Saturday, July 29, 2006

Pruning Time

The other day I got the message that I'm trying to do too many things. I gave a friend a ride to Mass, and as we were getting in the car I pointed out the lettuce plants I've been trying to grow this summer. I mentioned that I'm learning that when you don't water them enough, they grow thick, tough stems -- to get water from down below, I suppose.

She commented that to grow plants you really need to tend to them daily, and that with two young children, I have enough to look after.

Then, at Mass, we had the Gospel reading of the sower and the seed and the four types of soil. The priest pointed out that one way to look at the seed sown on thorny ground was that it represents the person who simply has too much going on. The one who is so busy doing good he doesn't have time to pray.

So, twice within a half hour. The message registered.

I've been making a mental list of all the things I've done or tried to do this summer (with varying degrees of success and completion). Here's the ones I can think of now (not necessarily all attempted at the same time, but all during this summer):

Learn to sew and make underwear for my daughter
Grow Romaine lettuce from seed
Learn French
Catch up on classical literature by listening to books on tape
(In that category I finished Hound of the Baskervilles and David Copperfield, and gave up on Little Men.)
Gather quotes to get our house painted and meet with contractors
Supervise clean out of rental house, find new renters, and clean/sort/and donate huge amounts of stuff to local thrift store
Screen new rental applicants
Serve on advisory committee for local thrift store
Work on my family tree (to date it contains 31,615 names)
EC with my daughter
Orchestrate sale of organic meats to families in my area from a farmer an hour from us
Shop at the local Farmer's Market weekly
Strew interesting science materials for my son
Attend daily Mass
Cook nutritious dinners from scratch each evening
Participate in about 12 on-line discussion groups
Serve on a committee to research and create new Baptismal preparation materials for our town's parishes

Perhaps I'm missing a few things.

I think my friend is right; next year I should forego the lettuce.

I don't know... am I the only one who struggles with feeling like I don't really DO anything all day long? That there is so much more I could be doing? How do I stop the whirlygig and come to a quiet place? I remember in my Lutheran days hearing how Martin Luther said if he had an extremely busy day he knew he had to spend an extra hour (so two, not one) in prayer.

I need to re-focus on that which is most important -- the life of the soul -- and let other unnecessary things fall away, and allow the other important things to be re-vitalized for me so that my mind can be with me in whatever I do, not on the 100 tasks I haven't done yet.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Scrubbing Toilets

When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I had a common refrain about my fears of what would happen if I gave God full control in my life (hmmm... there's that control word. Probably another post coming.) The refrain was "I'm afraid if I tell God I'll do anything He wants that I'll end up in some little town scrubbing toilets."

Well, Steubenville has a population of about 18,000, and today I scrubbed my toilet.

I don't suppose it was the scrubbing part, or necessarily the toilet part, or even the small town part that I dreaded. What I was sure of is that if all of these came to pass, I would be miserable. Really, I think what struck me as the worst is that at the time I never would have freely chosen to do those things. I guess what I was trying to say is I feared God would force to do something I didn't want to.

Ok, on second thought, this IS that other post.

God doesn't force people to do things they don't want to do. God doesn't force anything. Even good things, which is really all He has to give, anyway.

What God does, which I completely did not understand during the phase of my life when I feared this, is change us with His grace. He created our nature -- human nature and our own individual soulish composition. Then, He gives us grace. As we receive it, we believe and act upon it. Then He gives us more grace -- that's how we walk down the road with God, so to speak. It's how the journey of faith goes.

It occurred to me the other day at Mass that we go through different stages in our relationship to virtue. We, or at least I, start out thinking virtues are nice things, nice ideas, with not much application to me. Then, virtues are something I try to have. I try to be generous, I try to be zealous. And that lasts maybe a hour or two, and I'm back to real life. Then virtues are things I get bothered about not having. I'm so stingy, I'm so bland. It's only when we get to the scary point of needing a virtue -- being pushed to exercize weak virtue -- that we start getting the point. And for me right now, needing virtue in relationship to my children is the ultimate motivator. The ultimate fear, if you will. When my son was a baby, it was fortitude in advocating for him in his foster care system. But when it is virtue needed in talking with him, in modeling the way I wish for him to live, that is when I am finally on my face, needing virtue. I know I need something that God has to give me, that I can only receive from Him.

I want that virtue because I need that virtue. Without that virtue I will feel a type of failure towards my children I don't want -- the failure to show them Christ.

