Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why she is not lacking

After two months of receiving weekly occupational and physical therapy, my daughter Tigist is aging out.

She turns three on paper on February 4th, although we are in the process of legally changing that to reflect a more accurate birth date (sometime in the spring). 

So while we won't be observing her birthday in early February, for our government's puposes she will be three, thus no longer receiving two in-home visits from therapists every week, courtesy of the taxpayers.

This was actually our first foray into the world of "services."  And it was good, overall.  Both of her therapists were sweet, kind, encouraging.  They regularly included (and actually utilized) Mary Lu, Tigist's other half.  They were patient when Tigist got tired.

And, Tigist has come a crazy long way since coming home.  No doubt about that.  She could not use her limbs for much of anything when we took custody of her, but now?  Now she can climb out of her high chair.  Get up on her knees.  Pull herself up to standing.  Drink and suck and eat crunchy goldfish crackers.  Repeat back words to us. 

But still, I'm kind of secretly relieved that the therapies are done for now.

Please don't get me wrong--it is never a bad thing to get a child some extra help in one area or another.  As moms we need to be our child's advocate and make sure we are meeting their needs.  And sometimes that will include seeking help from professionals.

But for now, our family has made the decision to forgo 4-day-a-week preschool for our daughter (the only way she could really access services at this point), because we believe she is developing just fine, and ultimately because we feel that home is where she needs to be.

Our personal philosophy is that while we want to help our daughter meet her potential, it's okay that it takes her a little bit longer to do certain things.  My goodness, she spent how long in an orphanage where she was kept with the babies, with very little incentive to meet milestones that would already be hard for her to meet?  But she will meet them eventually because she's a strong girl.  With a big fan club of cheerleaders headquartered at my house.

It's interesting because Tigist is far less motivated during therapy sessions.  And the whole reason we even had an occupational therapist assigned had resolved itself by the time her first appointment rolled around.  (Eating and drinking issues.) 
Again, I'm not saying therapy is a bad idea, or that it's not absolutely necessary in certain circumstances. 

Just that Tigist is going to do perfectly fine, and more than anything else, she needs to feel secure in our family and to know that she was created by a good, loving God.  And God created families, after all, to nourish children--both body and soul.  Tigist is not defined by her Down syndrome diagnosis any more than by her eye color.

There's a word Catholics throw around a lot, and that word is dignity.  And my daughter has dignity because she is loved by Jesus and was created by a God who was there when those extra chromosomes were forming.  He was there.  He made her just the way she is.

And she is strong-willed, opinionated, silly, joyful, and ridiculously chatty.  She is brave, strong, loving, and affectionate. 

She was fitted for orthotics today, and she will walk at some point.

She will succeed.

She is not lacking, and our family will see to it that she has every opportunity to become the beautiful girl God intends for her to be.  I'd say she's well on her way.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hitting publish

Kevin and I at the Vatican.  Just because.

So a sweet friend asked me some questions about Catholicism in the comments section on a previous post.  I took the time to hammer out a response in the form of a blogpost, because it's entirely too long for a comment.  But I haven't published it yet.

I'm honestly not sure what kind of a blog I'm running here.  It is part mom blog, part adoption blog, and part Catholic blog, with a lot little bit of random thrown in for good measure.  I spend my days navigating the waters of motherhood, homeschooling, and faith.  We go to Mass and spend time with friends.  I clean my house and read good books.  We're busy.  Oh, so busy.  And then I write.  Here.

The truth is that I don't want my blog to center around apologetics because nothing I rehash will be as succinct or complete as what is already written in the Catholic Catechism or in dozens of books by people smarter than me.  I can point you towards good resources and I can tell my own story, but beyond that, there are others far better suited for that sort of thing. 

At the same time, I want to answer your questions.  My friend asked some good ones, like what are Protestants missing out on? and what about papal infallibility?  So, I'm torn.  I don't want to have a big ol' debate here or alienate readers (okay my post is really not all that exciting), but at the same time, ecumenical dialogue can be beneficial and anyway, someone asked.

So, I don't know.  But that's why there's not been a blogpost from me lately.  I suspect that I'm still mildly uncomfortable with the whole Catholic identity thing, because even though I was a closeted, wannabe Catholic for years, it was only a few months ago when I officially and openly "switched sides".  I keep going back and forth about the post partly because I don't want to take a stand in explaining my-beliefs-that-aren't-necessarily-YOUR-beliefs.  But is that me being ashamed of Jesus?  And of the Gospel?  Sadly, I think so.  Sigh.

