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

 

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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

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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.

Too busy for the falling sky

In Jerusalem.  On our Catholic pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

In Jerusalem. On our Catholic pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

It’s over.  Finally.  Sort-of.

As the pope and cardinals convened in Rome for a heated conversation about issues of the Church and family life, I was at home in Denver changing mountains of diapers and shuttling my kids to and from school and church and horseback riding lessons.  I am fancy like that.  In my free moments, though, I was able to follow along with what was happening at the synod–and oh, things were happening–and I regularly found myself thinking through what I would tell the congregation, were I invited to tell them.  I may or may not have spoken out loud to the bishops in my computer.  Because my opinions are very, VERY important.

SO important in fact that if by some small chance this post makes it to the Vatican and someone wants to pay my way to Rome, I’d be more than happy to show up and tell them, in person, whatever they wanted to know.  Shoot, I’d tell them my entire life story, complete with endearing anecdotes and a childhood song on the clarinet, if that would be helpful.  Cappuccino in hand.  Just sayin’.

Now the first thing I want to point out is really more an obvious observation: people in the mainstream media (and non-Catholics in general) don’t realize that historic Christian doctrines don’t changeBecause God’s truths don’t change.  And yet headline after headline has folks thinking that the Catholic Church has now given the green light on insert-controversial-issue-of-choice, in large part due to the powers that be who leaked an unofficial document that a majority of bishops didn’t even agree with.  So to people on the outside looking in, yes there are progressive bishops who would love to see things change, but they won’t.  Not on a doctrinal level.

The messy reality is that there have been heresies and false teachings threatening the Church since her inception, but still she continues standing for truth like a city on a hill.  Compliments of the Holy Spirit.  Boom.

Incidentally there have also been meetings in years (centuries) past where actual fist-fights broke out–did you know that St. Nicholas punched a guy in the face once?  Apparently he wasn’t always feeling so jolly up on the housetop, click-click-click.

Then there was the time when there was significant pressure from both outside and within the Catholic Church to allow for the use of artificial contraception, back in the 1960s.  People really thought that it was going to happen, and plenty of Catholics were on board (including Catholics in high positions of the Church).  But guess what actually happened?  The recently beatified Blessed Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which of course affirmed the good, old-fashioned Christian view on sexuality and marriage.  And so disappointed a lot of people.  And was subsequently ignored by a lot of people.

So.  For those on the outside (or inside) watching and waiting for the house of cards to fall, for the Church to reverse course on various doctrines, well, it won’t.  If you’re sitting there scratching your head and saying “What a mess!”, you’re right.  If you’re alarmed by people wanting to muddy the doctrinal waters of faith, I am too.  If you don’t get why some people are alarmed because you don’t think it matters “so long as the doctrines don’t change”, well, I disagree.  If you are so alarmed you can’t think of anything else because the sky is falling, take heart and spend some time thinking about happy things instead.  Like gelato.

I’d like to move on now to something I found myself desperately wanting the bishops to know during the synod, and that is that clarity was unbelievably important for me on my own faith journey.  No matter how you decide to approach or phrase something, no matter how difficult a particular teaching is, tell people the TRUTH.  In love and with mercy, but tell them the truth.  I remember the first time I read about the concept of indissolubility of marriage–incidentally one of the hot-button issues at the synod–I found it to be incredibly extreme.  As in, who honestly believes this stuff in today’s world, where remarriage is incredibly commonplace?  But when I looked at the relevant scripture passages and read Jesus’ words, and considered that the Church has historically held this forever and always, well, there was no denying the truth of it.

And people can, I think, handle the truth.  We don’t give them enough credit when we assume they can’t.  Sadly, many just don’t KNOW.

My particular perspective on the Catholic view of marriage is of course informed by the fact that when my husband and I got married, we weren’t Catholic.  And I was using the birth control pill, because we wanted to delay having the two or three children we imagined we’d someday have.  While both of us believed marriage was forever, we clearly didn’t grasp the God-designed relationship between married love and openness to children.

Which led to some problems, because the pill made me sick.  Sick and miserable.  Probably not the best way to kick off a marriage but then, like pretty much every newlywed couple wonders, how else were we supposed to go to graduate school and pay off mortgage debt and, most of all, build a strong foundation of love that can only be crafted by years of alone time and pursuing relationship with one another?

Babies are at odds with a good marriage, or so we believed.