So I was thinking about authority = service today as my daughter was on the potty, and I said to myself, my that toilet needs a wipe 'round. Because I am in authority over my children, I need to clean that toilet. God commissions me to clean that toilet.

But the difference here is that I see it as a bigger part of the desire for virtue. I went after that toilet with the kind of quiet delight that says "this is God's will for me." Mind you I don't like cleaning the toilet. I'd rather not have to. But because it presented itself as a need, I embraced it. I wasn't miserable. God wasn't forcing me. It's part of the little way God gives me to walk with Him and grow in grace.

I think perhaps the only way we can teach our children to be virtuous is by becoming virtuous ourselves. It isn't easy, because it involves dying to ourselves.

He's Learning, Too

Here's an episode from today. I don't know if this indicates a huge paradigm shift on my part, or if it just shows how dense I'm capable of being!

I was making dinner, and my son's friend came down to the kitchen looking serious and told me that he had hit her. I'm developing this mode where I figure if I just say some small thing, the child at hand will run with the next stage of things. So I gave a very serious look back and asked her how she felt like dealing with it. She commented that she didn't know, and turned and went out the door.

Moments later, my son came downstairs. He explained his own upset. She insisted on calling him One-X, but he didn't want to be called that, and it was making him really mad, and she wouldn't stop and she hurt him so he hurt her. My sweet boy is always honest.

He emphasized the part about being really mad. I asked him what would be a good way of handling it when he was really mad. He said he could shut the door and be alone, which I affirmed and added to a bit, and pointed out that his friend had already left. A moment later, he was outside after her, because he really doesn't like to be alone all that long. I stopped him to also remind him that hitting is not a good way to handle being really mad.

The whole incident was smoothed over and they were back playing together within another 60 seconds or so.

And as he went out, I was thinking about my previous post, on the nature of parental authority. And I thought to myself "Hmm. Well, I'm not the only one who's trying to learn about how to interact with others."

And then I thought -- wait a second! I'm the Mommy; he's the little boy. Of COURSE he's learning about how to interact! For a minute I thought I was the only one for whom getting along with others is sometimes tricky.

Isn't this the sort of thing that Familiaris Consortio talks about in terms of all of the family evangelizing each other? I help him, actively, try to handle his emotions in constructive ways, and he helps me, passively, for now at least, grow in virtue by requiring it of me!

Which reminds me of something else I wanted to blog....

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Question Authority??

I had an experience the other day of the sort I've not had in quite a while. Here's what I mean: I was telling my son something, and realized while I was saying it that it was much more profound that I realized, something I could really benefit by pondering awhile.

But since I generally cannot ponder these days without being distracted by housework that needs to be done, or by falling asleep, I'll blog it instead.

We were in the car, driving to the library after having run a couple of other errands. Getting my son into the car had been a bit of a to do, as he had been playing with the neighbor kids and even though I'd told him about the outing all morning, and he'd happily chirped, just before skipping out to play, that I should just let him know when we were going to leave -- when it came time to go, he was a tad surly.

As we drove, he grumped that after we finished at the library, he intended not to obey me after that. As a reflex, I told him that sounded dangerous. And I proceeded to tell him what obedience is for: protection.

Maybe this was partly from my pre-Catholic pentecostal days, and this is part of why I need to meditate/blog on this for a bit. But what I found myself telling him was that God puts each one of us in relationship with other people in a way that is like being under an umbrella. I explained that he is under my authority in order to be protected. And that when children are little, like his baby sister, that protection is largely of the physical sort -- so that no physical harm comes. But that as we get older, the protection is more for our hearts. And that just like when we get sick, we have pain that tells us something is wrong in our bodies, so when we are disobedient, this is showing us that there is something amiss with our protection.

Then we got to the library, and he started telling me how his 6 year old next door friend had been telling him about offering things up as sacrifices.

Big huge flashes went off in me as I was saying this, because I also knew what it was telling me about right use of authority. I did mention to him, too, that authority can be abused and misused. But I saw that parental authority is not about getting my son to suit my personality, to embrace my interests or abandon his, or about my comfort, my way, my thing.

Parental authority is a commission I have received from God to protect my children from physical, emotional, spiritual and moral evil.


Sometimes I still struggle with feeling like what I am called to do as a parent is to crack the whip, lay down the law, demand compliance, have him ask "how high" while jumping and all those cliches. I'm not sure how long it will take me to realize these are all vestiges of dominance, not authority. Didn't today's Gospel, for the Feast of St. James, talk about how the Gentiles lord it over each other, but it is not to be that way for Christians? Doesn't that include Christian parents?

