Sunday, May 26, 2013

Of Speed Traps and Cookie Jars: Laws of God and Man

My husband recently told me about a controversial new smart phone app. Locally available somewhere in California, it’s causing quite the stir as other areas consider developing something similar. Users of the app are forewarned about drinking and driving checkpoints. Much like the ‘speed traps’ my husband often encounters when he travels, these checkpoints can be a great annoyance for motorists. Therefore, some feel that they are entrapment and somehow unfair. I beg to differ since, whether it’s speed or intoxication, we are always obligated to follow the law. If we do what is expected of us at all times, there is no danger of being caught doing wrong.

There appear to be two main schools of thought concerning the app in question: 1) the app will actually lower drunk driving by alerting potentially inebriated motorists, thus causing them to make other arrangements or 2) it's a 'legalized' way of skirting the law.

Lowering the Risks

Whether we are talking about drinking and driving or other acts of disobedience, our fallen human nature often illustrates that we act more responsibly when we perceive the risk being caught. The presence of deterrents such as checkpoints, surveillance cameras, or security personnel will result in better behavior on the part of some who would otherwise give in to temptation. In my estimation, this is the less desirable scenario because it is based on the vigilance of others rather than self discipline. Sure, drivers might choose to refrain from unsavory behavior but they are also being provided with methods of skirting the law simply because of appearances.

Modifying Behavior

When I look at the rationale above I am struck by something that goes all the way back childhood upbringing. In teaching children we notice two main types of behavior: 1) doing what is right because of monitoring and 2) obedience, even when out of sight, because it’s the right thing to do. Without question, the second option is most desirable and therein lies the rub. From the time that we are infants, good parenting demands the principles of honesty and obedience from us. Whether it’s a child contemplating a cookie jar of forbidden treats, a student whose teacher has momentarily left the classroom, or teens tempted by premarital sex – one thing is sure – we want the behavior to reflect a moral choice, whether or not the person is being watched. Why should it be otherwise? Does God expect any less?

In today’s society, we find so many ways to escape accountability. The tools to help us bypass consequences are seemly endless. Want to have sex without pregnancy? Don’t worry about abstinence – just use ‘protection’. Find yourself pregnant? Have an abortion – no one will know. Don’t want to study? Steal the answers to the test or cheat. Even simple things, like typing out this post, have built in escapes. Make a grammatical error or misspell a word? That’s OK, just delete, undo, or cut and paste a correction. We are so conditioned to have easy outs, no matter what activity in which we participate - I sometimes find myself wishing that there was an undo button for life. Since there isn't, however, shouldn't we take special care that our actions reflect our values each and every time we act? Shouldn't we weigh our options and make choices that obey the laws of God and respect moral civil laws of the land?

Wouldn't it be wonderful to see society get back to the basics of doing right for its own sake, rather than doing right because there is a chance of being caught if we do wrong? After all, isn't that what being a child of God is all about? The Ten Commandments weren't handed to Moses with the caveat that they only be obeyed when someone is looking. What about that old fashioned concept of the ‘honor system’? Didn't people of the past say things like, ‘on my honor’?

As with every aspect of the world where we find the need for correction, we can become the catalyst – the first step in helping society live up to God’s expectations. Starting with ourselves and passing honor (honesty) to our children and neighbors can be important first steps. If only each of us makes a resolution to live in accord with the laws of God – seen and unseen – we will begin to see a better world. If we hold ourselves accountable, others will begin to do the same. One soul at a time, we can populate the world with upright children of God.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Loved, Lovable, and Love

I am immensely loved - of that I am certain. Our Heavenly Father has immeasurably blessed me. My husband of 38 years has stood by my side through much turmoil and loss as well as the gloriously happy times. The children we raised together have been a joy and they have now gifted us with a quiver full of wonderful and healthy grandchildren. With few exceptions, even our extended family stays solidly by us through thick and thin. Friends, too, love me - that type of true friend who has seen you shamefully expose your dark side as well as in your most tragically sad state. They all stick around - even when I am not lovable at all. And I know how badly I can test them sometimes.

