7 Quick Takes Friday {12/12/14}

stall-shoe-cabinet-with-compartments-brown__0105253_PE252355_S41.  I went with a friend to IKEA this past week.  I’ve had my eye on a shoe storage cabinet thingy for close to a year now but still haven’t bought it, for who knows what reason.  I visit it every time I’m in the store though.  Do you do this too?

 

0892.  This was admittedly last week but I’m sharing it anyway.  My  youngest daughter, Alice, assaulted Santa at my husband’s annual work Christmas party.  Screaming, crying, and trying to rip the poor man’s beard out.  He looks terrified.  He was terrified.  This is typical of the sort of thing that happens when the Heldts go somewhere.  Be warned.

 

3.  We had the stomach flu visit our house this week.  SO, so gross.  As in, I’m STILL airing out the victim’s bedroom.  Any ideas for something to help get the horrible smell out?  I guess if nothing else it masks the usual smell of dirty socks.  Yuck.

 

1134.  On Monday night we attended the anniversary dinner for the Christian Life Movement.  Now the CLM was originally founded in Peru.  And there’s this running joke about our friend Ryan (a consecrated layperson) because everyone always assumes he’s Peruvian, even though he’s not, and people are always asking him where he’s from and he says, um, Arizona.  And for whatever reason we were laughing about it that night and about how my girlfriend Alex and I are just as Peruvian as him, so then we took a picture with our priest who IS actually from Peru.  I know, it doesn’t sound as funny when you’re not there.  But here we are, and only one person in the picture is from Peru.

 

1265.  My big kids had their school holiday program this week.  As you know, we are former homeschoolers who entered the classical charter school realm this past Fall.  And oh my goodness I was confirmed again in our choice on Tuesday night as my children sang their hearts out to song after song, and recited their lines with precision and confidence.  And do you know what else?  There was a nativity play.  And songs about Jesus.  Courtesy of the public school system.  Boom.

 

6.  Yesterday I did pretty much the best thing ever: I put together TEN FREEZER MEALS.  I know. Awesome, right?  In the span of an afternoon I assembled ten delicious (and healthy!) dinners, which makes me oh so happy.  How’d I do it?  I’m an independent representative for Wildtree, a company that makes all-natural culinary blends and infused grapeseed oils.  When you buy a Wildtree freezer meal kit you get the organic Wildtree products, an organized grocery list, and set of ten recipes.  It’s so easy and simple!  I can’t wait to make the next menu!  And let me know if you’re interested–I can hook you up too!

 

1307.  So, so excited about this.  Fun announcement forthcoming.  Be ready.  Or something.  On a related note, would you consider subscribing to my blog if you don’t already?  And liking my page on Facebook?  You can use Feedly, Bloglovin, or your email inbox to keep up to date on what is happening here.  I’ve also begun a mailing list that you can sign up for on my sidebar.  No spam, just some fun updates and free tips on how I manage life with eight kids.  It took me forever to figure out this MailChimp thing so make it worthwhile, and subscribe!  :)

 

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Thanks to Kelly Mantoan for hosting!

The local parish

 

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After Mass on Monday night, we (along with dozens and dozens of our closest friends) celebrated the anniversary of the founding of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (or Christian Life Movement).  The movement began forty-three years ago in Peru, and our priest and several consecrated lay people at our parish are members.

The first time we ever attended our church, in fact–back before we were Catholic–someone approached us and asked if we were somehow affiliated with the CLM.  Which needless to say was confusing–what is the CLM, we wondered on the drive home, and why do people assume we’re part of it?  Back then we were just trying to figure out when to kneel and when to stand and which knee you were supposed to genuflect on, so obviously something like the Christian Life Movement was nowhere near being on our radar.

And though I’ll of course never know why someone thought that in the first place, I do now know that it was really a compliment of the highest kind.

It’s especially funny now, in light of the fact that our family was asked to share a testimony at Monday night’s reception dinner about the blessings we’ve received through our parish and the aforementioned Christian Life Movement.  

So we stood up front, all ten of us Heldts, and spoke about what being at our particular parish has meant to us.  Even three of my kids said a little something.  And it wasn’t anything fancy or profound, just our gratitude for what we have received there, which could never, ever be quantified.  Our dear church community is, simply, amazing.  We had five minutes to talk, but we could have gone on and on and on.

Something I’ve given a lot of thought to over the past several months is the very concept of the local parish in general, of investing and putting down roots in a particular place with a particular group of people.  Of building real, actual, meaningful community.  It has been so good for me, especially as a convert to Catholicism, to receive not only the Sacraments at my church but also friendship, accountability, and company for the journey.

And yet I realize this is not the case for everyone.

So tell me: do you spend a lot of time with fellow parishioners?  Is your local church a big part of your family’s life?  Why or why not?  Let’s get this conversation started!

Also, if you’re new here?  Please consider subscribing to my blog via Feedly, Bloglovin or email.  Then visit my side-bar to sign up for my mailing list, and receive exclusive updates on upcoming projects and adventures!

 

Friendship for husbands and wives

I recently read an article over at RealClearReligion, where author Mark Judge asserted that husbands and wives ought not expect to be, or function as, best friends.  Judge’s views are attributed to Edward Sellner’s work on the subject, based upon the old Jungian concept of “the double”.  Sellner includes this quote in a recent book he wrote on the subject:

“Every man and woman — whether one is straight or gay — carries within his or her soul this psychic pattern, expressed in the need for same-sex relationships of love, tenderness, intimacy, and joy.”

Interesting, right?  Maybe it’s the former Psychology major in me, but I think it really kind of is.

Judge sees little room or space though for a man’s “double”, or close male confidant, in modern Western culture.  He then goes on to argue that “today we have spouses who are emotionally and spiritually overburdened because they become each other’s sole support system.”

My initial reaction to the article–based on title alone–was admittedly defensiveness.  I thought, who is he to say my husband can’t be my best friend?  Aren’t marriage relationships and personalities unique, and can’t couples be close if they want to be?

Dr. Popcack even wrote a bit of a rebuttal over on Patheos, and points to what I think is the danger in taking Judge’s position too far.  He expresses my sentiments perfectly when he writes, “Marriage is the foundational unit of the family and family is the basic unit of civilization.  If you get marriage wrong, you get everything wrong.”  (Emphasis mine.)

And so in that sense, doubles be darned, if things aren’t good at home then not much else is going to be good.  The marriage relationship is the most important earthly relationship for a married couple, and therefore probably the one in which we should invest the most time and care.  Especially if we have children, there will be significant responsibilities and considerations at home, ones that might preclude a weekly night out or afternoon on the basketball court with the guys.  Wives need emotional and physical support from their husbands.  Mothers need present fathers who are about the daily, hands-on work of loving, training, and knowing their children.  The best way to achieve unity, and hopefully some level of happiness in the home, is for husbands and wives to be close, true, faithful friends.