I saw that when I started to give a "why" to the obedience I was seeking from my son, calmly I might add, without feeling personally threatened by his daring to "disobey after going to the library" (he's 5, ok, so his phraseology is as cute as it is confusing most of the time) -- he seemed much more at ease with obeying. How often haven't we all said, especially as kids, "what's the point? why do I need to do this? aren't you just bossing me around?"

What I need to think about next is this: when I'm tired, reaching my wits end, busy with making dinner, baby care and managing the last mess that just occurred (these five combine daily), how do I exercize authority that is there to protect him, to shape his heart productively, to instill virtue? And not just rudely, domineeringly, try to make my moment easier for me? Maybe the fact that my son and I have such different ways -- he is definitely not the auditory learner I am, and my words sail right over his head most of the time -- but I do feel that most of the time by the time we connect I am being rude to him. Maybe I need to learn to connect in ways other than words. To me that's like saying I need to learn to walk without using my feet. Hmmmm... a challenge.

After all, if God has placed me in authority over my children, I'd better figure out how to do it well.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

What it's all about... in the final analysis

Handwritten sign found on the wall of Blessed Mother Teresa's room:

People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; be successful anyway.
If you're honest and frank, people may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, others may be jealous; be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will forget tomorrow; do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; give your best anyway.
For you see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

Adapted from The Paradoxical Commandments by Kent Keith (1968)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Lesson Needed: Conserve!

We rent out our "old house" as we call it; the house my husband and my mother-in-law bought when he first moved to town. It is where I first met my future husband. It is where we had our rehearsal dinner before our wedding. It is the first house we subsequently bought together, from MIL. It is where we first brought my son home to when we started his foster/adopt process.

We moved three years ago, because even though it is a decent, solid house, it's right smack on a corner with quite a bit of traffic whizzing by, it has no yard, and it's not in what you'd call the most family-friendly neighborhood.

We rent it because houses just don't sell around here. Real estate boom? Not in Steubenville.

Two years ago the neighbors to our right of our current house had to move out because that house was being sold, and the then-owner of that house wanted to get the guys a good deal, so he negotiated for them to rent our "old house." Which was fine with us as we were looking for renters anyway. But we never did get them to sign a lease.

They supposedly wanted to stay for four years, but they were all from New Orleans, and that was before Katrina hit. They all decided to leave in June.

Well, I don't really know how many people actually lived there at one point during the two years it was rented by the one responsible, polite, friendly face we actually dealt with. I'm thinking it was something like 20. And they all left hundreds, probably thousands of dollars, worth of stuff behind. Computers, designer clothes, televisions, bedding, kitchen stuff, books, personal documents and pictures, furniture, gadgets, boots -- you name it.

Students, they were. I think they needed to take a class on responsibility and conservatism.

I no longer have the slightest compunction about what we ask for rent, which is about the same as what someone in a house much less sound and pretty also pays. I used to feel sorry for poor students, assuming they barely had two pennies to rub together. Or at least it seemed that way with some of our people who didn't seem to have money when rent was due.

Personally, I worked hard every summer so that I could go to college the next year. I did get scholarships and money from the VA due do my father's disabled veteran status. But I also worked. Of course, my tuition and board wasn't a five-digit figure every year. (I recall that for my first semester of college, when I went to the State University and lived at home, my expenses were all of $600. Mind you, that was in 1985.)

Anyway, if these folks can collectively leave behind what amounted to an entire garage packed with stuff, somebody is not hurting for money. I don't begrudge people their wealth, but I am not enamored with people tossing perfectly usable things away as garbage.

We have brought home so far at least 4 heaping minivan loads of stuff that I have cleaned out, sorted, and mostly donated to the local Catholic resale shop to generate some income to aid the poor. At least I do feel good that this is good quality stuff that is going to be able to bring in a decent dollar amount for Samaritan House. And I also know that probably at the end of every semester, there will be more to collect from the University dorms and rental properties.

But I do hope our next renters will abide by their lease and not leave it all over our old house.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Thanks, Jerry

My Schultz Genealogy Gets a Boost
Yesterday afternoon, I called a complete stranger in Minnesota whose great-great grandfather was the brother of my great-great-great grandfather.

If you visit some of the major genealogy websites like, after you poke around a bit you could find that I am a compulsive genealogical information hound. I leave messages scattered all over the internet in hopes that someone will find one that is pertinent to them also, and contact me with information.

