and regret, I now stared at the strawberry bed, and saw it as a lost cause. Was it worth saving? Could I ever bring it back to what it once was?
I took a deep breath and pushed my spading fork into the soil of the bed, lifting the compacted soil with all my might, as the weeds struggled to hold it together despite my effort. As I lifted the great clod of dirt, I turned it upside down, then gave it a hefty thump with the back of the fork. The dirt clod broke apart and the weeds separated. I reached down, pulled the weeds by their stems, and shook off the remaining dirt, then tossed them into a pile, where they would wither and die in the sun.
The heat of that August morning was already bearing down on me, and as I pried each hardened clump of weeds up by their roots, I began to rapidly lose enthusiasm. Better to just give up on growing strawberries, I told myself. I could just buy them from the local strawberry farm nearby and let someone else do this work for me. Or, I could just cover the raised bed with black plastic and kill everything at once, and then start over again next spring. Surely there is nothing worth saving still alive in this raised bed, I thought. My mind raced with rationalizations in an attempt to avoid the hot and dirty task at hand. And as my mind wandered, in the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a strawberry plant, brown and dry, nearly hidden under the dirt where a weed clod had been. I gingerly pulled the strawberry plant out, shook the dirt off it, and scraped its rhizome root with my fingernail. It was struggling, but it was alive.
With renewed vigor, I plunged my spading fork back into the sod and pulled up again, turned over another clump of weeds, and found yet another dry and brown strawberry plant hidden beneath. I separated the strawberry from the weeds and repeated the process over and over. The sweat ran down my brow and my arms began to ache, but I did not care. My focus now was on one thing. I would save the remaining strawberries.
As I finished turning over the last clod of dirt, my curious son ran up to me and observed as I gently placed the old, dry strawberry plants in a tray of water. “What are you going to do with these?”, he asked. I explained to him that those were our strawberry plants. “These?”, he exclaimed. “But these strawberry plants are dead,” he said, as he turned one over in his hands. I stopped working and showed him how to scrape the rhizome with his fingernail, exposing the white flesh underneath the brown skin. “See?” I said, “It’s alive.” He still looked puzzled. “But not very much alive,” he said. I thought for a moment, then smiled and said, “Yes, but it is alive and that’s all that really matters. Sometimes, it only takes a spark of life to start things growing again.” Finished with turning over the dirt in the strawberry bed, my son and I walked back to the house, carrying the salvaged plants with us, my son chattering about how he couldn’t wait for us to grow strawberries again.
The same week that I tackled my long neglected strawberry bed, the news broke about the widespread and deep reaching scandal in the Catholic church in Pennsylvania. I read the news stories and, like many others, was angered and disgusted by the level and degree of conceit, betrayal and cowardice that has been practiced by so many leaders of our church for most of my lifetime. I found myself feeling thankful that my children are still young, and that I do not have to explain to them just yet the intricacies and sordid details that are making headlines today. For now, my children are very proud to be Catholic and love their faith, and I want more than anything for that to never change. However, scandals like these are just the kind of thing that could jeopardize that.
And even though they are young now, and ignorant of such things, I know that in time, they will be confronted with the task of defending their faith from those who will choose to use these scandals to attack. Just as the bad actors of the Crusades are still used as a means to attack the Catholic church 900 years later, these kinds of scandals will never be forgotten, and will provide fodder for those wishing to destroy the church and her faithful for generations to come. It will not be easy for my children to defend a church marred by such ugliness, and I worry that they will have their own personal crisis of faith, just as I did many years ago.
Unfortunately, it seems to be a common trend these days, almost a right-of-passage, for those of us who are part of the post-Vatican II generation to struggle with our faith and our church once we reach adulthood. Unlike our parents or grandparents, we have had to grow up in a church filled with conflicting messages and dying traditions. As I came of age, I learned that the priest who baptized me left the priesthood to marry, the priest who gave me my First Holy Communion did the same, the parish priest who I admired for a decade during my formative adolescent years turned out to not be the man we thought he was and was caught in the 2002 scandals, and the charismatic priest who mentored me and so many other students during our college years left the priesthood a year after I graduated. By the time I’d reached the age of 23, I looked around at the church I’d grown up in and the priests I’d always known and saw no shepherd that I wanted to follow. And sadly, my story is not so uncommon among my generation. So, to read about scandals that happened during this same time period, while disheartening, is not surprising to me. The weeds have been growing for a long time.