This whole conversion experience has been incredibly humbling for me.  Because I was raised in a Christian home.  I was always that kid that knew the Bible stories and the Sunday School answers.  I never experienced persecution or even suspicion of my beliefs.  But now, in Catholic circles, I'm the new kid.  The one who doesn't always know whose feast day it is and who, up until recently, would regularly genuflect on the wrong knee.  And in non-Catholic circles, I feel uneasy when my daughter {proudly} shows the physical therapist her picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Will this woman think we don't have a personal relationship with Jesus or are trying to buy our way into Heaven or that we worship Mary?

Heaven forbid someone actually finds out we're Catholic, and that I have an opportunity to share about my faith.

Ridiculous, right?  Well, yes.  And I apparently decided to be all transparent and tell you about that here.  And now I'm going to go think about my other post some more and hopefully, eventually, I'll have the gumption to hit the publish button. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday night noise

Anna, making noise on her recorder, with sisters looking on.

Has it really been a week since my last blogpost?  Ack!

We've been busy, and I've had a cold of some sort complete with assorted sinus headaches.

And I've actually written two posts, but haven't published them, and I'm not sure if I will.  One of them has the potential to be polarizing, and the other is maybe just too honest.

Truth be told I'm actually feeling a little lacking in the blogging-motivation department.  Coming up with topics to write about, keeping up on emails, and answering questions feels more draining than energizing as of late. 

And as a result I've been thinking about how social media dominates our culture and while so much of it is good, perhaps more is mediocre.   

A priest recently remarked to me that Americans have an obsession with reading books by popular or famous people, instead of reading quality literature written by true, classic AUTHORS.  An astute observation. 

I think I definitely want to cultivate good taste in my life.  To read excellent pieces of literature written by brilliant minds.  To study the lives of virtuous saints who followed after God with all of their being. 

So I'm thinking about paring down my list of blogs I read, and spending a little less time on Facebook.  And I'm hoping to spend more time reading things that challenge, inspire and fill me up. 

It's funny because I recently looked through a book written by someone who is popular (though quickly becoming notorious) in certain Christian circles.  NOT because I was interested in the book, but because it's controversial, and I wanted to see what they had to say, for myself.  And I only bring it up here because it's a good reminder that there's a lot of noise out there.  And by noise I mean blogs and how-to's and this is what marriage/life/motherhood/religion/fashion/________ is all about.  Methinks most of that  noise is probably not worth listening to. 

And yes I'm all too aware that my own blog is adding to the noise.  And, I love to blog.  I do.  And I'm going to keep at it.  But I've been thinking this week about what my blog is and what it should be and what it should not be, and I still kind of don't know.  It's always been a bit of a hodge-podge of things, perhaps even moreso now since my conversion--as I'm regularly either writing or answering peoples' questions about the Catholic Faith.

So, yeah.  Some random Friday night thoughts for you all.  And a cute picture of four of my daughters at a church talent show on New Year's Eve.  I'm looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow and to a lovely weekend of relaxation and time spent with friends.  Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Moms can thrive too

Me and Brad Pitt in Rome.  :)  And yes, I'm holding a sippy cup on my trip to Italy.  It's 'cause I'm a thriving mom.

You need to read this excellent post by Jennifer Fulwiler, who is hands-down one of my favorite bloggers. 

She's given voice to some things in this piece that I've long thought, but have not been able to articulate or put my finger on.  That is what good writers do, of course.

See I've noticed that ever since adopting my twin sons (propelling us from one to three children nearly six years ago), people have come to have some odd expectations of me and my life.  Now of course we have seven kids, and ohmygoodnessgracious, the COMMENTS. 

"Oh WOW, you don't LOOK like you have seven kids." 

Do you hear the crickets?  What is a mom to seven kids SUPPOSED to look like?!  Thank you, person-I'm-meeting-for-the-first-time, for sizing up my appearance and making me uncomfortable.

When I share about something like how I'm not all crafty or creative or _________, I get a lot of ,"Well you don't have TIME with your seven kids!"

Or, you know, I just totally stink at crafts.  But thanks for coming up with an alternative explanation for why I can't cut straight with scissors or why I don't know how to work my sewing machine.

These things have always bothered me--and for more than a few reasons.

Ultimately, I don't like feeling discounted as a human being. 

Yes, I have seven children.

Yes, four of them are adopted.

Yes, three of them are biological.

Yes, I also have two children who live with Jesus, which means I've been pregnant five times.

Yes, we are practicing Catholics so most likely there will be more pregnancies and babies at some point.