You see, I am the poster child for the saying, "when someone is the least lovable,  they need the most love". I go on tirades about this and that problem in the world, when a better soul would simply pray and act. My immovable German stubbornness is known even to those who only know me through social media - they might very well pity those who are exposed to it in real life. Oh, I know that they know that I mean well. But I’m pretty sure sometimes I can hear an eye roll over the phone or through cyberspace. Sure, I've done my share of instigating for the greater good. And perhaps there are even some passions that have had a fruitful outcome.

Yet, even knowing I am loved and that I have done some good, the question lingers – am I lovable? Quite strikingly the answer is at best – not always, or perhaps not even often. You see, as thankful as I am for the unconditional love of those who love me, I know I could be more. I could do more. If I could capture the ability to love more, I would feel more worthy of being loved. 

I know that true love is not a reciprocal thing – it is a gift given without strings. You don’t have to be lovable and you don’t have to love back in order to be loved. But for the Great Commandment to be most effective, shouldn't we all seek to love and to be lovable? Because when a gift such as true love is shared and reciprocated, it grows exponentially. It ripples across the waters of the earth and touches more and more people – until it fills the world. Isn’t that a heady goal? 

So today, as I reflect on the warm sensation of being blessed by love, I will seek to become more lovable – by loving more fully and with abandon. Perhaps, in my own stubborn way, I will find a new level of love – more like the love that has been given to me.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Friday, May 17, 2013

If You Condemn Angelina Jolie You Condemn Me - Why I Defend Her Decision

Post chemo birth of miracle baby, Rachel
Frankly I haven't been this upset about breast cancer for quite some time. Not since I was diagnosed 7 years ago or when my beautiful 28 year old daughter was diagnosed at 20 weeks pregnant. On Wednesday I wrote a blog post, Angelina and Me: A Preemptive Strike Against Breast Cancer. In this post I shared my experience and why I understand (and support) the path Jolie chose. To my utter shock, since that time social media has lit up like a Christmas tree with pontificating, judgmental comments, and calumnity to the umpteenth degree. Of course, this German BRCA1 breast cancer survivor of seven years will not stand for this without a rebuttal. Below you will find what I posted on my personal Facebook wall this morning. I invite any charitable, sourced commentary or questions. Those who sink to personal attacks - not so much.

Before you weigh in on the Angelina Jolie Breast Cancer saga...

NOTE: fortunately a huge majority of you will never be diagnosed with BRCA1 breast cancer...BUT, here are a few facts to remember:

1) Angelina Jolie carries the BRCA1 gene as did her mother. Unfortunately, my daughter and I share this dubious honor with her. So, even if this doesn't affect you, be kind enough to acknowledge that we matter too.

2) The BRCA1 gene presents us with an 85% chance of becoming a breast cancer victim, we are not the same as those who have other breast cancers. This cancer is aggressive, fast growing and chemotherapy doesn't faze it 40% of the time.

3) Taking a preemptive strike against a known killer - 3 generations before me have died in their 40's and 50's - is not 'mutilating' your body, nor is it a lack of faith in God.

4) Many of the articles now making an appearance use highly flawed 'data'.

5) Gullible readers of said articles are somehow becoming overnight breast cancer experts who don't even bother to read the first hand accounts or the medical data.

6) Making loud pronouncements using flawed information is uncharitable, diminishes what victims of BRCA1 breast cancer suffer, and causes extreme emotional anguish. 

7) I'm no fan of anything Hollywood and usually refrain from reading any information about 'stars', however, since I've lived this I made an exception and read Jolie's account. Nothing she says in her original article is hyperbole but is scientifically accurate. 

8) If the human gene for BRCA1 breast cancer is patented, a great injustice will have been served by making a part of the human body a commodity. This repugnant issue has nothing to do with the severity of the disease for those of us who suffer it.

9) Mastectomy and reconstruction are a medical procedure and an effort to live life as normally as possible. It is not vanity, it is not easy, and it carries side effects for the rest of your this is not something one does lightly.