What a mercy that contraception was such a wretched, painful pill to swallow.  A profound grace to walk away willingly, knowing it was for the good of myself and our marriage–and then to conceive our eldest daughter before we had the chance to grow too comfortable with various other types of artificial contraception.  When God stripped away our idols of perceived success, autonomy, and freedom?  We truly began to live.  Love grew in our home, unhindered.  We encountered the deepest of joys in a most unexpected place: openness to life in marriage.  This delightfully unexpected surprise has brought with it four biological children, and four adopted children.

Tell people the truth.

The Church must of course continue to find good and effective ways of ministering to married couples, mothers, fathers, children, and families.  And I would suggest that this ultimately lies (at least partly) in a courageous and unapologetic recovering of the joy and beauty of the smallness of family life.  Waiting to be discovered, if only we’ll open our hands and hearts.  The embracing of St. Therese of Lisieux’s “little way”, and Jesus’ promise of life abundant.  The Christian call to excellence, virtue and a life well-lived, that has echoed throughout the centuries, looks terribly humble and inconsequential within the context of the marriage vocation.  It is a man and a woman mysteriously becoming one and building a life together.  It is a baby birthed in pain, sweat and tears in the middle of the night.  It is the painful cross of infertility.  It is the commitment to remain, stay, keep trying, be faithful, through money problems and temptations and ambivalence and anger and wayward children and miscarriage and fear and illness.  It is waking up to dirty dishes.  It is hanging on by a thread, but hanging on just the same.  It is believing and hoping in the dignity of the vocation of marriage, even when it doesn’t look or feel very dignified.

In order to do this the Church necessarily stands as a gentle but firm contradiction to the culture, boldly and lovingly proclaiming the truth of God’s love for humanity and merciful plan for men and women.  People are starving for love, clarity and meaning.  If Christians do not share this vision for a happy, fulfilling life with the world, who will?

Remember that when I first encountered Catholicism, it was as a Protestant quite accustomed to navigating my own way through the Bible and matters of faith.  Many of the historic Christian doctrines and dogmas seemed completely foreign and, yes, arbitrary to me.  I specifically sought out Catholic sources that were clear, orthodox, and reliable.  I made myself stick with the reading, even when it rubbed me the wrong way–and often it did.  Because I figured that whether I liked it or not, whether it was comfortable or not, I owed it to the Lord to see if it was TRUE.  A lot was at stake!  And so I give thanks for the brave souls down through the centuries that were not afraid to share, unflinchingly, the life-giving message of Jesus.  Were it not for the early church fathers, popes, saints, priests, and apologists I encountered and read during the three years leading up to my conversion, would I have ever encountered the fullness of the faith?

As sad and, frankly, disturbing as it is that a bishop would want to obscure God’s beautiful plan for humankind, I don’t lose hope.  In Sunday’s homily, our priest spoke bravely about how Jesus Himself was willing to share the truth of the Gospel message–even when it was uncomfortable, and even when it left him deserted and alone.  There are many reasons I don’t despair of Catholicism in spite of knowing there are a few bishops confusing and misleading people, but one of the biggest?  The fact that this has happened all throughout the Church’s history, and yet still she stands.

And I gotta tell you, good things are happening too!  Right in my very own parish, if you’ll allow me to brag for a moment.  People are being welcomed, loved, and experiencing radical transformation.  My children are surrounded by men and women who love Jesus and His Church, who bless us with their friendship and openness of heart.  We share laughter and conversation over coffee and donuts every single week.  Our local parish is one of the biggest, most happiest parts of our lives, and I love that we are inspired to greater faith and holiness by this beautiful community of God-seeking people.  We could not ask for more.

So yeah, the synod was controversial, contentious, and a well-known cardinal committed a terrible faux paux against the African bishops, and a bunch of people think Catholicism changes like the wind even though nothing actually changed, and it’s all really kind of a big scandalous shame.

But at the same time my faith in Christ and in His Church remains unshaken. 

Of course you’ll never see me pretending that everything that happens in Rome is awesome–because it most assuredly is not.  But.  We know that is nothing new.  We know things will be messy and difficult.  We know that the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15), against whom the gates of Hell shall not prevail (Matthew 16:18).  We know there will always be some number of faithful Christians living out the faith and standing for the truth.  We know that we have Jesus in the Eucharist, and Apostolic Succession and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

So we have faith.  We keep on keepin’ on.  We believe in the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.  We seek to live good lives and make Christ known and point out problems and dangers when we see them.

