Limerick turns restlessly on his crib, mutters into the darkness, settles himself back down with his bottle of water.
Rondel lies curled up against the back cushions of the couch, pillow beneath him, blanket kicked aside, breathing quiet and small in the darkness.
And I hope that as they sleep they are healing, so that when they wake the pain and fatigue will be gone, and their normal energetic exuberance can resurface.
When the normal pattern of our life involves hours spent running and climbing and laughing outside, days in a row snuggled up on couches, dozing on and off, quiet and slow, feel foreign and strange. When bright eyes are dull and weary, when little faces are pale, when active limbs are still and calm, nothing seems right.
And I think to myself, this is only a stomach bug, and they’re going to be better in a few days, and however do mothers cope when this becomes a new normal, and sickness buries its talons into a family? How do they not break with the pain of it, loving so deeply and being so horribly unable to stop the hurting and restore health and energy to their baby? It takes my breath away, how lucky I am, how many good cards I’ve drawn in this game of life; and if it were all to fall apart, would my faith hold firm? I hope that it would, but I pray that such a test will never come.
This week has had some highlights and some rough spots, and both of them have emphasized to me the goodness and beauty of family.
At the beginning of the week, my husband’s brother (the oldest, and the only one of the five brothers that lives out of state) came back into town for a few days, so the five of them had a night out and I invited my two sisters-in-law with children to come up to our place for dinner and to give the cousins a chance to spend time together. It was really a fabulous evening 🙂 We had ribs and watermelon (easy for me to throw together in a crockpot since this all happened on a 10 hour work day, but maybe in hindsight not the neatest meal when there aren’t enough chairs for all the toddlers) and then took the kids outside to play in the water on what was conveniently the warmest day of the year thus far. With six kids ages three and under, outside play was far less stressful and more fun than inside play would have been!
My sisters-in-law are some of the sweetest and godliest women I know – I really am blessed to have them in my extended family through our marriages. It was such a pleasure for me to able to have this time with both of them, even if it did end up mostly centered on the kids! My out-of-state sister-in-law (hyphen overload, my goodness) has shared a lot of parenting wisdom with me over social media, and it was really awesome to see her put it into practice with her daughter during our time together.
And my worries that the cousins would end up having a lot of conflict proved utterly groundless. They all seemed so at ease with each other, and enjoyed the time playing with each other. When they had all left and I shut and locked the front door, Rondel looked up at me and asked, “open door so cousins come back in?” It was so adorable 🙂
In the smaller context of the immediate family, I’ve been so thankful that my boys have each other, to balance each other out and to give each of them a different personality to bounce against and play with and learn about conflict and friendship with. Whatever kind of sibling struggles you may have in childhood, your siblings end up being the people who are still part of your life in adulthood, when other friends have moved on or drifted away. So right now, one of my biggest goals for my boys is to help them learn to love each other well, whether in play, conflict, or service. We did a lot of playing together this week:
Rondel climbed in, so Limerick climbed in too! And this time, it was Rondel’s idea for Limerick to join him, and Limerick thought it sounded like fun. Cloth diapers in laundry baskets are apparently pretty awesome to wiggle down into and bury one’s legs in 🙂 Then Rondel decided to hug one of the diapers, so of course Limerick had to do that too! He loves to do whatever his big brother is doing – and his big brother is starting to pick up on it, and occasionally tries to encourage him to copy him doing something silly.
(Also, yes, I’m aware of the sharp kitchen knife casually lying on the floor next to them… Rondel was using it, under supervision, to cut the banana that Limerick was finished with.)
We’re finishing off this week, that started so well, with a nasty stomach bug. So far no one’s been sick except for Limerick, and we’re hoping it stays that way, because one miserably sick vomiting person in a household is enough!
But his sickness has made me realize again how blessed I am by my family, and how valuable family support truly is. When Limerick first got sick yesterday, it was about 30 minutes before I was supposed to leave for work, and I already had the boys at my parents’ house so my mom could watch them for the afternoon. And I could go to work without feeling guilty because I knew that she would be able to care for Limerick with all the common sense of an experienced mother and all the doting love of a grandmother. I could borrow clean clothes from her to wear to work so I didn’t have to drive all the way back home first. I didn’t have to worry about making dinner to feed the rest of us because my brother made dinner for the whole family at my parents’ house. We were incredibly buoyed up by their presence and support on a difficult day.
Today again, watching both boys after I got home from work, I saw how beautiful family could be when Limerick, who had otherwise been just lying wherever I put him with a tired and zoned-out expression on his face, broke into a smile and actually started laughing because of Rondel’s silly antics around him. I saw the power of brotherly love when Rondel came up to his sick brother and covered him in kisses and hugs, and lay down beside him on the bed to snuggle to “help him feel better.” I’m sure it didn’t help physically, but I’m equally sure that it helped Limerick emotionally.
It makes me so happy that they have each other, to share laughter and silliness, and to learn compassion and love.