But I would contend that Mark Judge, Edward Sellner, and  Dr. Popcack are actually ALL correct in their respective estimations of marriage and friendship.  Because best friends or not, husbands and wives can’t do life alone.

In spite of being a classic introvert, I’ll admit it: I need friends!  I need my people!  I assume you know what I’m talking about.  That handful of friends that you tell all your secrets to and spend lots of time laughing with, and with whom you can be yourself.  I don’t have siblings but, growing up, I never really missed not having them around–probably in part because I had such close friends to share shenanigans and Friday nights with.

Things change a little when you become an adult, of course.  Sometimes friendships are harder to come by or make time for.  We have definitely had seasons in our marriage where we did not spend a lot of time with friends–my husband was offered a great job right out of college, and so we moved away to beautiful Santa Barbara for a year upon getting married.  Rough life on the California coast, right?  Actually, it was kind of isolating.  As much fun as we had as newlyweds, eating out and seeing movies and sleeping in and strolling State Street, we didn’t have any friends nearby.  Nor did we make any.  We were kind of lonely.  We moved back a year after we’d arrived.

And that sweet couple on the left, in the picture with us?  Some of our dearest friends.  Living far, far away.  With whom we have spent many a late night playing cards, laughing until we couldn’t breath, and talking about everything under the California sun.  Oh, how we miss them!

So I’d say that overall, we married folks are happiest when we share the journey with other people. 

And happy, fulfilled married folks probably make for better spouses!  A positive, optimistic outlook on life is naturally going to allow for a more easygoing, forgiving, relaxed marriage.

The reason I felt a little uneasy about the original article’s assertion is, I suspect, simply because my husband and I are very close friends.  We spend a lot of time together, are equally invested partners when it comes to the domestic work of raising a family, and he knows everything about me.  We talk a lot.  We support one another.  It’s obviously different from a friendship with a girlfriend, but it is my most important relationship.  I honestly don’t feel like there are things I can’t tell or share with him, that must be reserved for other women only for fear of burdening or boring him.  He’s a good guy.  And I’d say that historically, one of the strengths of our marriage is our communication.  We communicate constantly.  We are settled and comfortable in our interactions.  It is, I think, healthy.

And it’s always been that way, he and I.  From the time we began dating, we were friends.  I was 19 and he 20, then.  We spent Thanksgiving together very early on, and he met my parents and friends, and someone baked a pumpkin pie without sugar in it and we have remembered and laughed about this around the table every Thanksgiving since.  We used to grocery shop together late at night, and I’d make fun of him for filling his cart with things like cheap soda and Budget Gourmet meals.  We’d spend time reading the Bible and discussing theology–I told him once that it was fine with me that he was raised a Lutheran and still identified with some of the historical Christian beliefs, but that I’D never be one of those weird people that baptizes their baby.  Cough.  We would play Tetris for hours on end on the old NES and laugh hysterically at Seinfeld reruns, and hike to the top of Bishop’s Peak.

And of course it was romantic love, too.  Though neither of us told the other at the time, we both knew very early on that we wanted to wind up married.  Then he bought me a ring and proposed on the beach and wrote me a song.  Once engaged we began openly and eagerly planning and dreaming for our future.

But friendship was at the core of our relationship.  Always.  And we are, dare I say, best friends.

My priest called me yesterday to ask if our family would prepare something to say at an upcoming event, about what blessings we’ve received by being a part of our parish.  When I asked him how long the remarks should be, he said three to five minutes.  And it’s funny because I’m fairly certain we could fill three to five hours–easily–with the joy and beauty of what we have found and experienced there.  Our home is so full of dear friends on special occasions, and my children have such wonderful buddies.  There is no shortage of delightful couples on our “to have over for dinner” list and I’m always up for time with a girlfriend.

It cannot be said then that we are lacking for true, authentic friends.  We spend time together and visit one another’s homes.  We laugh, cry, and pray.

And it is, without a doubt, a tremendous blessing.

Not only to my husband and me, respectively, but also to our marriage.

It is important to know we are not alone.  To walk alongside other people from whom we can draw strength, support and inspiration.  It is good for our children to see faith and life lived in community, to see that our family is part of a much larger family, and that we are called to love.

So can husbands and wives be best friends?  Well yes, yes they can.  In fact, I’d implore anyone contemplating marriage to be sure they’re marrying someone with whom exists a good, close, solid friendship.

But I would also caution against becoming an island, of being so “busy” that leisure and the simple joy of friendship are buried beneath the crushing weight of work and duty.  We need more men and women to say through word and deed that “I have time and space for you, because I value you.”  We need more parents modeling openness to others to their children.  We need mothers and fathers–desperately–to recover the idea of having fun, letting go, and enjoying life.

This need is at least partly met, I suspect, through the intimacy and comfort of extra-marital friendships.

Last Sunday night my husband and I got together, somewhat spontaneously, with several friends to watch the Broncos game–of course a most hallowed event in our neck of the Colorado woods.  I don’t much like football but I love my people and, as far as I’m concerned?  A game is merely an excuse to eat yummy food, hold sweet newborns, and have good conversation.  That particular evening was no exception, and after we’d left we reflected on how we know such great people, and how blessed we are to be in a season with such dear friendships.

It is, both literally and figuratively, good for our married souls.

Five Life Hacks for Millennial Moms

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Our generation is busy.  Oh, so busy.  There are things to do, places to be, children to bathe.  Many of us are homeschooling (or have children spread out over multiple schools, like I do!), or raising kids with special needs, or working an additional part-time or full-time job.  Or, perhaps you’re simply weighted down with the cares and concerns of being Mom.

And I know, because I AM a mom.  People often want to know how I manage life with eight children and, to be honest, it’s taken years to figure out a general system that actually works for me.  Trial and error for sure.  Because let’s be real–things that work for some people or during some seasons aren’t helpful to/during others, and I’ve learned to just ignore the stuff that isn’t relevant for me here and now.  I can only do so much.   But I have discovered some general principles I pretty much live by, and today I’m sharing a few things that have made all the difference in my having a happy home filled with happy people.

1.  Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Do you want to know the secret to taming the laundry, calming the sea of toys all over the floor, and reclaiming your sanity?  This.is.it.  Once upon a time we moved from California to Denver, and bought a charming little bungalow built in 1912.  Said bungalow was lovely and, thanks to an addition, fairly spacious–but did not have an abundance of storage space.  Bummer, right?  Actually, no.  Not at all.  That was probably one of the greatest things to ever happen to me–because I got so fed up with stuff spilling out of the few cabinets and shelves we DID have, I had to figure something else out.  So, I started scheduling pickups from the local thrift store.  Every.single.month.  And I got rid of things!  Bags and bags of things!  And do you know what?  It was liberating.  A fun challenge to see how many bags we could donate each particular month.  It’s something I continue to do.  So I may have eight kids, but I don’t keep an excess of bedsheets, blankets, clothing, home decor, or toys around the house.  We have the things we need and use, but that is all.  And, I’m happier, calmer, and better for it.  Simplification. It’s my favorite.