10) Bottom line - if you direct condemnation at Angelina Jolie for what she did to preemptively fight this monster, you are doing the same to those of us who share her situation. 

Thank you for reading this. Please help the victims of this horrible disease by not joining in the cancer victim bashing.

Relevant Links:

If you want to read what Angelina Jolie actually said click here

Here is one of the terribly inaccurate articles making a big splash. It appears that many people assume that an 'opinion' piece carries the same weight as actual science and medical research. How terrifying, considering that being misinformed about this life or death struggle could be a death sentence for those who do carry the BRCA1 gene. Will their blood be on the hands of those who perpetuate faulty information?

On the other hand, here is an actual scientific study, the findings of which mirror all that I have been told by countless oncologists and experienced through my family history.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Angelina Jolie and Me: A Preemptive Strike at Breast Cancer

When Angelina Jolie recently disclosed that she had had a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy, my first thought was, “good for her”. She, like me, watched her mother die of BRCA-1 breast cancer when she was in her 50’s. Jolie and her mother and my daughter and I also share membership in the BRCA-1 breast cancer club. Contrary to common thought, all breast cancers are not of the same magnitude. While many women have been diagnosed with breast cancer and gone on to live fruitful lives, for those of us with the faulty BRCA-1 gene it’s not quite that simple. We have a strong propensity for breast cancer (up to 87%) and ovarian cancer (50%). It’s also fast growing and aggressive. To make matters worse, triple negative (for hormone receptivity) BRCA-1 takes many common and highly successful treatment options – such as Tamoxifin –off the table. That happens to be the case with my daughter and me.

Our own family history presents a disconcerting outlook. As far back as we know, every woman on my maternal side has carried the BRCA-1 gene and paid with her life at a young age. My great-grandmother died in her 40’s and my grandmother was 42 when she died, two weeks after diagnosis. My mother died at 58 – after a 5 year long struggle with ovarian, then breast, then liver, bone and finally brain cancer – all due to the BRCA-1 gene. My diagnosis came 7 years ago – when I was 48, while our daughter was diagnosed when she was 28 and 20 weeks pregnant.

This unbroken line of victims, and the deaths of women preceding us, gives us a unique perspective. We can’t say, “what if I become a victim of breast cancer?”. Unfortunately, we’ve been there, lived that. Our loved ones died young and we, ourselves, have traveled a difficult path. When our daughter found out about her cancer, she had to go to great lengths to find a doctor who was willing for her to maintain her pregnancy and still treat her. The answer came when she found the doctors at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX. They had been successfully treating cancer in pregnant women for 20 years – with no harmful side effects to any of the babies.

With MD Anderson's protocol and local doctors’ cooperation, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl on Thanksgiving Day of 2009 – after having undergone chemo while pregnant. In an effort to help other women – our daughter has extensively shared her story. She has also won the Life Award for her persistence at maintaining her pregnancy. Likewise, Jolie has come forward and I find it laudable that a public personality is willing to be so transparent about something so personal – all in an effort to help other women.  Among cancer patients this sense of purpose appears to be very strong. Perhaps the drive to help others, by relaying our own experiences, gives back a little of the power that cancer steals from us.

Unfortunately, some rumblings and judgmental comments have been aimed at Jolie (and me) for taking what must seem like an unreasonably drastic step. Contrary to this rash judgment, what she has done is a great service to others who may find themselves equally challenged some day. When the prognosis is so dire and the options are so few, it must be understood that it is morally acceptable to take preemptive steps to preserve health – especially for a mother of young children. That some find it repugnant that she willingly sacrificed her breasts in an effort to save her life, is disappointing to me. After all, her breasts are not a vital organ. Removing them has not affected her fertility. So if she takes this step in an effort to live, it would be charitable to respect that decision.