But amongst the weeds, there are still strawberry plants. There are the priests and bishops who love the church and show it by speaking the truth and reflecting it in the way they say mass, approach the sacraments, and encourage the faithful. They do not muddy the waters nor sit on the fence. It was a priest like that who led me back from my own personal crisis of faith, simply by teaching the truths of the Catholic church and the meaning behind them, and demonstrating with his actions his great love for the priesthood.
I walked away from my garden that week carrying a tray full of strawberry plants that had been overtaken by weeds and deprived of the sunshine and rainfall and nutrients that they had needed to thrive. In short, they were slowly dying due to my neglect. Their potential to produce beautiful, sweet fruit had been diminished by my apathy and delay. And looking at them, I realized that while strawberries may not have mattered so much to me, I’d robbed my children of one of their little joys in life i.e., picking and eating strawberries fresh from the garden while the juice dribbled down their chin.
In the end, I decided not to replant those old strawberries that I’d saved from the bed, though they still had life within them. Instead, I will plant them on the edge of the garden, where they may still bear fruit, but I will not depend on them. For the most part, they have run their course. Rather, after uprooting the weeds and removing as many of their roots as possible, I decided to replenish the soil of the bed and start with new, young plants. It will be another year before they bear fruit, but with a renewed commitment to tending them, I am hopeful that my children will soon be looking again at a harvest of sweet berries rather than a patch of weeds.
It is a similar hope that I have for my children as they grow in faith. That, when confronted with a garden that appears to be overtaken by weeds, rather than giving up and walking away, they will search amongst those weeds for the strawberries and anything else worth saving. Perhaps they will remember that even if what once thrived now appears lifeless, that with a little care, it only takes a spark to get it growing again. I pray the same will happen during their lifetime within our church.
Thursday, July 5, 2018
Saturday, June 30, 2018
|Counting his tater bugs.|
Monday, May 28, 2018
Happy Feast of Corpus Christi!
Thursday, April 26, 2018
Saturday, March 17, 2018
|One year ago today...time, slow down!|
Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Coming in past the deadline to join in with Donna at her Jump Start Your Blog link-up. Hopefully late is better than never! Last week's question was, "What would you grab if your house was on fire?"
I am thankful that this is a situation that I have never faced, and pray that I never do. However, it has crossed my mind a few times, considering the fact that we live surrounded by forested land that literally comes up to our doorstep. We know that if a wildfire ever makes it to the hill below us, during the right conditions, our cedar-siding home would be very vulnerable. Thankfully, the odds are not great of that happening since we live in a fairly humid environment, but still, stranger things have happened.
There are not a lot of material possessions that I am overly attached to in my home. When we moved ourselves from Missouri to Kentucky a few years ago, we did a big purge and it was the best thing we ever did. Each item that I donated or threw out was one less item we had to pack and it felt very liberating. Somehow, however, we still ended up with much more than we needed, and still have boxes from that move four years ago that remain unopened.
The things that I would grab are probably predictable. Photo albums I've made of the family since our boys were born (I print off photos and put them in albums because I don't trust computers to preserve them) would definitely be on the list. My laptop and a few pieces of artwork would be nice to save. I'd also grab the personally autographed books written by my grandfather and my father. The one autographed by my grandfather is now irreplaceable. And if there was time, I'd grab my jewelry box, not because it has high value jewelry, but because much of the jewelry has sentimental value to me. I have jewelry that was given to me by old classmates in elementary school, and a necklace from my grandmother, things like that.