Four years ago, a man named Jerry Truhn did just that. He had been helping a relative of his research her Schultz ancestors, and he found a query I left on on Genweb World Project website about my Schultzes who just happened to come from the same town in what is now Poland. He had done some research in church records, rather accidentally transcribed way more Schultz information than what pertained to the immediate line on which he was working, and as he read my post, he recognized that he had the info I was looking for.

He tantilized me with a few interesting tidbits, like a half-dozen siblings of my great-great grandmother whom I never knew existed, and the names of my great-great-great-great grandparents. Then he promised to flesh out the post with more information, just as soon as he could go through his notes.

A few nights ago, a cousin (first cousin once removed, to be exact) contacted me, remembering about some promised further Schultz information I had talked about. Oh yeah, I thought, I wonder what ever did become of that?

I went back through my old emails. Jerry had had one thing come up, then another, then another. Then, he had been in the hospital. In his last email he confessed he'd been diagnosed with cancer. He said he would get to me as his energy levels allowed.

But I never did hear from him.

So last week I searched around those genealogical websites to see if I could find some recent posts by him with a recent email address.

Instead, I found his obituary. He was only 63.

So, after a little detective work (which truly is something I love about genealogy), I tracked down the relative with whom he was working on these Schultzes, and gave her a call. Tonight I've printed out a 38 page report of all the Schultz descendents I have on file, a copy of all the email correspondence I had from Jerry, two articles I found on the internet about her parents and grandparents, and a letter summarizing it all, and I'll ship it all off to her tomorrow.

What Jerry was not able to fill in for us, hopefully we'll be able to piece together for ourselves.

As I like to say, the one good thing about history is that it doesn't change, it will wait for me to find it.

And I'm much closer to finding a huge chunk of my history than I would ever have been without Jerry's answer to my query.

Friday, July 14, 2006

I Will Remember Joshua

Last night I read an email from a friend who shared the details of a horrific accident which claimed the life of her nearly 5 year old nephew, Joshua. Attached was the eulogy his mother gave, entitled "Just So You Remember Joshua Schmiedicke". After reading it, I knew, I would always remember Joshua.

The Mom drove her six children and two of their cousins to their parish to meet the Dad who was at confession. Some of the kids piled out of the car to go find Dad. Then, unbeknownst to Mom, Joshua climbed out of the window of the Suburban, and crawled under the vehicle, behind the rear tire.

Mom saw the need to move the vehicle a bit to let someone else park. She heard a man scream, jumped out, saw that the unimagineable had happened. She held her son's hand, comforted him, he breathed his last.

I have a son, too, about two weeks younger. He loves to play with swords, too. He is all-boy, too. In so many ways, as I read about their tragedy, I could not help but try to imagine myself in their awful, awful place.

So often when we hear of a child's death, there is someone or at least something to blame, to peg it on. Violent crimes perpetrated by the worst of criminals. A disease. Something that could have, should have been done differently.

But here, I am struck by how there is only innocence. Joshua was just doing what comes naturally to boys. Mom was just doing what comes naturally to a conscientious woman who works all day to be helpful to others. There is no one and nothing to blame.

The Scripture that keeps running through my head is "Let the little children come to me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God." Oh, my dear Jesus... I do want my children to come to you... but why that way? It was almost as if Jesus just told Joshua "It's time for you to come home now. Please, follow me."

Suffering is always a mystery. At least until fruit begins to be borne. But for those closest to this suffering, they need our prayers. They need our eyes to cry their tears, our hearts to feel their pain.


A question this brings out of my heart is: If you knew your child would be born to eternity tomorrow, would you change how you parent today?

If you can answer yes to that, then obviously you need to make that change.

When I thought on this, I realized I need to do more active listening with my son. Stop preempting his comments, stop assuming I know what he will say or assume he's "just talking silly", and actively listen to him. Sit down, spend the time, look in his eyes, play with his feet. Stop trying to do 15 things at once, as I always say I am. Those other things aren't always all that important.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Starting Off

I belong to a whole bunch of Yahoo! groups. Not nearly as many as I used to, but still, quite a few. And I've been having a lot of trouble getting mail from them lately. That got me thinking to how much writing my thoughts into cyber space is something that helps me so much. Helps me feel connected inside and out. Helps me clarify things in my own mind. I've been wanting to start a blog for a while now, and this seemed like a fine time to jump in.

As with everything else in life, I'm sure I'll figure it all out as I go along.