Likewise, my daughter and I both chose bilateral mastectomy instead of only removing the tumorous breast. In fact, our story presented an even more difficult decision. At the insistent recommendation of my mother’s team of oncological specialists, I had a prophylactic oopharectomy when I was 31. Although this step ended any hope of the large family we had hoped for, the risk from cancer was simply too great to ignore. After all, I was a wife and the mother of three young children who needed me healthy and alive. When our daughter was diagnosed at such a young age, while pregnant, the wisdom of my decision was revealed. Again, at the persistent advice of her oncologists, she too, underwent a prophylactic oopharectomy.

As a result of stories like the ones told by Jolie, my daughter and me there have been blunt statements that no one should take such a drastic step – that it’s a sinful choice. We should trust in God, not medicine. If that were the only reasonable conclusion, why would we subject ourselves to chemotherapy? After all, this acceptable treatment/preventative measure kills cells in our bodies and causes long-lasting or permanent side effects. Yet, in the quest for preserving life, chemo is universally accepted as ethical. So why not remove breasts or ovaries that will almost certainly become cancerous and kill us? After all, double effect comes into play – the goal is not to end fertility. The single goal is to make a difficult, albeit necessary, decision for survival. Loss of fertility is the unintended consequence of that decision. According to the good and holy priests I have consulted and moral, pro-life experts this preventive measure is a licit course of action.

The struggle with cancer is a lifetime challenge. Even with years of good reports, the reality is that it can always recur. With the BRCA-1 gene, there remains 40% chance that even chemotherapy will not be an effective deterrent to mortality. You’re never in the ‘safe’ zone. But contrary to other comments, I don't fear death, I made my peace with this world as a part of the acceptance process when I was first diagnosed  Yet I also know that, if it is the Will of God, I will do whatever is in my power to remain here on this earth with my loved ones.

Two survivors!
So if you've never walked this road, please be kind by refraining from belittling the decisions of those of us who have. A more charitable approach would be to say a little prayer. Thank the Lord that you haven’t been forced to walk this difficult path. And ask Him to keep us healthy for as long as He wills it. Pray that our efforts to help others by sharing the painful reality in our lives does a service for them. We, in turn, will do our best to live our lives honoring Him. I, for one, know there is a purpose to my life - I have a God-given mission to share the pro-life message and the Gospel with as many people as possible. It is my firm belief that giving up on life is not an acceptable option when God has given us such unimaginable advances in the field of ethical medicine. Although the rest of my life will be lived with a unique awareness not shared by those who have not traveled this road; I have found a peace that can only come with a close relationship to God and a focus on His Will for the rest of my earthly life.

NOTE: there has been much confusion and misinformation about this life or death issue since I wrote this post. Therefore, I found it necessary to offer more resources for an accurate picture to emerge. Find the update here.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Gosnell Found Guilty – Now What?

Now is a good time to take a cleansing breath and focus on the impact the Gosnell verdict will have on the pro-life movement. As we are leaping in joy for a conviction, we must keep our wits about us and realize that the same babies, if killed by lethal injection within the womb, would have been legally aborted in clinics all over the country - they still are and will continue to be. The Gosnell saga is just the tip of the horrendous iceberg called ‘choice’ and this one victory should not lull us into complacency. Yes, this one monster has been found guilty of part of the horrific charges against him (3* counts of first degree murder for babies and 1 count of involuntary manslaughter for the woman killed via overdose), but there are many others out there doing exactly the same thing.

Much as Al Capone was brought down by tax evasion charges instead of his criminal activity as a mobster, Gosnell was brought down by a drug related raid. What the authorities found, shocked even seasoned law enforcement. No one in authority had cared about what he had been doing to women and babies in the 15 years since the last inspection of his house of horrors. They didn't care that he experimented on unwitting poor women, maiming several of them in what is termed the Mothers Day Massacre. Just like they didn't care that, across this country, dozens of clinics just like his operate without question every day. No one cared that Planned Parenthood referred women to Gosnell because they couldn't stomach (or perhaps get away with) late term abortions in such huge numbers and scandalous conditions.