Head on over to Like Mother, Like Daughter today to join the link-up or just to be encouraged and encourage others, as we all try to figure out this marriage-and-parenting-and-striving-for-holiness-in-Christ thing together 🙂
There are some things (both moral and doctrinal) about which the Church is incredibly clear and precise – things like the nature of the Trinity, or the objective sinfulness of abortion. She paints those pictures with clear lines and well-defined forms, even through the layers of human or divine complexity that color them.
There are other things about which she is largely silent, leaving the murky watercolors to be lived out in the conscience-informed prudence of her members. These things include education (where there are basic principles within which parents are left free to make decisions according to their wisdom and personality), housing choices (urban or rural? large home or small? bad neighborhood or good? – the choice may be a matter of obedience to God’s leading for an individual, but is never universally proscribed), career paths (let’s just say that some things are automatically excluded and that’s about it), and so on. These are things that touch a myriad of moral principles, but are not themselves defined or regulated in a binding way.
And while homosexual behavior falls solidly into the first camp, the Church having defined it as inherently disordered, transgenderism is just as definitely in the second camp. There is no official position, no magisterial teaching, no long history of tradition draw upon from the writings of the Fathers. We are left to figure it out on our own, to sort through the various principles that are at play, and to decide in the circumstances with which we are presented how best to behave as a follower of Christ in a shattered world. We cannot naively assume that everything is positive, nor should we cynically believe that everything is negative. We should not blow with the winds of extreme gender theory and deny that male and female have any real meaning, nor should we deny the reality of what most transgender and intersex individuals face by claiming that they are all perverts or performers. After all, if our reason and will can be weakened or damaged by sin, and if we respond to this brokenness not by throwing out our understanding of the importance of reason and will but by giving our support and love to those who are affected, why wouldn’t sexuality be the same? Can we give them the benefit of the doubt and believe what they say about their own experience? Can we acknowledge that maybe the general brokenness of creation has touched the link between their bodily and interior genders, and left them feeling incomplete or out of place?
I totally understand all the gut reactions most people have to transgenderism. It just feels strange. It feels especially strange when someone who has been living as one gender for years announces that they really identify with the other gender, because we don’t see the journey of growing self-awareness, suffering, and courage that have to build up in order for such an announcement to take place. You want to claim that their new identity must be a lie because otherwise your whole previous relationship with them feels false. You see their gender-typical body and wonder how in the world they can feel like the other gender. You feel like your own experience of your gender is being stereotyped and patronized by people who have no genuine understanding of it (especially when people like Jenner try to reduce femininity to fashion – I have serious trouble believing the authenticity of that transition, to be honest with you, because he/she doesn’t seem to understand or value womanhood as anything beyond physical appearance and sexual objectification). But those gut reactions, and the celebrities that fuel them, can’t address the moral and philosophical principles at play.
Can we find a way to embrace the “both-and” tension in this area, as Catholicism does in so many areas? Can we praise and value masculinity and femininity as the duality created in the image of God, without demonizing those who fall in between or are dealt aspects of both? Can we continue to see the beauty and mystery of the two sexes, both in marriage and society, but still make a space for those who, because of the fallenness of the world, don’t fit neatly into that dichotomy? The transgender individual is a human being just like us, called to holiness, called to Christ; he (in the universal sense) is our brother, for whom Christ died, for whom we are supposed to live, that he might know Christ and come to heaven in the end. How can we say we have truly loved him if our rejection pushes him away from the Church and away from Christ?
When my husband and I started our backyard garden a few years ago, we overestimated the quality of our soil (well, I overestimated it) and made our garden soil mix with 50% native soil, 30% compost, 10% peat moss, and 10% vermiculite. I had actually found this percent mix recommended for particularly poor native soil and so thought it would work for our adobe clay.
I wasn’t entirely wrong, but quite a few seasons of plants have now struggled to grow deep roots through the hard earth, and been small and stunted as a result. I have only to compare the growth of the plants in my garden to those in my mom’s garden to realize the significant impact made by the poor soil.
Each growing season, as we add more compost to the soil, it improves a little bit more, and eventually it may be as rich and soft and fertile as the soil in my mom’s garden was to begin with – but that process is going to take time, patience, and effort.
I think it is the same way with my heart – with all of our hearts, probably. We all start out in different places; some of us are more naturally inclined to virtue than others, some of us more easily bear the fruit of our beliefs, and some of us just need a lot more work before our actions take on the robust and fruitful nature of a plant in abundant health. We can all have the same seeds planted in us through books, experiences, relationships, and so on; we can all water those seeds in appropriate amounts through continued learning and the building of spiritual habits; but some of us will bear fruit in certain areas far more quickly and beautifully than others. It doesn’t necessarily mean we are trying harder – just that we had better starting material in that area.
For example, when it comes to sex, I started out with really good soil. I have no natural inclination toward sexual sins, and significant appreciation of the spiritual and physical mysteries of the marital act. It has always been an area that leads me to meditate on the incredible love of Christ for His Church, instead of an area of struggle and temptation. On the other hand, I have extremely poor soil when it comes to emotional regulation. My moods swing like a pendulum, and the negative emotions (anger, jealousy, suspicion, resentment, depression, and so on) linger and build up within me like a storm of darkness ready to break upon those closest to me. It damages my relationships, preventing me from becoming truly close to anyone, and wounds the people I love the most. So I can put in hours of prayer and concerted effort towards managing my emotional reactions and redirecting my thoughts and attitudes toward Christ, and still appear to have weak and scraggly plants in that part of my garden – but I can put almost no effort in to resisting sexual temptation and still enjoy healthy and thriving plants in that area. And these areas of strength and weakness are different for every person.