But if the house was really on fire and I had time to only grab one thing in a hurry, I would not hesitate and know exactly what it would be. I would grab my wedding dress. My wedding dress, which also was once my mother's wedding dress. And while I rarely wish I'd been blessed with a daughter, when I think about my wedding dress, I wish a bit that I did have a daughter who could one day wear it, too. When I was a little girl, my mother would proudly show me her wedding dress and say "Perhaps someday, you will wear it." As a small girl, I started dreaming of one day meeting my Prince Charming and wearing that dress as I walked down the aisle. Not because I loved the dress so much, but because I loved my mother and her dream of me wearing it someday.
That dream did come true. When I became engaged, the first thing my mother and I did was pull out that wedding dress from the back of her closet. I had never dared put it on before, for fear of jinxing our dream. Apprehensively, I slipped it on. It was a perfect fit, and I felt like it was just meant to be.
Today, the wedding dress is tucked away safely in the back of my closet, waiting for perhaps my niece or, if I'm really optimistic, my granddaughter or future daughter-in-law to wear it. Probably not likely, but it's worth dreaming about. That's what my wedding dress reminds me of, that dreams sometimes do come true, and that is worth saving.
Monday, January 15, 2018
Another link-up with Donna in our blogging challenge. This week, the challenge is to answer the question "Who Would I Invite To Dinner (living or deceased)?
This was a toughie. I had to spend some time thinking about it and I really loved Rebecca's twist on it over at her blog. Yes, the best people to eat dinner with are always those we love! Nothing ever tops that and Rebecca nailed it. I am thankful that my family eats together at least once, sometimes twice a day, but I also take that for granted too many times. I know someday that I will be calling my boys and begging them to come visit me and their father and have dinner with us. That day will come all too soon.
But, if I could fantasize and invite anyone, who would it be? After giving it some thought, these three folks came to mind. Theodore Roosevelt, Rachel Carson, and Flannery O'Connor. Why these? Well, Theodore Roosevelt was one of those larger than life people who had big ideas, big adventures and a big mouth (and he carried a big stick, right?). He had to have been full of stories about Africa, South America, and the Great West. He was fearless to a fault, and I love trying to figure out what makes people like that tick.
Rachel Carson would be another choice because I think we'd have a lot in common. Since I was young, I've admired her and I used to want to be a lot like her. She broke a lot of glass ceilings in her day and could get lost in a book, or on a walk in the woods, or just by watching a bird float on the wind. I can relate to all of that.
And Flannery O'Connor would be my third guest. I would love to invite her just to watch the expressions on her face as others around the table spoke. Having read several of her stories, I think she understood human nature better than almost anyone, and I bet she could cut right through any conversation or story and get to the heart of the matter. I can only imagine what she would think of Teddy and his boisterous, tall tales! Would she just sit quietly with a knowing look on her face, or would she challenge him with questions, or would she enjoy the antics and encourage him to talk more? I would love to find out.
So that 's my short list. I like to imagine Rachel and Flannery sitting next to other. Two masters of the written word, trying to get a word in edgewise, while Teddy dominated the conversation. All of us in mutual respect of the other, held together by a love of storytelling and maybe a little too much passion.
Friday, January 5, 2018
Linking up with Donna for Challenge #3 of the Jump Start Your Blog series. This time, the challenge was to publish something that has been hanging out in our "Drafts" folder. This is a post that I wrote in 2014 that I never published. But considering that the anniversary of Roe v. Wade is approaching, publishing it now, in light of Donna's challenge, seemed timely. Thanks, Donna!
A few months ago, I packed up several bags of baby clothes and took them to a local pregnancy resource center that is always looking for donated items. This particular pregnancy resource center does wonderful work, is 100% pro-life in their cause, and has helped hundreds of pregnant women locally and probably thousands nationally. I love supporting them and their work.
While handing off a few donated bags of clothing, I spoke to the very kind and friendly woman who volunteers at the center. I know her fairly well; she is very pro-life and leads her church's Respect Life Committee. She donates her time to the pregnancy center, so I have tremendous respect for what she does and who she is.