2.  Streamlined meal preparation.

I have battled the meal-planning beast for years now.  The truth is that I don’t love cooking, and this has historically been a problem because it’s something that simply has to happen.  There are ten of us living here.  We need to eat.  And I’m not comfortable with the regular consumption of totally processed or take-out food–not only is it unhealthy, it’s also expensive.  Plus we eat around the table together, all of us, every single night, and this is precious time that I want to use well.  So what is a mom who doesn’t absolutely relish spending hours and hours in the kitchen to do?  Well, I’ve figured out a way to streamline things and have gotten into a pretty great routine as a result.  And a huge part of this is Wildtree.  I have my own business putting on freezer meal workshops and helping families eat good food that is healthy.  Think organic, all-natural, delicious culinary blends and grapeseed oils, along with delicious, simple recipes.  Just season your meat and prepare.  SO YUMMY!  Wildtree has made a HUGE difference in my meal prep.  I’ve also figured out some great veggies that my kids love that I typically keep in the house–fresh sweet potatoes or Brussels sprouts roasted with a little olive oil, salt and pepper; a big green salad with peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and Costco’s Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing; raw veggies with hummus.  And I don’t stress out over the occasional quesadilla night because I know we’re eating well the rest of the week.

3.  Delegate to your kids.

People are always asking me how I “do it”, and I’m never entirely sure what “it” they’re referring to.  Something tells me no one is actually wondering what I use to clean the shower or what my preferred method of stain fighting is.  But one thing I always am very quick to say is that, ultimately, I DON’T do it, or at least not by myself.  We have always been very, very intentional in including our kids in the daily tasks of life–laundry, cleaning, table-setting, kitchen and dining room clean-up, tidying the house at the end of the day, bed-making, vacuuming and sweeping, even diaper changing.  I know.  It sounds like a lot.  My kids absolutely do a lot, but then, that is simply life in a home and family that runs smoothly.  I tell my children often that I can’t do it all by myself, and that life involves being a good steward of your things.  I regularly cite the old adage “many hands make for light work.”  And I think that while nobody really LIKES chores, everybody sees–on a daily basis–that when we work together, we are able to live in a home where there is space and time to play, think, and enjoy.  We don’t personally do a rewards system, because I think the reward ought to be intrinsic, but there certainly are ways to incentivize kids helping out.  Don’t believe the lie that moms have to do every little thing.  You really can give your kids responsibilities around the house, teach them how to take pride in their work, and cultivate life skills that they’ll take along with them.

4.  Prioritize tasks.

You really can’t underestimate the importance of figuring out what needs to happen most.  I honestly doubt there’s ever been a week when I have really, truly accomplished EVERY SINGLE THING ON MY TO-DO LIST.  And that’s okay.  Because somewhere along the way I figured out what really NEEDS to happen, and so I focus on those things–and anything beyond that is a bonus.  Obviously these things can shift around depending on the life phase or even week.  What are my “must-do’s” right now?  A clean kitchen.  Home-cooked meals.  A house that is tidy throughout.  Ish.  Swept floors–even if they’re not always subsequently mopped.  Clean kids wearing clean clothes.  Quality time with my husband in the evenings.  This doesn’t always all happen every single day, but more or less, it’s what I try to have accomplished.  And it only really works, because I delegate.

5.  Make time to make things beautiful.

This is subjective.  100%, completely subjective.  And, as with everything else, you can take it or leave it.  But it makes a HUGE difference for me, so I think it’s worth mentioning, because here’s the thing: being Mom is a lot of work.  It just is.  Even on those bare-minimum, we’re barely surviving days, it’s a lot of work.  And frankly, most home maintenance is a drudgery.  For me anyhow.  Oh how I love a clean house and a closet full of freshly-washed clothes, but confession of all confessions, I don’t actually enjoy getting it to that point.  So I have to make myself do these things, and find a way to get motivated.  It’s not always easy.  But do you know what can really help?  A new pillow for the couch.  Some curtains hung in the little girls’ room.  Word art for the wall.  Something, anything, to change things up and freshen the space.  Of course it could also be something for yourself–a funky haircut, or cute dress you find on clearance.  For whatever reason, we humans are prone to falling into ruts, but sometimes even the smallest purchase feels like a luxury, and gives us the motivation to keep going, keep trying, and take some pride in our home or our own selves.  It’s not about having a magazine-ready house or body, it’s about feeling good about our little world.

Thanksgiving 2014

My crazy family in our obligatory, annual, squinting into the sun Thanksgiving photo.

My crazy family in our obligatory, annual, squinting into the sun Thanksgiving photo.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Much to be thankful for here–fabulous family, good friends, our first Thanksgiving in our present house we bought to be nearer those family and friends, beautiful children who are doing well in just about every way, and an all-around happy life.

Today we’ve descended upon my dear parents’ home in Littleton for feasting and togetherness.  My favorites are the company, mashed potatoes and stuffing.  If my sweet mother and I get brave, we might even venture out to a store or two tonight.  Maybe.

I’m presently sipping coffee with Bailey’s so the day is definitely already a win.

As I’ve reflected recently on my life, unassuming and simple as it is, I’ve thought that maybe that’s the secret to staying happy–being about the small things.  It’s hard to pretend you’re above being silly, having fun, working hard, or making time for others when you have eight young children making noise and chaos all over your house.  It’s impossible to not see life as it really, truly is when you’re being covered in squeezy hugs and messy kisses all day long, and tucking sweet babies in at night.

Today I’m pretty much thankful for all of the things, but especially for the life that God has given me.  It is not front-page worthy, glamorous or particularly exciting, but it is just about the most beautiful life I could imagine living.  Thank you, dear readers, for being here and for making my piece of the blogosphere such an enjoyable place to be.

So from my home to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!

 

On faith and Ferguson

faithandfergusonIt’s hard to know what to say about something as big and important as this.

I don’t wish to comment extensively on the particulars of the situation in Ferguson, because I’m not interested in sparking a bloggy debate or in emoting about something that doesn’t presently directly involve or affect me.  Goodness knows there’s no shortage of that already going on.  Suffice it to say that, like people on either side of the Ferguson fence, I have found myself mentally shouting at my computer screen multiple times today.  I am, after all, human.

On the other hand, I DO want to write about the more general reality of what happens when something is complex.  That is the problem of social media today, that it cannot encapsulate or accommodate the various nuances and complexities of a situation.  If you woke up today and expressed concern over looting and mob violence, for example, then you clearly don’t care about Michael Brown’s grieving parents.  Alternately, if you jumped out of bed and pointed out the problem of systemic racism in our country, you are stuck in the past, playing the race card, and supportive of cop-killing.

And it’s ridiculous, all of it ridiculous, because the average American does care, I think, about good things like peace, equality, and justice.  Anyone with a pulse has a heart that hurts when they consider the pain of losing a child, of living in generational poverty, of being a member of a community that struggles and struggles against the crushing weight of inequality.  Most people also believe that we need to have laws, and order, and that police work is important and, dare I say noble, when done well and in the interest of the common good.  Is it always?  No.  But is it necessary?  I suspect most of us think yes, it is, on some level.