We can and ought to put in the time and effort to improve the soil in those struggling areas, and not just focus on improving the short-term health of the plants therein. How do we do this? By making everything we do be about Christ, centered on Christ, living in Christ, knowing Christ, loving Christ; by immersing ourselves in His word, by constantly coming to Him in prayer, by unifying ourselves to Him and to His people. If He is first, if He is all, everything else will find meaning and beauty in Him. If He is in us, He will be transforming us, mixing the rich compost of His life into the hard clay soil of our hearts, making us more like Him.
The suffering of the innocent is one of the most emotionally compelling arguments against the existence of a loving and powerful God. If He is able to intervene in our world, why doesn’t He stop more of the atrocities that poison it? Why do we seem to see Him act at some times and at others seem to be so conspicuously, unavoidably, alone? Why do some people receive supernatural visions or material comfort, while others suffer abuse and feel that heaven itself is blind and deaf to their prayers?
I will never be able to answer those questions. When my atheist friends bring up the dilemma, I have no short answer to satisfy them, no list of possible divine plans or actions that could make those evils ok.
But what I can tell them, what I do try to tell them, is that Christianity solidly agrees with them that the suffering of the innocent, the oppression and abuse of the vulnerable, is most definitely evil and is never “ok.” I don’t worship a God who is on friendly terms with evil. He hears the cry of the oppressed and avenges the innocent. Why He doesn’t just prevent the evil from occurring in the first place I don’t know for sure, but I would argue that it is because He gave us free will, and for that free will to be meaningful it has to be able to actually affect reality. If love and creativity and courage and honesty are to be authentic, then there must also be the possibility for hatred, destruction, cowardice, and deceit. And the greater the potential good, the greater the corresponding potential evil. It is the beauty and the horror of humanity.
And what does God do, faced with humanity’s evil choices? He gives us a moral standard to understand the difference between good and evil, justice and injustice. He calls us out of darkness into His light, offering us the chance to be forgiven and changed. He promises to punish those who commit evil, either in this life or the next, establishing His justice as a judge in court. And He enters into our suffering alongside of us, offering us the comfort and strength of His presence, giving us the opportunity to use our suffering with Him for the redemption and re-creation of the world.
This article on the national suicide rate, and its steep increase over the past 15 years, was quite interesting, if perhaps a bit morbid and depressing…
I strongly agree with one of the sources quoted in the article that this increase in the suicide rate is at least partially due to the social isolation caused by the breakdown of the family. Our culture is undermining the most intimate and permanent connections we have as people, and we are naturally suffering the side effects of loneliness and discouragement. We have chosen short-term self-fulfillment over mutual commitment and sacrifice, and while the victims of another person’s selfishness obviously pay the highest price, even those who appear successful in their quest for personal happiness may be eaten away inside by insecurity and pain if they have spent their life burning bridges and breaking connections.
And it is not surprising to me at all that the age group that has seen the highest rate of increase is middle-aged men and women, from 45-64 years old. These are the members of my parents’ generation, one of the first to grow up with rampant acceptable divorce, now reaching what should be some of the fullest and richest years of life, with children and grandchildren adding to their joy, and finding that the choices that seemed so independent, romantic, modern, and free have left them empty, alone, and unvalued as the final years of life approach. Having chosen pleasure or esteem or career success over family and unconditional love, they are discovering an ache in their hearts for the sustained and quiet love they have so long neglected. I expect that as each new cohort enters this age group, the suicide rate for it will continue to increase, at least for the next two or three, as the bitterness and dysfunction we have bred in our society bears the fruit of isolation and hopelessness; I hope that as my generation and my children’s generation witnesses the destruction of these social choices, we will be given the strength, courage, and grace to overcome them, and reduce this cultural burden of despair and death.
This is how to reach for perfection: not by our own strength or goodness, but by the grace and love of Christ. This is the perfection to reach for: not our own success or fame, but the fullness of knowing and loving God.
O God, let me know you and love you so that I may find my joy in you; and if I cannot do so fully in this life, let me at least make some progress every day, until at last that knowledge, love and joy come to me in all their plenitude. While I am here on earth let me learn to know you better, so that in heaven I may know you fully; let my love for you grow deeper here, so that there I may love you fully. On earth then I shall have great joy in hope, and in heaven complete joy in the fulfillment of my hope.
St Anselm, from the Proslogion
May my life be pointed to heaven, and thus to Christ, for the wonder of heaven is the fullness of our relationship with Christ and our closeness to Him; may I not think of heaven as just a happy place to do my own thing for eternity, but as the fierce joy and fulfillment of wild hope that it is, where there is finally no sin pulling me away from the God I love; and may my focus on heaven lead me each day to know and love God more deeply here on earth.