Where is the outcry for all of the numerous women, all over the country, who suffered death at the hands of these butchers legally plying their murderous procedures described simply as medical ‘treatment’?
What we have been handed is a gift wrapped opportunity to take the ball and run with it. The Gosnell trial finally gave pro-life advocates a voice and forced even the meekest network to at least marginally offer coverage. That a liberal news analyst, Kirsten Powers, deserves our deepest gratitude for finally breaking the story wide open and that Fox News offered some decent coverage would have been highly unlikely just a few weeks ago. Now the proverbial cat is out of the bag and, to mix my metaphors, we must make hay while the sun does shine! Our 19 brave Congressmen who spoke on the House floor,  some media coverage, #Gosnell Tweetfests, blogging and marathon postings on Facebook have gone a long way in educating more and more people. How shockingly surprising to find that there are still many, many good citizens out there who are oblivious to this scandalous affair!

So, on the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima, we have been granted a wonderful chance to witness for Life. Coupled with the surprise visit of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in support of tens of thousands of pro-life faithful at the March for Life in Rome yesterday (Mothers Day), we have been blessed with an impressive beginning to the rest of the pro-life journey. What happens next is up to the collective us. Will we rest on our laurels in this partially won victory or will we let this be the catalyst to finally find our voice – a voice of righteous anger and outrage for the atrocities visited upon the innocent, left in our charge by God Almighty? A foot is in the door, so let’s fling it open and throw ourselves into the task of gaining momentum. Let us pray harder, speak louder, love more, and gird up for the ensuing battle. Now is not the time to turn away in horror – not wanting any more reminders. Satan, Planned Parenthood, and liberal media were forced to give us our day in the sun but make no mistake, they will be back with the fury of hell. Let’s be ready. Let’s rise to the occasion. And with God at our side, let’s forever end the most unspeakable act of killing the innocents at the altar of convenience!

*Read about the baby that Gosnell was not convicted of killing here.

PS. As a Catholic believer in the unfathomable mercy of God, my hope is that Gosnell is kept in prison for the rest of his natural life. May he find true remorse and forgiveness. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Destination Journey or Train Wreck?

¯Good morning, America, how are ya?! Say don’t cha know me, Jesus, Mary’s son? I’m the man they call the Word of God the Father and I've been Home 2000 years since the trip begun. ¯ (Sung to the tune of City of New Orleans).

All   A B O A R D !

Hello, sisters and brothers, I’ll be your conductor during this trip. Grab a seat and we’ll be on our way. Now I know there have been some tall tales told about what happens on this train and I’m here to set the record straight. Before we depart, however, it would serve you well to take note of a few features of this very special train:

Sound System – you’ll notice speakers placed strategically around the car and a console with buttons near your seats. There are options as to which type of music we’ll enjoy, but the stations we’ll be listening to are limited to the preset buttons. You've got your Gregorian chant – a distinct favorite of the Railroad Commissioner and always to be given preferential treatment – but there’s also a fine collection of ancient hymns that give glory to God. Of course, never underestimate a bit of Latin in the mix. What you won’t be hearing is self congratulatory, folksy music or Protestant hymns. Like ¯Soon and Very Soon, We’re Goin’ to See the King¯ or ¯You and I are the Bread of Life¯. In other words –heresy will not be offered as an option.

Food for the Soul– the priest will be offering the Precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ to those who are morally disposed to receive Him. What you won’t find is a self serve style, chip and dip arrangement with ‘consecrated’ pita bread arranged around a cup of Precious Blood. (No, I’m not making this up – I’ve been on that train before).

Sights and sounds – the beautiful but optional bells will be rung during the consecration lending an air of dignity and giving fitting reverence (and attention) to our beautiful ancient traditions. You know how you love antiques and the historical aspect of furnishings and homes? Well, take a gander at the antiquity and history of the Church founded by Christ Himself! It’s truly deserving of notation and illumination! What you won’t see are priests wearing clown noses during the homily, game show preaching or liturgical dancing girls. Again, I’m not making this up – been there, rode that train!