We stay too busy about the business of love to linger too long over a falling sky.

Why we pray the rosary

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Today is the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary.

The liturgical calendar is far and away one of my favorite things about being Catholic.  Other forms of Christianity have obviously retained some of the bigger holy days (Christmas and Easter, for example), but the vast majority slipped into oblivion.

And of course I really didn’t know much about the Rosary until I began studying Catholicism.  I’d heard of it, yes, because my husband and I are both native Californians and lived in a town for five years where everybody spoke Spanish and had huge stickers of Our Lady of Guadalupe on their cars, but beyond that I really had no idea.

Turns out the Rosary is a prayer (or devotion) consisting of five decades (a decade is ten repetitions) of the Hail Mary, each decade preceded by an Our Father and followed with a Glory Be.  The Apostles Creed, the Fatima Prayer, and the Hail, Holy Queen are also often included, and you use a string of beads to keep count.  As each decade is prayed, you contemplate one of a series of events in Jesus’ and Mary’s life, called a “mystery”.

But where did it come from?  Tradition holds that Saint Dominic (a Spanish priest and founder of the Dominican Order) received the concept in a vision from the Blessed Virgin Mary in the year 1214.  The devotion would go on to spread throughout the years–French priest Saint Louis de Montfort, in the eighteenth century, wrote a still-popular book called Secret of the Rosary, and Pope Leo XIII issued a series of encyclicals and Apostolic Letters in the 19th century noting that the Rosary is a way to participate in Mary’s life, and therefore find the way to Christ.  Mariology, as it is called, is implicit in Christology.  Unable to be separated.

Our own family prays the Rosary around the table after dinner, typically just one decade at this point, and I love it.  My children all know the prayers–even the littlest of them can hold the beads and say the words–and each night we choose a special intention (Protestant translation: prayer request).  Sometimes it’s for someone’s health, or something happening in the world.  Recently it was for my youngest, on the feast day of her patron saint, Saint Therese of Liseux.  We have had the privilege of praying the Rosary in the Holy Land, outside of our local Planned Parenthood clinic, and at the state capitol.

Catholics are often accused of being superstitious or too dependent upon rote prayers.  I’m sure some of them are, but I’m also sure this problem is not unique to Catholicism.  The fascinating thing about historic Christianity is that it really, truly, 100% is based upon the premise that prayer works.  That it does something.  Catholics pray more than any other Christian group I have encountered, and honestly?  It’s challenging!  It confronts my small faith and tendency to assume that God is up there doing what He’s doing independent of me.  It demands I face the reality that humans are created to actively participate with the Divine, that Jesus was fully human even as He was fully God–and that this has implications.  For me.  For all of us.  It boldly asserts that not all is right with the world, that there is evil to be fought and victories to be won, and that somehow we play a role.

Superstitious?  I don’t think so.

The Rosary is, I think, a deep well from which to draw hope.

Did you know that the word Catholic simply means “universal”?  And did you know that you don’t have to be in full communion with the Catholic Church to pray the Rosary?  Go to a Catholic bookstore locally or online, buy yourself a set of Rosary beads and a booklet that outlines the various mysteries, and get started.  Don’t be afraid of Mary.  Christ gave her to us as our mother, to point us back towards her Son.  Her life and role in salvation history are beautiful things, worthy of our attention and love.

So on this special feast day, Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!

We don’t have to be afraid

Just a sampling of some of the crazy fun we have around here.

Just a sampling of some of the crazy fun we have around here.

Last night, right before bed, my nine-year-old son Biniam went to put our cat inside our detached garage.  We have multitudes of coyotes here, so we don’t like our beloved Chesterton outdoors overnight–especially ever since Lewis’ mysterious disappearance several months ago, may he rest in peace.

Not too long later, however, Biniam came racing back into the house yelling–apparently when he’d entered the garage, he was greeted by six raccoons feasting on Chesterton’s food!  My son was wide-eyed and breathless as he reported his findings, and no doubt terribly startled, but he wasn’t afraid.

My kids don’t fear much, actually.

Snakes, roller coasters, scary movies, mice, spiders, the stomach flu, bullies–none of these things phase them.  They take it all in stride.  Life, to my children, brings with it the expectation that things will turn out okay in the end.

But grown-ups are supposed to be afraid, it seems.  Of everything.  Are my kids getting enough protein, when will so-and-so learn to read, is terrorism on the rise, how long should my child ride rear-facing in her car seat.  All of the things.