So why does everything have to be so polarized, so rooted in a juvenile either/or mentality?

Among other things, Ferguson reminds us that the world is overflowing with pain, heartache, suffering, and imperfect systems.  Nobody should wish that an 18-year-old’s life end the way that it did, or that his body be left in the street for hours.  OR that a police officer should ever have to pull the trigger for fear of being brutally attacked.  It is all just SAD.  And terribly messy.

It would do white Americans good to listen to what the black community is saying, to the pain in their voices and to their stories and experiences.  At the same time, we must not label as automatically racist someone who stands up and pleads for an end to the destruction of property, the fire-setting, the burning of businesses (many of them owned by black men and women), or the shooting of guns across a community already split wide open by pain and hurt.  Violence of this magnitude must not be the solution.

My dad is often fond of saying that there are no easy answers.  And, he’s right.

When I read and hear of the unrest in Ferguson and, ultimately, in the hearts of many Americans, I can’t help but think of Jesus, of His love and peace and calls for justice.  I can’t help but consider that God created human beings with dignity, and with the capacity for good, because HE is good.  I think of Christ’s Church, standing as a city on a hill, with outstretched arms of mercy and grace for any and all.  And, I think of our Blessed Mother, Mary–who watched her son die a gruesome death and suffered greatly for love of God and the world.  The hurts, slights, and stories in Ferguson are REAL.  There is anger and distrust and hatred and loss.  There is brokenness.

But of course this isn’t unique to Ferguson, is it?

This is part of the human condition, a reality of the human heart, the result of sin and evil in the world.  We don’t forgive, we choose disdain over love, we see us vs. them, we dismiss anything that we find too inconvenient to address.  It may manifest itself in racial issues but is certainly not limited to racial issues.

I live thousands of miles away from the epicenter of this latest rupture in the fabric of our culture, both literally and figuratively.  But I am a human being, as is every Ferguson resident involved in this sorry situation.

And so while I won’t add my ultimately irrelevant voice to the near-deafening court of public opinion on the tragic death of Michael Brown, I will beg my fellow Christians to remember to pray for peace-filled hearts.  To work towards the transformation of your respective communities.  To bring the hope of Christ into the margins and peripheries.  To combat loneliness and isolation on a very basic and local level.  To remember that people–men, women, children, and families–are hurting, and that we are called to be a conduit of healing and grace in a war-torn, hate-ravaged world.  

A world that is hungry for peace, dignity, freedom and safety.

A world that necessitates a slowness to anger and a compassionate willingness to listen.

A world desperately waiting for Christians who won’t walk away from the table, but who will instead sit humbly with them amidst the brokenness and ashes of painful complexity.  Who will listen and say it’s okay, we see the hurt, and we see the nuance, and we love you with the love of Christ.  Who conquers fear, death, and hate.  We will stand with you in your dignity.  And, we’re sorry.

 

What is love?

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My vintage crew in 2007.

Okay, folks: is Charles Manson REALLY getting married?

This is seriously so creepy.  Like really, incredibly, utterly disturbing.

Just when you thought someone couldn’t be as deranged as Manson himself, a young woman (with an uncanny resemblance to his followers back in the day) steps forward to marry him.  Sheesh.

Funnily enough the issue is not only making huge headlines for its obviously strange nature, it also has people asking about marriage itself.  Again.

I even found myself offering the Christian perspective on marriage in a Facebook conversation yesterday.  I don’t typically jump into the fray like that (and I confess I was terrified), but this was a friend who does not identify as a Christian, and who was inviting Christians to defend their stance on same-sex marriage–when apparently we’re okay with Charles Manson’s upcoming nuptials.  Her question was a natural and good one, I thought.

Now the obvious answer is easy: we’re NOT really okay with the Manson affair! It does not appear to meet the qualifications for a valid sacramental marriage.  People who look at the headlines and roll their eyes and say “What a joke!” are right to do so.

Of course Christians not of the Catholic persuasion might have a harder time explaining why exactly Mr. and Mrs. Manson are a problem– or perhaps they don’t think it’s fundamentally a problem–because they belong to a tradition that no longer espouses the historic Christian understanding of marriage and sexuality.  They would be in a tough spot defending an opposition to same-sex marriage while simultaneously excusing the Manson marriage.  (Although hypothetically speaking, were he not disallowed conjugal visits and were they not certifiably insane, Charles Manson and his girlfriend could potentially marry. But anyway.)

I have always loved how the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes marriage.  I am admittedly a book nerd.  I don’t know if you own or read the Catechism, but even if you’re not Catholic it’s an INCREDIBLE resource for profound spiritual wisdom and truth.  It is rich, deep, clear, and makes for a great read on just about any subject.  You can find it on Amazon or wherever you buy books, and I’d highly recommend getting yourself a copy!

Anyway, first it says this:

1603 “The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. . . . God himself is the author of marriage.”87 The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes. These differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics. Although the dignity of this institution is not transparent everywhere with the same clarity,88 some sense of the greatness of the matrimonial union exists in all cultures. “The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life.”89

And then, this.  Isn’t this amazing?

1604 God who created man out of love also calls him to love the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being. For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love.90 Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. It is good, very good, in the Creator’s eyes. And this love which God blesses is intended to be fruitful and to be realized in the common work of watching over creation: “And God blessed them, and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.'”91

What astounds me about the Christian story, about God’s story, is that it all amounts to love.  That is the point.  That is the end-all, be-all.  Life is not primarily about finding happiness or security, living well, avoiding pain and suffering, or self-actualization.  Those may be by-products or secondary blessings or good things, but really?  It all goes back to love.  First, God’s love for us, and then our response of love for him, and finally the result of that, which is our love for other people.

And this is something that American Christians struggle to express to the modern world.  We kind of have the reputation for being anti-love.  No small number of observers think Christians are judgmental, puritanical, obsessed with sex, exclusive, hate-filled, reactionary, narrow-minded, busybodies, hypocritical, bigots.  People assume our primary goal is to somehow achieve political domination through the oppression of marginalized groups, like homosexuals, or the poor, or women vulnerable to abortion.  People think we are angry.  People think we do not love.

Why is this?  Many of these assumptions are unfair, and based upon ignorant stereotypes perpetuated by mainstream media and agenda-driven idealogues.  But some of them may be well-deserved, because perhaps Christians have not responded as well as they could have to issues of our modern times.  Maybe we have not fought hard enough for justice, or maybe we have forgotten how to be outwardly joyful amidst opposition or difficulty.

Maybe we have not taken the time to know, and then really love, people.