Holy choreography – we will be following the Instructions to the Roman Missal (GIRM) and the rubrics of the Mass. As a Church, we are fortunate to be relieved of the confusion concerning the proper practices surrounding The Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMCs) – if they are needed.  They will not be bellying up to the altar before the priest has had the opportunity to consume the Eucharist or Precious Blood, nor will they be retrieving the reserved Hosts or purifying the vessels – everything here has a proper time and place. As it is the posture proper only to the priest (even the Deacon is told not to in the GIRM), the laity will not be employing the Orans Posture nor will they be using the Protestant sign of unity by holding hands during the Our Father. We find our unity in receiving Him in the Eucharist!

Good Samaritan – we will be adhering to the ‘love thy neighbor’ rule throughout this trip. So we might just find ourselves stopping to help give directions to a neighbor who has lost his way. It’s in the itinerary to do this as many times as necessary in an effort to keep everyone on the right track. Although this practice is sometimes labeled as judgmental, it is actually considered to be an act of charity and is Biblically noted as such.

Scenery – while we are on this trip we are not guaranteed sunshine and rainbows every day. At times we will find ourselves going through the dark, long tunnel of sin and death of the soul. What is promised, however, is the bright light of forgiveness showing us the way on the other side. Please find your way to the Penitential Car for a thorough cleansing - just follow the light at the end of the tunnel.

Speed limit – You may be surprised to note that this trip is taken at your own pace. Whether you choose the scenic route and drink in all of the sights or you fly through the stations at warp speed is up to you. Detours and such are also considered, as we all lose our way sometimes. Old style locomotive or bullet train, you will always find a well marked route to get you back on track, should you veer off the path. Of course taking advantage of these directions is up to you – you can choose to wander, a lost soul, should you stubbornly refuse the offered assistance.

Purpose of the trip – The Destination is the purpose of this journey. If you have properly followed the map -even with a few detours, the end of the line will find you at a most Wonderful Place. Just don’t be late for the final departure. If you do and the last train has run, you will be left in the dark – wandering for eternity, through a fiery furnace in the coal storage area. One thing is certain, no matter what phase you’re in, the destination won’t change just for you. Whether you’re a quick study or a slow learner the Engineer will not change the instruction manual or schematics. The concluding inspection by the Railroad Commissioner will be final.

Now, brethren, let’s get on with the ride. Please take note of the Guide Book frequently and try to schedule some gratifying layovers along the way. The journey is just as important as the destination because the route determines ultimate outcome. Now have a holy and fruitful trip!

Note: While the Spirit of Vatican II brought some severe misinterpretations, we have seen tremendous progress throughout the pontificate of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and his Summorum Pontificum, Now, it appears that Pope Francis is taking up the charge for giving each and every Catholic the Mass to which he is entitled - and as Jesus intended. May God bless our shepherds!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Blessed Mothers Day to All Who Mother!

Here it is again - the day set aside each year to honor mothers. But who is a mother? Is she someone who has a brood a children at her feet? Is she the woman who can't conceive but desperately wants to nurture? Is she the woman, who through some misguided period in her life, chose abortion? Is she someone who has helped those who need her most - whomever that might be? The answer? All of the above.

Mother is a name that is given with more than one intention. Holy Mother Church guides us in our quest to become holy. A woman who has conceived a new life in her womb, at the moment of fertilization, becomes a mother. A woman who nurtures the sick, the dying, the indigent, the forgotten - she mothers too!

On this day, called Mother's Day, let us remember them all - whether still on this earth or gone into Eternal Life. Let us give them a revered place in our hearts - for they certainly have that place in the heart of God.

Happy Mother's Day!

Who can find a virtuous woman? She is far more precious than jewels... 
Strength and honor are her clothing, and she can laugh at the time to come. 
She opens her mouth with wisdom, and loving instruction is on her tongue. 
She watches over the activities of her household and is never idle. 
Her sons rise up and call her blessed. 
He husband also praises her: 
Many women are capable, but you surpass them all! 
Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised. 

~Proverbs 31:10, 25-30

Marie-Luise Annerose Suzanne
April 11, 1936 - May 4, 1994

In loving memory of my mother - gone to Eternal Rest - you are loved and missed but you leave behind six well catechized children (now adults) who bear the indelible mark of Catholicity bestowed upon us from your loving heart!