But I'm still me.  I like reading good books and watching old Seinfeld reruns, and I straighten my hair most days and I typically wear makeup when I leave the house.  I probably don't look so different from you on the outside, unless you see me pull up in my big van with my passel of kids.  Then you can cue the circus music.

Being a wife and a mom-to-seven is a funny thing.  I'm not one of those people who thinks a good wife is obligated to spend a bunch of time on her appearance or look a certain way.  I actually can't stand when Christians attempt to make a Biblical case for women "not letting themselves go".  Yuck.  But I've shared before about how I do feel a certain responsibility?  compulsion?  pressure?  to look halfway decent when I'm out with my children. 

And, friends, this is why.  The low expectations.  The disdain for a culture of life.  The assumption that raising more than a child or two robs a woman of the opportunity and ability to thrive.

THAT is what bothers me so much.  And THAT is why you'll find me wrestling my kids through Costco with hair brushed and makeup on.  And THAT is why you won't see me in yoga pants at McDonalds.  If I go somewhere by myself, absolutely.  Hair pulled back, no makeup, and some sort of comfortable, ill-fitting clothing.  But not when the kids are with me.

And I know, it's ridiculous.  And kind of pointless.  And completely vain.  But when I put effort into my appearance, I somehow feel like I'm sticking it to all the people who think being an open-to-life mom must be a drudgery and misery worthy of perpetual frazzled-ness and stained sweatshirts.  Of course you better believe that there are moments spent in survival mode and days when I don't get out of my pjs.  (Which is perfectly A-OK in my book--sorry conservative Evangelicals.)  But I can still be a woman overall who laughs, has authentic friendships, enjoys being married, and loves life.  Oh, and who poses with a wax replica of Brad Pitt on a trip to Rome with her husband and 18-month-old. 

 There were a few people in the comments section who disagreed with Jennifer's article, insisting they are simply surviving, and that this point of view places an undue burden on moms.  I comPLETEly understand where they're at--like I said, I have those days/weeks/phases/years too--but I don't think the premise was that we OUGHT to be pursuing hobbies and fitness and such, but instead that we should be sending the message that motherhood is not mutually exclusive with quality of life.  Not to mention, it is precisely in those times of survival mode where God is building virtue and humility and discipline and charity.

So that is actually a form of quality of life too.  Perhaps even moreso.  Hmmm.

I suppose if I could send one message to newly married or engaged women, it would be the oft-quoted words of Blessed Pope John Paul II: Be not afraid.  Don't be afraid to live, to be fruitful, to look motherhood straight in the eye.  Don't be afraid of what it's like with five kids when you only have one, and don't be afraid when your days at home changing diapers feel meaningless and miserable. 

Because sometimes things are hard, sometimes things are really good, and all of it has the potential to bring forth beauty and holiness in your life.  See it as such.  Thrive where you are, when you can, in your own way.

And friends, please, don't assume that all moms hate their lives.  There can be a deeply held sense of joy and purpose even in the darkest of suffering.  A woman may look stretched thin on the outside, but you can be sure God is doing a mighty work on the inside.  That's the beauty and mystery of vocation, and of faith in the unseen.  And if that's not reason to thrive, then I don't know what is.

Monday, January 09, 2012

The big picture and the microscope

Just putting down some thoughts I've been having lately, thoughts on the apparent discrepancy between my vision for my family and the actual way that plays out.

Being a homeschooling mom to seven is all kinds of awesome, and I love our big crazy noisy family.  And I really kind of love the idea of having a big crazy noisy family. 

That's big picture stuff. 

But Saturday night, when our big crazy noisy family had dinner out, Tigist had a rough time and I had to work hard to keep her happy, and while the food was amazing my nerves were pretty much shot.

So that's the up-close, under-the-microscope, just another day with the Heldts perspective.  :)

Interestingly, what's happening under the microscope involves big picture things--the fact that my dear daughter has only been home a few months, is regularly frustrated because her cognitive abilities currently surpass her physical abilities, and the girl has a hard time with food, period.  All formerly-an-orphan-living-in-an-institution behaviors that are really not surprising in the least.  (Not that her throwing injera at the back of her sister's head or knocking over a cup of water doesn't, you know, catch us off guard  from time to time.)

I guess I find it to be a balancing act, living that tension between the big picture and the everyday up-close.  Because there's nothing too sweeping or grand about most of the microscopic stuff in my life...whether it's me making oatmeal for the 200th morning in a row or my kid yelling at one of their siblings or my two year olds being noisy at Mass.  The days go slowly and while I love the adage "it's the little things in life", I think it's also the big things, too.