I’ve been thinking a bit about the same-sex marriage debate in particular because of what folks have been saying about these upcoming Manson nuptials.  I’ve been wondering about why the Christian message–Jesus’ love for the world–has been eclipsed by a set of moral do’s and don’ts.  I’ve been considering how Christians can offer the hope and love of Jesus to a culture increasingly tuning them out, and reducing them to little more than People Who Have Hateful Opinions About ______ People.

And, I have no real answers.

As a Church, the Church Jesus founded to invite human beings into a radical, life-giving friendship with God, we MUST somehow find ways to dialogue and pursue and engage.  We must be truthful and faithful to God’s plan for men and women, and encourage men and women that they were created with dignity and out of love.  We must live in light of the fact that chastity is a virtue, and a good one, and one that is for ALL people–not just for single men and women or gay men and women or men and women who’ve saved themselves for marriage.  We have to tell the whole story.

We have to somehow be willing to sit with the tension of our message being perceived as a paradoxical one.

We have to answer the question that every single person is asking, What is love?

What does love mean, what does love look like, how does love work, what does love cost?  Love is not a subjective, fleeting feeling born in the heart–it is instead the highest of virtues, it casts out fear, it tells the truth, it is not selfish.  Love is the very nature of God Himself.  And we know what love is because He not only told us, but showed us.  God-become-man.

Something Catholics say a lot is that love is a YES.  I never used to think of it that way but it is absolutely true.  Love begins as a yes to God, a response to His invitation into friendship and relationship and life, and of course translates into a yes to loving other people.  It will inevitably at one time or another cost, really cost, something–motherhood naturally comes to mind, because it is at once both a “yes” and a sacrifice.

When we adopted my sons, we went from being a family of three to a family of five.  As one would expect, we got  lot of “Why are you doing that?” and, when I became pregnant four months after my sons joined our family (taking us to a family of six), a lot of “Was this an accident?”  And when I answered no, a lot of dumbfounded looks.  What struck me most back then (and still does today) is that people were incredulous not so much because of the number of children we had, but simply because we were saying yes.  Being open.  Allowing love to grow and exponentially multiply, which it always does when a family is graced with new life.  Those early years of our marriage with four itty-bitty children were outright hilarious, but they were beautiful too.  If I could go back for a time, I would.  A three-year-old sister sneaking cookies from the pantry to distribute to two-year-old brothers.  Sloppy kisses and chubby hands welcoming a new baby sister.  Exhausted parents collapsing onto the couch at the day’s end, laughing at how ridiculously amusing our life was.

But there was love.  Always.

Any mother will tell you that true, authentic love doesn’t always look fabulous or feel easy.  Jesus’ mother especially.  And this is part of why the Christian story of love can be difficult to explain to a culture so driven by consumerism and hedonism–what feels good at any given time.  When something loses its usefulness, throw it away.  But love in action doesn’t always feel good.

I suspect that the best we can do as Christians is to just keep loving–really, truly loving.  First in our devotion to God and then in our homes, with hearts soft and open and saying yes.  And then for those outside of our immediate circle, loving them as best we can and gently sharing the TRUTH about what love is, when appropriate.  Inviting them in.  People can handle the truth.  A “yes” to the best things will often mean a “no” to many other things, but the incredible thing is that in living up to our human dignity, we receive life. 

I was speaking to a group of moms recently, and part of my response to a difficult question was simply that you will never regret following–or saying yes to–God.  Trite, but true.

When people argue about marriage now I always think about this question of love, and about how confused our culture really is.  Love is so rarely portrayed on television, in movies or by the media in general.  No one knows how to define it, it has been replaced by cheap sentimentalities and sappy platitudes, and has ultimately been isolated from its hard and gritty hands-on nature–the very thing that keeps struggling families together and doesn’t lose hope, and which endures suffering and doesn’t count the cost.

Embodied by Jesus.

Offered and freely given by the Church, through the Sacraments and Her people.

I suspect that Charles Manson and his bride, sadly, know little of the sacramental nature of marriage.  This “intimate community of life and love”, where “God himself is the author”, is “not a purely human institution.”  We religious folks–and no, not just Catholics, because it was clear at the recent Vatican meeting (with American representatives as varied as Russell Moore and President Henry V. Eyring!) that we’re not the only ones interested in the meaning of marriage–can graciously extend our hearts and our knowledge to others.  We can share this love with the world by not only loving but also by making ourselves approachable, available, engaging.

Joy is, ultimately, winsome.

Hope is, ultimately, winsome.

Faith is, ultimately, winsome.

I’ve never seen myself as a culture warrior, but I will gladly speak and stand for love and dignity, the natural rights of every human person.  I will do my best to have joy in the small things of my life, like little blonde girlies jumping together on my freshly-made bed, giggling every time they lose their balance and fall.  I’m behind on laundry and my brand-new sweatshirt has bleach stains all over it, and my big kids refuse to keep their rooms clean.  I’d love the blessing of another baby and yet I’m not pregnant, but I do have myself an Alice who’s just under two years old, and is about the most precious little thing to toddle the planet.

So in all things I have joy, and it’s real, because it comes from God.

Who is love.

And that’s real too.

And we should tell the world about it.

On the Catholic blogosphere

My real life.

My real life.

Soooo apparently my last post made some, ahem, waves among Catholic bloggers.

Maybe it was the part where I said that the “Catholic scene makes me want to stab myself in the eye.”

Or when I used the words “fighting”, “predictability”, and “vacuity.”

If this offended you, mea culpa.

I am sorry.

That was not my intention.

At all!

Throwaway comments, really–picture me waving my hand dismissively as I say that, spilling coffee out of my mug as I am prone to do when I talk with my hands.

When I told my husband about the fall-out he laughed and said, “Well you know I agree with you.  But you do realize that what you said, without clarifying what you meant, those are fighting words.

And I was all, “No!  I seriously didn’t give any of what I said a second thought!  I figured everyone felt the same way!”

And then he laughed, again, and rolled his eyes at my obvious naivete before launching into a speech about the various sacred cows of the Catholic blogosphere.

Now while I stand by what I said, I want to take this opportunity to clarify what I meant.  I’ll begin with a perhaps little-known fact about my blogging self: I don’t actually follow very many blogs.  So when I was referring to the “Catholic scene”, I was probably not talking about your series on liturgical seasons, your recipes, the cute dress you bought from Stitch Fix, or your adorable kids.  I LIKE all of those things!  And if you enjoy sharing them with the world, more power to you.  Keep on keepin’ on.

What I WAS referring to however was the fighting and posturing that characterizes much of the Catholic blogosphere at large.  That is, the parts of the virtual landscape dominated less by crafts and cute babies, and more by issues of faith and morality.  And church politics.  I am not naming names, mostly because I’m not sitting here actively thinking about specific people, and also because I like a lot of those very people were I to think of them.  But I DO see the headlines and comments and back-and-forths most every day.  I see the “real Catholics do this” and the “those guys are just like yucky fundamentalists”, and “this is how you’re supposed to think about insert-your-favorite-social-justice-issue”–even if it flies in the face of what the Catechism says.  Or, “we don’t like what you said or how you said it so you need to fix it.”  I find it all tiresome.  Personally.  Not everyone does, but I do.  It’s my opinion, which is why I shared it here, on my blog.