Here's the Tribute I wrote to you last year - as true now as then!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Natzi Boot Camp, Food Options and Questions I Don't Ask

The above cartoon of a mother offering food choices to a young child has been making the rounds on Facebook. Call me an old fuddy duddy or mark it down as a generational thing, but I've never - ever - had this problem. Now Young Missy, before you roll your eyes, hear me out! I came from a generation - I'm 55 - that had more options because we had less choices. What I mean by that is, our families ate meals together, attended Mass together - yes, even with lots of kids, and we worked together as a family. There were set roles and parameters for everything. As the oldest, it was my responsibility to help with the little ones, mow the yard, and do the dinner dishes - among other things. Our mom did the cooking and laundry but we all pitched in with chores of our own. We had manners - I actually grew up curtsying to adults - and knew the high points of fine dining. Dad worked long hours and came home to a nice meal. He was the 'wait 'til your father comes home' kind of Dad but Mom could weld a formidable hairbrush occasionally - right on the tush!

Dad's version of the evil eye - lol.
Now as shocking as this Nazi Bootcamp - a derogatory phrase coined by an outside dissenter - may sound, we were all very well adjusted, each knew we were the favorite, and remain close - even into adulthood.  Much like an obedient Catholic finds comfort in having things completely spelled out - what with the Bible, Catechism of the Catholic Church, General Instruction to the Roman Missal (GRIM), rubrics, St. Joseph's Catechism, and all the other handy dandy instruction manuals we Catholic have at our disposal - our family knew exactly what to expect, when to expect it and how to react.

Sing with joy to the Lord!
Make no mistake about it. We had lots of spontaneous vacations and fun. Our impromptu vacations - when Dad was suddenly laid off - are legendary. And as a good German, Mom was certainly all about celebrating the day - even if it meant declaring that, "today we celebrate, because it will never be Monday, May 6th, 2013 again! To this day, our loud, noisy, laugh-filled gatherings are the envy of the neighborhood and invitations are a much coveted commodity. In similar fashion, our Catholic faith is one of carefully (and thoroughly) set parameters, yet the joy we find in practicing it well are found nowhere else!

So back to the cartoon. We ate like kings. Mom, in her frugal German style, was an excellent cook - Top Chef material. But the ingredients and menu were hers to decide. The rest of us just showed up and perhaps set the table. We weren't given choices - like would you rather have chicken or fish or peanut butter or schnitzel? No, she cooked, we cleaned up and everyone ate - whatever she deigned to put on our plates. And you know what? We grew up very healthy - because our meals were balanced. Our tastes were vast - because the variety of her dishes made sure that our young palates were exposed to many options as far as cuisine was concerned.  We were familiar with German food - duh - but also Chinese, Mexican, French, and of course down home American. And we weren't picky eaters because we didn't even know we had a choice - we were just presented with many options, throughout the years, at the behest of our creative mother. The when and what was up to her.

Now let's fast forward to my mothering days - and to the 7 grandchildren with whom we have been blessed. We use(ed) the same style of parenting and guess what? It works just as well for us as it did for our parents. My husband and I have a traditional family setup - other than the fact that we work from home (together) and share a love of cooking. What's for dinner is our choice. If you want to belly up to the table, eat what's there because the cafeteria is closed (that goes for our style of Catholicism as well). As I lined up 2 five-year-olds and 2 three-year-olds for lunch today, I had to smile in loving memory of my Mom - Saturday marked the 19th year since her death. She made my parenting and grand-parenting so much easier by leading with her example. And again today, the sometimes picky eater wanna be's cleaned their plates - all four of them - and not a single complaint. Oh sure, Sarah initially gave her customary sullen stare at the fare but as everyone else settled in, she ate with equal gusto. You see, her daddy was raised by my husband and me...and so the only choice is whether or not to fall into line quickly or try to wait it out. And the grownups always wind up winning the waiting game. Bon appetite and God bless!