Considering the fact that my husband and I are waiting to adopt, I thought maybe she would be a good one to share this fact with, since she meets many women facing crisis pregnancies on a weekly basis. So we talked, and the conversation went something like this:
Me: We've been waiting to adopt for almost a year now but our approval ends in about 6 weeks and it's not looking like we'll get a baby.
Her: Oh, if it is God's will, it will happen. Why don't you think you'll get a baby?
Me: Well, it takes a long time, and some couples never get chosen. There just aren't enough babies available domestically for couples like us who want to adopt them. It makes me sad because I really wanted another baby after we adopted our son, and I don't think biologically that is going to happen now.
Her: Yeah, when you get around 40, you need to start thinking that way.
Me: Actually, I'm almost 45.
Her: Oh! Well by that time, you really don't want to have another baby!
Me, somewhat awkwardly: I would love to have another baby.
Her: What about going to another country to adopt a baby?
Me: We don't really want to do that and aren't in the position right now to do the travel necessary. It is also often much more expensive. But a lot of Americans do go overseas to adopt partly because not many babies are available domestically.
Her: You know, we almost never get a client [pregnant woman] who is thinking about adoption. I think last year all year, we only had one client who said she was thinking about adoption, and in the end, she didn't do it.
Me: It's unfortunate that adoption isn't promoted more but sadly, it has a lot of negative stereotypes. Just the phrase "giving your baby up" suggests that the birthmother is giving away someone who she doesn't want, which implies that she is a terrible human being and incredibly selfish, when really, choosing adoption can be an act of extreme unselfishness.
Her: Oh, we never use the phrase "giving up the baby"; we try to say, uh, well, what we say is, well, we just say "give your baby life."
Me: Oh yes, give the baby life, but why not give it even more? Why not ask them if they have thought about adoption?
At this point, I shared a little about our personal experience with our son's birthmother and her parents and how much love they had for him, so much so, that they chose adoption for him.
After we parted, I reflected on this conversation. As pro-life people, we are well versed in the "Choose Life" mantra. We put it on our bumpers, on our t-shirts, on our billboards, and on our Christmas cards. This is a wonderful thing to do and has no doubt changed hearts and saved lives. But what happens after many women choose life? Do their babies live in homes free of domestic abuse? Can they give their baby a father who guides them and protects them? How many of these babies will end up available for adoption anyway in 8 or 10 years because they have been placed in foster care and their parents couldn't properly care for them?
I totally get why a birthmother would not want to consider adoption. A single-mother is considered a hero in our society (true, many are), whereas, a mother who chooses to place her child for adoption is more likely to be viewed as "avoiding responsibility" or "thinking only of herself". And then there is the grandparent factor. Many adoptions are stopped by grandparents who step in and say "I will raise your child" which makes them the de facto parents, but then who fills the doting, spoil-them-rotten role of the grandparent? They say "don't you dare give up MY grandchild" for adoption. How could anyone, especially an already extremely stressed and exhausted birthmother, handle such pressure, even if she was considering adoption?
I myself have never had to make that decision and so I can't say that I would be able to choose adoption if I were the one facing a pregnancy for which I was unprepared. But I do think that if I heard positive and encouraging stories regarding adoption, if I lived in a society where choosing adoption was held in high regard and considered a very loving and unselfish decision, if I had the encouragement of my parents and my friends (and pregnancy resource center workers), then I would be much more inclined to give it some serious consideration. Unfortunately, this is not what most birthmothers experience today.
Back in November, which was National Adoption Month, I waited for at least one pro-adoption story in our diocesan newspaper. There were none. But the month before, October, which was "Respect Life Month", there were weekly stories about various pro-life efforts around the diocese.
As Catholics, we are very good (and rightly so) about promoting the "Choose Life" message and helping the mothers who make that choice. And I was pleased to see that the theme of this year's March for Life was adoption. However, unfortunately the "Consider Adoption" message still needs some serious marketing and as pro-lifers, we shouldn't hesitate to share it. That message too, will save lives, and might even make a few lives better.