And so even after I was contacted by someone saying I should make some edits, because people found my comments to be offensive, in the end I made the decision to leave it.  Why?  Not because I want to be a cyber bully, but simply because I stand by that opinion.  I honestly don’t think it’s even that controversial.  There IS a lot of fighting.  It’s nearly always about the same set of issues, thus being utterly predictable.  And yes it does contribute to the general situation of what I shall call the Catholic Vacuum, where everyone is chattering amongst themselves long after the world has tuned them out.

And you know, it’s not even that big a deal.  Like I said earlier, it was just a throwaway comment.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise that not everything written by a Catholic with a keyboard resonates with me.  Sometimes I really do encounter something that makes me want to stab myself in the eye, like a crowded day at Costco or the way my son keeps wearing the same pair of stinky socks over and over again, no matter how many times I tell him to put them in the hamper.  Not a life-or-death matter to get all worked up about, and not even something worthy of unleashing my wrath in the combox.  Just a funny little thing like my mailbox during an election year, or accidentally buying five pounds of slimy carrots at the store–it happens and then you shake your head and move on.

I hate slimy carrots by the way.

Now for whatever reason, when I mentioned the “Catholic scene”, a number of women assumed I meant the mommy blogs–a term I hate, by the way, but I’m using it here for lack of a better one.  People honestly thought I was throwing all of last year’s fellow Edel attendees under the bus, which would understandably be tantamount to kicking small puppies.  But frankly that’s ridiculous.  I’m not even very familiar with that segment of the blogosphere, for one thing–I hardly knew a soul or her blog at Edel.  And for another, I don’t think anyone should ever assume that a general complaint about blogging must be referring to their own personal blog, or to a set of blogs represented at one conference over the summer.

Which brings me, briefly, back to the issue of vacuity.  How can we approach the subject of blogging, of reaching people with a message (regardless what the message is), of shining a light into the darkness, if we cannot think critically about what we do?  How can we engage the digital continent in a meaningful, authentic way when we take ourselves so seriously or tiptoe around so as to not inadvertently stir up a hornet’s nest? 

And I have to tell you that as much as I love blogging (most of the time), I DO think there are actual, real problems with the medium itself.  In general.  Particularly as it relates to faith and community.

Because while the blogosphere can be a delightful gateway, conduit, and avenue for sharing the hope of Jesus, faith and community must not end, or even primarily dwell, there.  The digital continent cannot take the place of the local parish.  Facebook ought not crowd out coffee with a friend or dinner with a neighbor.  Bloggers must not replace priests, bishops, popes, saints.  I love social media in all of its forms, but only when experienced in its proper place.  All too often I fear it is not.

And as a blogger, I think there is a real danger in taking myself too seriously or believing that what I have to say is VERY VERY IMPORTANT FOR EVERYONE TO READ.  Were my blog to vanish tomorrow, with all of its readers and followers and likes and shares?  I’d be upset, but I’d still wake up in the morning and stumble to the coffee maker.  Get my kids off to school.  I’d text my girlfriends and shop for groceries.  I’d attend our parish’s book discussion on Mere Christianity–one of my all-time favorite books.  Shoot, I’d probably get to work on my own book that I hope to write.  I’d laugh with my husband and fall asleep watching a show in bed.

I would live.  My life.  Like everybody else.  And the internet would, ultimately, have a little less noise.

So, this silly little experiment in social media is wonderful, but it’s not the be-all, end-all.  What I write here is an extension of me but it is not me.  I’m honored to have you reading and thinking along with me, and am humbled by your ongoing support, but I also know that whatever good comes of this space is ultimately the work of God.  While I am so happy to get to share my stories, the good and the bad, with all of you dear readers, I don’t ever want to reach the place where I believe this is somehow my finest accomplishment or the thing I love the most.

Those sentiments should be reserved for in-real-life, face-to-face endeavors.  Because that is where life is lived.

And that is what gives me the freedom to write what I wish to write.

Now PLEASE don’t get me wrong.  Blogging does have the potential to reach and connect people in a unique way, that books and magazine articles do not.  I’m a big fan of blogging.  Not only do I get to connect with people I wouldn’t otherwise know, but I am also able to put myself out there in a way that might give somebody else hope or courage or just plain make them laugh.  It’s awesome.  I feel privileged to get to do it.  But then this brings us to the fact that of course not everyone will appreciate what I have to say 100% of the time.  Maybe this post isn’t toeing the right line, because you see it as diminishing the importance of the blogs or virtual connections you’ve come to love.  Maybe this isn’t what Catholic mommy bloggers are supposed to say.  That’s okay.  I’m comfortable saying it just the same, because it is an authentic expression of what I believe to be the truth.  That is what I can offer you–it’s all I can offer you, because while I can’t promise you’ll always love what I have to say OR that what I write will always be happy unicorns and rainbows, I CAN give you my word that I will always be honest here.  I will tell the truth.  I don’t LIKE making people feel bad, but statistically speaking it’s probably bound to happen from time to time.

When I share things about the problems with artificial birth control, it no doubt alienates my readers who contracept.  Which stinks.

When I describe my journey to the Catholic faith, I’m sure I make my Protestant readers uncomfortable.  Which also stinks.

When I write about transracial adoption, voting for pro-life politiciansFifty Shades of Grey, Pope Francis, or leaving the homeschooling lifestyle, I am going to have readers who can’t relate.  Who disagree with my perspective.  Who think I’m wrong to say what I say.  Even though I don’t share this stuff with hopes of upsetting pro-choice feminists or die-hard E L James fans or, most recently, Catholic bloggers, I occasionally disappoint people.  It comes with the territory.  An occupational hazard, I suppose, that I have had to make a level of peace with as my blog has grown.

Because I write to explore, think, understand, and humbly offer my personal experience.  My truth.  And my HOPE is that if you stick around long enough and get to know me, we can become friends, even if we’re not on the same page about every single little thing. 

That would be terribly boring, anyhow.

And if you like to blog, whether as a hobby, money making venture, or way to connect, knock yourself out!  Write your passion.  Share your opinions.  Tell your story.  Own your words, even when they’re misunderstood.  Don’t become a slave to a particular mold or in-crowd in order to score followers or drive traffic or secure speaking engagements.

Be you.

Don’t have a niche?

That’s okay!

I don’t either.

Write anyway.

On rotten apples and blogging

 

1390

Just a rotten apple I found in my purse last week. NBD.

The other day I participated in an online discussion about blogging.

More specifically, it was about burnout–and whether it’s worth your time, and what’s really even the point of writing and sharing photos and connecting with people using this medium, especially on days when traffic is low and the combox is filled with nothing but the sound of chirping crickets.

I know, I lead an exciting and thrilling life.