I had a moment of panic yesterday when I saw a headline and thought, oh my goodness, what if there IS a major Ebola outbreak here and we all catch it?  Maybe we should just hunker down and close the shades and hide until it’s FULLY ERADICATED FROM OUR PLANET.  But then I decided that didn’t sound like very much fun.  Nor is it probably necessary.

Shortly after becoming a mother I made the conscious decision that I was not going to pass fear along to my children, that the world is scary and hard enough without me adding my own hang-ups to it.  This has meant that I’ve had to do some things Very, Very Afraid.  (That’s the definition of being brave, right?  Doing things afraid?)  Big things like boarding a plane (I don’t like to fly) for Ethiopia, to experience my childrens’ birth country for myself.  So they wouldn’t eventually ask why I didn’t go, and then have to hear that it was because I was scared.  (Incidentally I’ve been there three times now.)  Little things like standing back and letting my kids climb and run and explore, and risk getting hurt, so they could learn to do things independently and build the confidence that only comes with experience (and a scraped knee or two.)

That’s not to say that my kids have never seen me afraid.  But I try not to be ruled, paralyzed, or driven by fear, an important distinction in my mind.  Because honestly?

These years are short.

Life is such a fleeting, precious commodity!  And when you have children, you can actually see the time slipping by.  Their little faces change and they use more sophisticated language, and they start to have an “attitude”.  They do things like ride horses and make dinner and use Google.  And I will not allow news outlets and hypothetical apocalyptic scenarios to steal the joy of warm conversations around my dinner table, or lazy afternoons spent swimming in our pool.  I won’t permit something happening thousands of miles away to eclipse the excitement of a small child getting to choose her birthday dinner and dessert.  Because all too soon, these children of mine will be grown.

That’s not to say that I pretend that everything in the world is happy.  My kids all know that suffering is an inevitable part of life.  We read the Bible nearly every day, we’ve taken the time to learn about the countless Christian martyrs who’ve died throughout the centuries, and four of my children come from horribly broken situations themselves.  So nobody’s sticking their head in the sand and whistling a merry tune.  No one is pretending that happiness lasts forever, or that we are entitled to a long/good/easy existence.  I regularly tell my kids, in fact, that it is an honor to suffer for Jesus.

But until we are asked to walk that painful road with Christ, so long as we have our relatively simple and carefree life of work and play and love, we will relax.  Enjoy.  Pray for those presently suffering, yes, but we will not take that yoke upon ourselves when it is simply not ours to own.  We will instead laugh and eat ice cream and help little sisters onto the school bus.  We will jump on the trampoline and beg Daddy to let us play Temple Run on the kindle.  We will celebrate happy milestones and beautiful food-filled holidays.

Because ultimately?  In a sense?  Everything WILL turn out okay in the end.  Any mother would fight to protect her family from physical harm, but perhaps we’re living in an age when I must also fight to protect our family’s love for life and sense of hope.  It might not be easy, but it is worth it, finding the beauty and joy in the small things we do.  Amidst the headlines and what-if’s and uncertainties of this time, we can reject the hopelessness of fear.

We can put the cat into the garage at night, and encounter large numbers of raccoons.

And we don’t have to be afraid.

Surprised by good

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Yesterday I had the privilege of being a driver on an all-school field trip for the classical academy four of my kids attend.  We’d received a grant for a golfing workshop at a nearby golf course, taught by actual PGA pro-golfers.  Cool, right?

The night before, my kids eagerly cleaned out our gigantic van (still cluttered with clothes and toys  from a trip to eastern Colorado on Sunday), and my husband installed the extra seats.  The next morning, eleven excited and jumping (yes, jumping) 5th- and 2nd-graders piled inside, including two of my own daughters who could barely contain themselves with glee because MOM IS DRIVING ME AND MY FRIENDS!!! AND WE’RE GOING TO HAVE SUCH A GREAT DAY!!!

Remember how making the initial decision to enroll in this school came with both happy anticipation and, admittedly, a degree of sadness?  We’d been homeschoolers for five years.  Preparing and eating lunch around our table every single day, sleeping until we felt like getting up, taking off to a friend’s or grandparent’s house in the middle of the week just because we felt like it, and participating in our church’s co-op, where we learned about saints and feast days and Marian gardens–pretty much our first foray into the beauty of Catholic family culture.