Like remembering that my kids love each other even when they're mean, that my simple meals are providing nourishment for growing bodies and brains and souls, and that there is eternal value for me and my children in going to worship Jesus at Mass--even if I'm hissing at babbling toddlers.

Because without all that?  Without direction and meaning and purpose and the unseen-mattering-oh-so-much-more-than-the-seen?  Life suddenly becomes empty and overwhelming.  Needy children, loading the dishwasher, hauling crying two year olds out of church, all.of.it.  Day-to-day repeating itself 365 times a year.  No wonder it's incredibly tempting to seek my identity in something outside of my home or to wistfully wonder if so-and-so has it so much better than me.

See without the big picture, it's easy to believe that motherhood is merely an inconvenient stop on my journey, a diaper-filled diversion tactic that life has thrown my way.  If I can just endure, better times are up ahead at five-star restaurants and on romantic getaways to Europe.  Don't you know that real life is lurking just beyond this 18-year-bend?

And oh how I fall into believing this from time to time.

And oh how I want to do better at looking towards the big picture while still living in the now.  Internalizing the idea that there is eternal significance to shepherding the seven small and oh-so-precious souls in my home.  Embracing the truth that there is infinitely deep meaning to our family routines and simple chores and even the most basic of meals on the table.  Because ultimately it's doing God's work.  And hopefully growing in virtue all the while, because God seems to think that the mundane is a far better crucible for virtuousness and holiness than the date-night five star restaurants and excursions to Europe.

So even though injera was thrown and water spilled by an angry baby on Saturday night, that's not the whole story.  If I back up a few steps, if I grab a lense wide enough to actually see the whole table, I see that:

Our family was able to share a meal with a dear friend and his son--who were available to meet us for Ethiopian food and conversation on five-minutes-notice. 

I see Mary Lu hand-feeding her two new sisters.  Not because they need her to, but because she loves them. 

I see Mekdes doing a silly dance, growing happier and more confident by the day, her balance improving and no evidence at all that she had open heart surgery a month ago...save for the large scar hidden underneath her pretty, new, houndstooth shirt. 

I see Tigist surrounded by six children who never, ever get angry with her for occasionally disrupting their mealtimes with cries-of-frustration-because-she's-had-a hard-life.  They love her.  Without condition. 

I see my husband who provides for us and loves us so well and takes seriously his role as husband and father and who scoops me ice cream at night.

It should come as no surprise then that I am madly in love with the big picture, with God's overarching story that He's writing with our lives.  But that part's easy to love, and the truth is that I can't love that picture without also loving the little things.  At the same time, I can't appreciate those little things and the beauty and virtue they produce unless I have the big picture in mind.

It's a tension.  And it's a good one.  May I more fully come to embrace the role my everyday plays in the big picture.

Friday, January 06, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday {#30}

1.)  It's been awhile since I participated in 7 Quick Takes Friday.  I really like it, but I find I have a hard time keeping my takes "quick."  One of the trickiest parts of writing for me.  So I should probably do it regularly, for the discipline alone.

2.)  Not sure if you follow politics or not, but I find it pretty crazy that Romney beat Santorum by a mere 8 votes in the Iowa Caucus this week.  Apparently sometimes our votes DO count!

3.)  Speaking of voting, I'm currently registered as "Decline to State."  Lame.  I need to change that so I can actually participate in the primaries.  (I haven't always been registered as such but upon moving to Colorado, when the woman at the DMV asked my affiliation, that's what I said--in an act of protest.  This was at the tail-end of my aforementioned Brian McLaren-social-justice-activist phase.  I'm over it.)

4.)  Yesterday morning by 9 am I'd gotten my big kids out the door for the day, and had completely organized my upstairs bathroom cupboards and drawers.  I felt like a superhero.  For reals.

5.)  Of course once you organize one thing, you think about all the million OTHER places in the house that are in desperate need of some TLC.  And suddenly you don't feel like a superhero anymore.

6.)  We watched that movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose a few weeks ago, and in spite of shutting my eyes at all the scary parts I'm STILL terrified.  In less-scary movie news, we finished watching It's a Wonderful Life with the kids last night, and it had me weeping by the end.  Happens every time!  (And it's one of the best movies ever, IMO.)

7.)  I'm attending a meeting next week for a different homeschool program than the one we currently attend.  I LOVE the one we go to, but I have several good friends at this other one, and the kids' closest friends from church attend as well.  Of course I HATE change, and it's possible that we won't make the switch anyway depending on how many fine arts are offered, but part of me really hopes it works out.  It's a bit closer to my house as well, which would be nice.  