The landscape of the blogosphere has changed dramatically since I first began.  And I, like most bloggers big and small, admittedly have a love-hate relationship with the whole thing.  Because not only is my real face-to-face life so full that I don’t always feel the need to gravitate to the blogosphere, I don’t have any sort of real niche.  Am I…a Catholic blogger?  An adoption blogger?  A mommy blogger?  A big-family blogger?  A homeschooling blogger?

I guess I’m kind of homeless in that regard.  Oh and I don’t homeschool anymore, so there’s that–not that I was necessarily widely read in homeschool circles anyhow, but now that I’ve happily defected to the classical charter school mom life?  I’m definitely out of the loop.

Nor do I, if I’m honest, really want to be labeled or boxed in by any of those things.  Because, do you want to know a secret?  I find the vast majority of the blogosphere to be dreadful.  The Catholic scene in particular makes me want to stab myself in the eye, with all its fighting and predictability and vacuity.  Then the adoption blogs are primarily focused on attachment and therapeutic interventions which, while incredibly important, do not as much fit with our personal experience.

Also, I like to post pictures of decomposing fruit on my blog.

Gah.

I think of my blog as, I suppose, simply a reflection of me.  And yes I am Catholic and I am a mom, and I do have a lot of kids, and four of them are adopted, but I’m not terribly interested in saying what a million people are already saying, or what a particular group of people is wanting me to say.  I’m a real rebel like that.  Maybe most of all, I want any ol’ body who wants to read along to feel like he or she can read along.  Not everyone will be interested in everything I share but that’s okay–frankly I don’t WANT this to be something only Catholics read, or only adoptive parents read, or only moms read.  I like me some variety.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak at a mom’s group, and do a q&a afterwards.  It was such fun, and reminded me of what I LOVE about being a blogger.  See it’s a very rare day when I see everyone off to school, drop my two littles off with grandparents, and show up somewhere in a dress, boots and makeup to share about my life.  It was, honestly, such a treat.  And the moms were so super nice, and had lots of good questions.  We laughed together, and not everyone’s life looked the same but we connected.  And that is, I think, the goal.

***Incidentally, if you are looking for a speaker for an event, please get in touch with me!  You can find out a little more about that here.  I tailor my talks to your particular group and yes, I’m able to travel.  Especially to places like Hawaii and England.***

Now speaking of blogging, just last night I was at a meeting where everyone was introducing themselves and sharing about their respective careers.  Though we were all parents, I was the only person in the room devoid of a college degree.  When it was my turn to speak I was all, ummmmmm, I have eight kids, I’ve just about always been an at-home mom because I got married young and had babies young and never worked a “real job” and, uh, I’m a blogger.

And, I KNOW.

I’m sure people were rolling their eyes and laughing inside because, you know, I said I’m a blogger.  Which everyone knows means I wear yoga pants and drink coffee all day, and then at night I go on BBC radio to talk about breastfeeding my baby in the Sistine Chapel.  I rarely make a dime.  I’m still not entirely sure why I even mentioned I’m a blogger, except that the person running the meeting said everyone should be tooting their own horn.  So I tooted.  About blogging.

Then after the meeting was over, as I was gathering my things (including the brown purse I bought six years ago at a yard sale, and which has a broken zipper therefore exposing all of its precious contents to the world), another woman at the meeting pointed and laughed and said, “you have a diaper in your purse.”  Darn broken zipper, I thought, as I pulled on my jacket (incidentally the one I bought for eight dollars from a HIGHLY stinky K-Mart that was going out of business) and prepared to exit the building into the Colorado Arctic.  “Oh I ALWAYS have diapers in my purse”, I assured her.  “Usually a heck of a lot more than this!”

Had I been thinking clearly I would have also told her about the rotten, moldy apple I found in my purse just last week.  For which I blame the children.  But I didn’t think to say that, probably because it didn’t seem like such an out-of-the-ordinary thing to find in my purse.

Also, do other moms NOT have diapers in their purses?

And then I left, and managed to make it home without my car sliding into an icy ditch, and my husband had saved me a plate from dinner and my big girls wanted to have a dance party with me–somehow my rockin’ moves caused me to pull a muscle in my leg–and we put the freshly bleached and washed slipcovers back on our couches before ending the night watching Blue Bloods in bed.

Domestic bliss.  Seriously.  Not even kidding.

Then this morning it was up early and doing African hair and getting kids to school, and now I’m drinking coffee and blogging in my yoga pants.  My littles and I have some errands to run, which means I’ll need to throw some wipes and a couple of more diapers into my broken purse.  I’ll probably wear my K-Mart jacket.

I like to joke with people that I’ve never, ever suffered from a lack of self-esteem, and really it’s true.  I’m quite comfortable and happy with myself, and I am so darn blessed by what I get to do each day–which is simply to live the life that God has given me.  Sometimes I share about that here on this blog, about the funny things that happen or the thoughts tumbling around in my head.  Of course anyone who’s been at this blogging thing for any amount of time knows that it’s a largely thankless endeavor more likely to be marked by frustration than fulfillment.  Still, some of us do it, and I’m not always entirely sure why.

Other than the obvious reason (which is that we are living in a society of narcissistic navel-gazers), I think many of us blog in order to connect.  To know we’re not alone.

So, welcome.

My name is Brianna, I’m an at-home mom to eight fabulous children, sometimes I go to meetings where I proudly tell advanced-degree-holders that I’m a coffee-drinking pajama-wearing blogger, I hurt myself during dance parties with my daughters, and it doesn’t matter who you are–if you ever have diapers and/or rotten apples in your broken purse, well, you’re not alone.

Here for that

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

My twin Ethiopian sons turned ten yesterday.

Ten!

I know people always say “Where has the time gone?”, but really–WHERE HAS THE TIME GONE?

They were 16 months old when they first joined our family.  It feels like forever ago.  And in some ways, it was–we were living on the central coast of California, we only had one biological child, we were still going to the same evangelical church where my husband and I had first met in college.  In hindsight, life was simple and quiet.

Now we’re in Denver, with six kids in two different schools and two littles at home.  We celebrate Catholic First Communions now, and send kids on play dates, and buy goggles in bulk for swimming lessons.  Our dinner table is full and noisy.  Really, really noisy.  Did I mention it’s noisy?

So yes.  It seems we adopted my sons a lifetime ago.

I used to write about adoption.  A lot.  My blog began, as a matter of fact, as a way to chronicle my sons’ adoption process, back when Ethiopian adoption was far less common and far more feasible.  I also used to attend adoption-themed conferences and seminars and events.  I was the lady with the adopted kids.  But I don’t do any of that as much anymore, and it would seem that adoption is scarcely on my radar these days–funny, because four of my children are, indeed, adopted.

I think I am, simply, too busy about the business of my own life.

And my adopted children are all getting older.