But still I spent my summer filling out mountains of paperwork, and scouring the interwebz and greater Denver metro area for the uniforms and backpacks and shoes and lunchboxes.  And sent my kids to school.  Because it promised to be everything I’d hoped for in terms of my kids’ education, and I loved the principal and her vision, and there was no waitlist so really, why not?

Why not see if there was good to be found in a classical brick-and-mortar education?

One of the hardest things about giving up homeschooling was letting go of the idea.  The whole BEING A HOMESCHOOLING FAMILY.  Because it’s a beautiful thing and I love all that it stands for, and I’m sure I’ll always be drawn to the pictures that homeschoolers etch through words and photos in blogs and books–so often in such lovely detail–of why they do what they do.

But honestly?  Even considering all of that?  We are loving our school.  My kids are thriving, growing, improving.  Doing things they absolutely could not do before.  The teachers, principal, and secretary are doing an incredible job, looking out for my kids and building a school culture that prizes kindness, virtue and a love for learning, all of which connect quite well with our own family values.

And what’s more, and this has really kind of snuck up on me, I’m learning to love this new lifestyle of ours.  More than a little bit.  I hadn’t realized this until quite recently, but the mental/emotional energy that homeschooling was ever so subtly taking from me was substantial.  I’m not talking about the actual work of teaching a history lesson or grading a set of math problems, because it’s not rocket science nor was it ever something I particularly minded too much.  No, I’m talking about the ever-present “I’m 100% responsible for my child’s education” piece that unfortunately took up more space in my brain than I realized.  I’m honestly kind of amazed by the freedom and peace I’m experiencing, now that I get to simply just enjoy my children and celebrate their accomplishments–versus not only directing their learning but also having to THINK about their learning, and learning STRUGGLES.  Which some of my children have.

I worried a bit over the summer that negative peer influence or a shift in focus from family life to school life would be a significant problem for us, but so far it’s been okay.  The sky does not appear to be falling.  My children remain confident, well-adjusted, semi-normal children.  Who love God and each other.  The end.

And yesterday at the golf course, as I saw them smiling with their buddies and calling out to me to watch them smack the ball, and as I chatted with the other moms and teachers?  I realized that I was, more than anything else, surprised.  Who’d have thought even a year ago that we’d be “school people”?  That my son would be becoming a half-decent speller?  Or that my seven-year-old daughter would suddenly develop a love for writing, inspired by her sweet teacher?

Who would have known just how good this was going to be for our whole entire family?

If you’re wondering why I’m writing about this, it’s partly because it’s simply what I’m thinking about, but it’s also to humbly offer a bit of a counter-narrative to the sources that paint homeschooling as the *ONLY* possible choice for families who care about raising good kids.

Maybe my silly story about our positive experience with school can offer hope to a homeschooling family who faces the difficult decision of enrolling their kids in a traditional school, for whatever reason.  Because it happens.  And, it’s okay.

If this describes you, dear reader, I’m glad you’re here.  No matter what you decide to do, your family will survive!  I promise.

If you’re one of my many readers who is happy homeschooling, then yay!  Our years as homeschoolers were good ones.  Enjoy those lazy afternoons and snow days where you don’t have to leave the house.  Enjoy your nights free from homework, which is the bane of every traditional-school-family’s existence.

Because no matter WHO you are, you want to be able to enjoy your kids and your life.  And you and I both know there is so much fear out there–and not all without reason.  It was scary dropping my kids off for the first (and, honestly, twentieth) time, I’m nervous as all-get-out about the upcoming parent/teacher conferences, and I don’t know how everything will turn out in the end.  But guess what?  None of us do.

So we do the best we can with what we have, and sometimes we stay the course and sometimes we try new things.  Sometimes we drop out and go back.  Ahem.

And sometimes we’re surprised by good in the funniest of places, like a sunny golf course teeming with hyperactive school-kids, committed educators and parents, and professional golfers.

Parenthood brain dump

parenthoodSo my big kids are all away at school and my house is quiet, so let’s talk about the SEASON PREMIERE OF PARENTHOOD LAST NIGHT.

Also, I know.

The show is by NO MEANS a bastion of good moral decisions and yes, it’s probably a waste of precious time and brain cells when I don’t have either to spare, but oh my goodness–I just can’t help it.  I got hooked watching online last January when I had strep throat, and I’ve gotten all caught up, and I’m ready for the FINAL SEASON.