Hail, hail, most of the gang is here!
German-themed birthday party!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

When God Knows What You Don’t Need

Yesterday, the beautiful springtime weather found me sitting out in our garden listening to the chirping birds and drinking in the glorious new life – flowers, butterflies, and such. As I sat, pondering on the random things that popped into my head, I was led to reminisce about a time when my husband and I had our hearts set on adopting a baby. As a pro-life advocate I had made our openness to adoption known for years and now, this mother had chosen us to be the parents of her son. Although we had three older children of our own, cancer had cost me my fertility and halted the expansion of our family. As one of those women who craves children like lungs crave oxygen, I had struggled with the unplanned cap on our family size – so when this opportunity presented itself, we jumped at the chance. We had a home study done and passed all of the prerequisite criteria for a private adoption. And we waited in joyful anticipation.

Unfortunately, we received the call that we dreaded, telling us that the mother had changed her mind at eight months pregnant – she would keep her baby after all. Jackson (we would have named him Luke) came into the world without our attendance. He was full term and healthy. Sadly, 3 months later he was placed in the ‘system’ due to maternal neglect. Even as we, once again, took classes and became an approved home – this time for fostering and state adoption – we knew that this renewed effort was a long shot. But we persisted. The outcome was not what we had hoped and we found out later that he had been adopted by the instructor of our parenting class. Our hearts were heavy because we knew that this had been our final chance – there were no more babies in our future.

Fast forward to present time and what was once a bitter disappointment has become a bittersweet blessing. Don’t misunderstand – we wouldn’t have regretted adopting Luke and adding him to our family, but life dealt us some unexpected blows and the idyllic expanded family of which we dreamed would have added an element of hardship. You see, 7 years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer – not your run-of-the-mill breast cancer either. The diagnosis for the BRAC-1 gene had been a death knell for several women on my maternal side – beginning (as far as we know) with my great-grandmother (who died in her 40’s), my grandmother (who died at 42), and my mother (who died at 58 after a 5 year battle). I, myself was diagnosed at 48 and then our 28 year old daughter was diagnosed at 20 weeks pregnant. I shudder to think of the turmoil this type of situation would have had on a young child – it was taxing enough on our 16, 24, and 27 year olds.

In addition, during the past 9 years we have been blessed with 7 grandchildren. They play a very vital role in our lives and we in theirs. Since we live close to all of them, they share a vast amount of time with us. As I frequently revel in their company – including occasional sleepovers for medical or business reasons – I realize that I’m not that energetic 31 year old mom of three anymore. I get tired. As much as I love those little kiddos of ours, there are times when I have a hard time imagining not being able to send them home. It’s been a bittersweet revelation to find that, what I wanted so fervently just a few years ago, would now be quite the marathon. At 55 years old, I have begun to rethink many things that I thought I wanted at one time or another. The boyfriends my mother rejected, the homes we wanted, the material things we couldn’t afford…the country song about thanking God for unanswered prayers comes to mind.

As the Bible tells us, for everything under the sun there is a season…. my husband and I have been blessed with many seasons in our 38 year marriage. We married young (17 and 18), were blessed with three exceptional children as well as 7 grandchildren, we’ve enjoyed a reasonably healthy life so far (7 years cancer free for me). Somehow God has always provided for us – even during periods of financial duress. We’ve tearfully said goodbye to homes we loved, job opportunities have passed us by, and more than a few family members have left this earth. But all in all, I couldn’t think of a better life. I wouldn’t trade with anyone I know or can imagine. Each one of the blessings, as well as the hardships, has shaped who we are – to ourselves and to each other. Cancer has shown me the unconditional love of a good man and other family members. Loss has shown me the beauty of relationships in the here and now. Disappointment has shown me that there’s a silver lining behind those stormy clouds – sometimes even better than what we thought we wanted. All in all, I have found that being one of God’s sparrows – totally under His care – is just where I want to be. What have I gathered from all of this? That when God knows what you don’t need – He knows what He’s talking about!