Back when my sons were small, I felt more free to discuss their adoption story in this space.  How we got the call from our agency one sunny afternoon in early December, where we found them in the now-closed orphanage called Layla House–one boy perched on the bottom of a tall wooden shelf, the other reaching out to me from a metal crib.  I never went into too much detail because it is ultimately their story, not mine, to tell.  But now I feel even less inclined to share because, well, they’re ten years old now.  They are beginning to ask more questions.  They are Black, in a Very White family and White/Hispanic community.  They are beginning to internalize what all of this means.

And I am busy trying to help them, to the best of my limited ability.

One evening last week they expressed some things that they’d been dealing with at school.  Just some questions and comments about race and adoption, coming from kids who don’t know any better.  I was making dinner and they were with me in the kitchen, as they like to be, talking about their day.  It wound up being our biggest conversation about race yet, and I was reminded that the long work of identity formation and acceptance has really only just begun.  It is something I cannot do for my Black sons.  They must do it for themselves.  And the reality of the challenges (and joys, too) of transracial adoption struck me anew, as I considered the gravity of what it means to be a racial minority, particularly when you are Black, in this country.  It is, simply, difficult.

My boys are really quite amazing.  They are kind, funny, sweet, helpful, and in spite of being twins, just about as different as different could be.  The consummate odd couple.  They sit with different kids at lunch, play with different siblings at home, and fight like old men when they’re together.  But when the day is done and darkness falls and they are tucked safely into their bunks, blessings given and door closed, they talk.  Go over the day’s events.  Declare what they’re putting on their Christmas lists.  Debate the merits of the various Ninja Turtles and which is the best.  Occasionally pray a rosary.  One of them made a birthday card for the other yesterday where he simply wrote “I love you”, and drew some pictures of zombies and ghosts.

They have a bond that is unbreakable, and which has existed for far longer than they have been my sons.

So I take comfort and find hope in the fact that no matter what, they will always have each other.  They share a birth mother, an ethnicity, a nationality, a history.  I cannot walk in their shoes, but at least they trudge forward together.

See family is a funny thing.  It can transcend genetics and biology with but a stroke of a pen, and yet can never preclude a first family or erase a past or invalidate a series of experiences.  It does not nullify challenges.  One of my sons, after our discussion about race in which I’d done my best to encourage and empower, hugged me and said he’s so glad he’s my son, and in our family.  I told him I was, too, as I squeezed him back–but my heart was pricked with worry.  A sort of clarity settled in, then, that while my husband and I will continue to accompany our sons on this journey towards manhood, we simply do not know where it will lead.  Will our sons grow to embrace their mixed-culture reality, feel comfortable in their skin, and love who they are?  Will they struggle to find their place in the world?  Will they always have an inner longing and void left unfilled due to so much early loss?

The truth is of course that we don’t know.  We just.don’t.know.  We’ve never known.

But the things we DO know?  The things I think about when I see old photos of them in their orphanage, and the things I tell them when I sense they need to hear them?

They are loved.  They are made in the image and likeness of God.  They are resilient.  They are survivors.  They are smart.  They are funny.  They lived nearly a year and a half without a mother or a father, in an institutional environment woefully ill-suited for children to grow, and one of them was terribly sick and unable to walk and failing to thrive.  And here they are today, rocking their weekly spelling tests and kissing their baby sister and serving at the altar at church.  God has big plans for them.

So as we celebrated their birthdays last night over grilled cheeseburgers and ice cream sundaes (per the boys’ request), we held our annual tradition of going around the table and saying something we love about the birthday child.

Some truly thoughtful things were mentioned–of course there was also the little blue-eyed blondie who doesn’t talk much yet and so had hers said for her, and the sweet five year old with Down syndrome whose simple “I love you Yosef” and “I love you Biniam” really sounded more like “Ahhhuhhuuuuuooouh” and “Ahhhuhhuuuuuooobuh”.  But the sentiment was there, and that’s what counts around here!

Then my dad, the boys’ ever-loving grandpa, mentioned that he really can’t wait to see what one of my sons in particular does with his life.  Oh how true it is.  The joy-filled expectancy of things unfolding over time, seeing what a child will grow to be.

Were I asked to tell people about transracial or international adoption now, to explain the ins and outs and whys and what-to-dos, my answer would admittedly be a little different from what it was nine or even five years ago.  Sure, some of the talking points would be the same–children were meant to grow up in families, orphans are terribly vulnerable, and when neither family reunification nor in-country placement are possible, adoption can be a healthy, beautiful solution for a child without a family.  I believed that from the day we signed the overnighted papers, becoming parents to twin boys born in the land of Haile Selassie and the birthplace of coffee, and I believe it still today.

But what I have learned and what I have seen in my home these last several years, through the ups and downs and tears and laughs and birthdays and triumphs and questions and hugs, is that love is a gift, and that love is a choice, and that love grows in some of the most surprising and amazing of ways.  It is, frankly, mysterious.  These dear children come to us as whole people with real life experiences, and with more pain and trauma in their little hearts than we can imagine.  They come to us and we weave them into our families, and start down the long road of love.  Sometimes it hurts.  Sometimes it wounds.  Sometimes we wonder what the end of the road will look like.  Sometimes the road is more or less smooth, as it really has been in our case–but even then, we or our children eventually encounter other people on the road that wound and hurt.

We can give our children the tools and the confidence, but we cannot do their walking for them.

You may be saying “Yes, yes, but isn’t this true for all parents?  Not just adoptive parents?”

And I would say, absolutely.  You’re right.  A million times right.

But.

There is so much more to it when you’re raising a child not born to you, when you are an interracial family, when your itty-bitty sons are growing into young men.  When they have a birth mother and biological siblings living on the other side of the world, when they are Black, and when they are learning what it means to be seen as Black.  The stakes in transracial adoption are high.  You know that going in.  It’s one of those things that just is.

And so I marvel at what an honor it is to be on this journey with my sons, to play a part in their formation as young men and do my best to fill their hearts with love, truth, and hope.  Mostly we’re just like any other modern Catholic family–loading and emptying the dishwasher every day, reading the Bible together during breakfast, and laughing a lot and yelling a little.  Contrary to what people at the grocery store think, there’s not a lot on any given day that really sets us apart from anybody else.  But the truth is too that we live, always and forever, with the reality that my sons have a story all their own, that belongs only to them.

And time necessitates, no demands, that they keep turning the pages and writing the chapters.  They’ve come so darn far, but they have so much farther to go.  An entire lifetime, really.  I’m glad they go together.

When you think about it, it’s really only because of adoption and God’s hand in bringing beauty from ashes that my husband and I are with them, here.  We’re here for that.

Gosh, I’m glad we’re here for that.

So, Happy Tenth Birthday to my dear Yosef and Biniam.  And to anyone considering adoption, sitting on the fence, wondering if it’s worth it or if you should do it or how to figure any of that out: I’ll simply tell you that I know some pretty amazing people, living in my home, that I call sons and daughters.  They inspire and challenge me.  They’ve changed our family.  They used to live life apart from us and they had some really hard things happen to them, and now they live here.   

And, I’m glad they’re here.