First?  I’m SO SAD it’s the final season.  Waaaaaahhhhhhh!  Why, oh why, does every good thing have to come to an end?  Dear NBC, puhhhhleeease don’t stop filming this show.  And if you kill Zeke off I’m going to be really upset.  Big-time.

Now, we need to talk about last night’s episode.  NEED to talk.  And let’s just get this out of the way first: was Amber’s baby conceived when Ryan was in the hospital?!  All battered and bruised and bloody and injured?  How romantic.  Ew.

Moving on to less disturbing things, I heart Hank.  Have been pulling for him and Sarah to be together all along.  But the ex-wife coming back?  I honestly felt kind of sorry for her and now I feel torn because of course they have a daughter, and so now I’m thinking, shoot.  Are they going to make us choose here?  This is a real dilemma.  Especially since as much as I love Sarah, she’s a bit self-destructive and maybe she doesn’t deserve Hank.  Ack.

And is it me or does Kristina cry and/or whine every single episode?  PLEASE STOP WITH ALL THE CRYING AND WHINING I want to tell her.  I’m sorry if you love her character or loved her in Patch Adams but ugh.  It’s just too much.

Mini-Braverman-anecdote: did you know the actor playing Adam was the guy in the limo going to the neo-Nazi rally on Seinfeld?  You’re welcome.

Now.  On to the VERY IMPORTANT THINGS.

Joel and Julia.

Why, Julia, WHY?!

Joel is a good guy.  I know he left and all, but in all fairness you DID kiss the guy that used to play Roy on The Office.  Now you’ve taken up with this lawyer at your firm after randomly falling for the headmaster of Adam and Kristina’s school, and apparently have no interest in reconciling with your husband and father of your children.

Boo!  Hiss!

Part of me thinks Joel is TOO GOOD FOR YOU and the other part is pulling for ya’ll to wind up happy again in your cool modern house with IKEA furniture.  Either way, though, you do not deserve to be happy if you’re not with Joel.  Who’s still wearing his wedding ring and remaining faithful to you, by the way.

So.  What I REALLY want to know is what YOU, dear reader, thought about last night’s episode?  Are you Team Joel or Team Julia or Team Joel-and-Julia?  Does Kristina’s personality drive anyone else crazy?  WHAT DO YOU THINK IS GOING TO HAPPEN?

Camping with kids {and friends}

 

glenwoodgroup2

Earlier this month we and several of our closest friends descended upon Glenwood Springs for some camping, hiking, and smore making.

And yes we did pretty much take over the entire campground.  Which could scarcely contain our awesomeness, because really–look at that great group of people!  Every family was responsible for their own meals, which really simplified things, and we all ate together in the big common area.  So.much.fun.

 

088Technically it was “cheater camping”, because we stayed in KOA cabins instead of tents.  But whatever.  Beds, heat and showers make for happy campers.  Cabins for the win!

 

077It might seem counterintuitive but I’ve found camping to be a good vacation option for families with kids.  Why?  Because kids get all excited about the food you don’t normally buy but which is a MUST for camping, they can run around outside and yell and scream and play to their hearts’ content, it’s relatively affordable (especially if you have a lot of kids like we do), and it’s conducive to doing as a group.  See how happy they all are to be setting out on our adventure?

 

083We only stayed two nights, but oh, the fun we had.

 

115There was hiking Hanging Lake.  With eight kids.  Easier said than done.

 

113Taking in stunning views.  With the many pounds I had strapped to me for the entire ascent/descent.  At least she’s cute.

 

110Taking a break from walking.  Tigist’s face is kind of how I felt when we had to begin the long trek back.  :)

 

glenwoodhumantunnelMaking a tunnel for the heroic dads who made it down the treacherous mountain with lots of tired littles.  Best.dads.ever.  Also?  That’s my friend Summer on the right, who hikes when she’s pregnant and always looks so pretty doing it.

 

084Making a mess with bagels and cream cheese.  At least she’s cute.

It was obviously a great trip.  Memories were made and there’s always this deep and abiding sense of relief accomplishment you feel after surviving something with your eight kids that you probably shouldn’t have attempted with your eight kids.  They all had a blast though and hey, that’s what counts.

Next September we’re planning to take this camping show on the road to Philadelphia and Washington, DC!

Yes, I’m being completely serious.

So how about you?  Do you ever vacation with other families?  What kinds of trips and activities have/haven’t worked for your own family?