Thanks to Jen at Conversion Diary for hosting!!!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

She is loved

Last night.

Mary hurt herself somehow on her way down the stairs.  Because, you know, she's two...and a bit reckless when she picks up speed.

Upon hearing the thump and her subsequent crying, five of her siblings came rushing to her side...all from different parts of the house.

And took her into their laps.

And began singing the sweetest rendition of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" that ever I have heard.  One of the few songs Mekdes knows, so I'm assuming that's why they chose it.  The girl loves to sing.

Of course Mary stopped crying.

And just sat.  And listened.  While one of her brothers softly played with her hair.

They must have sung about seven rounds or so.  On the stairs.  Not loud and gregarious, but gentle and sweet.

Every mama hopes her children will get along with each other...be compassionate...love well.  My kids, my parenting, my homemaking, all of these are faaaaaaar from perfect, but I see God's hand and mercy on our lives every single day.  I suppose I can't ask for much more than that.

And the truth is that I find myself frequently challenged by my children to be more loving, patient and accepting.  Which is humbling, because my oldest is, um, 7 years old.  Who'dve thought? 

I'm seriously starting to think that God did when He designed the whole marriage-bringing-forth-children and love growing exponentially and self-sacrifice leading to charity thing.  And I got to see that in action last night, in spite of my stomachache and sleepiness and discouragement about homeschooling. 

A gift straight from God to encourage me in my vocation, just when I needed it.

And how very blessed Mary is to have such dear, wonderful brothers and sisters.  She is loved.  And she knows it.  What more could a mother possibly want for her child?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

When international adoption is hard

Meeting Mekdes in her orphanage for the first time

There's been some online drama discussion recently about when international adoption goes awry.  About when, for any number of reasons, the placement is deemed not to be a good fit, or a referral must be refused, or when a family decides they are ill-equipped to parent a particular child.

I must confess that there was a time when I truly believed that most everybody over the age of 10 ought to be adopting children.  This was back in what I call my "Brian-McLaren-social-justice-activist-phase".  When I'd first become jaded with evangelicalism.  (And read books by people in the emergent church movement.)  I wanted to know the point of this religion I'd practiced my entire life--not a crisis of faith but a seeking to understand faith's context and the Christian life's purpose.  (Just thinking back to that time makes me unbelievably grateful for God leading us to the Catholic Church, and for the doctrine of vocation.)

We'd returned with our sons from Ethiopia and, days later, while sitting in church singing Chris Tomlin songs, I couldn't shake the feeling that nobody but me cared about the orphan crisis.

Because, you know, I was magically able to discern precisely what people cared and prayed about, and where they gave their money, and what God wanted them to be doing. 

Ew.  That level of arrogance is embarrassing to admit!

Now though, roughly six years after making that first (of three) trips to Ethiopia, I'm beginning to see the nuances to the global orphan crisis.  I can see the challenges inherent in international adoption, and I can see that there is such a thing as a poor fit.  We'd begun our own adoption process this time around with two particular girls in mind...but had to switch gears when it was revealed that the older of the two had been sexually abusing other children at the orphanage.  Clearly not an acceptable placement for a family with five young children already in the home.  Clearly not an acceptable placement for a girl who needs time and space to heal.  Thankfully we had signed no paperwork, nor did the girls know there was a family considering them.  We were in no way committed or official at that point.  It was all very sobering.

And of course international adoption in general is not easy.  Not at all.  The beginning transitional period is hard, there are usually residual challenges, and sometimes you wonder how in the world it's all going to work out.  Yes adoption is an amazing peek into the redemptive heart of God, and something we are blessed to experience, and OH MY GOODNESS I love my children, but it is surely not easy, not always peaceful, and doesn't always (ever?) go like the books say it will.

And sometimes it feels and looks more like this than the sweet picture at the top of this post. 

So these days I find myself having more and more compassion for families who must make difficult decisions regarding adoption.

Now do allow me to say that I DON'T think a family should take any of these things lightly (most don't), or go into a country expecting a "healthy, young-as-possible-child" because they don't want any "issues."  Because that's naive.  ANY child who has:

been abandoned or relinquished
had a revolving door of caregivers
been undernourished or malnourished
lived in an institution
been born to a woman in a high-stress situation

is going to have great potential for "issues."  Doesn't matter how young they are at the time you take custody.  They may have attachment struggles.  PTSD.  Learning delays.  ADHD.  Sensory Processing Disorder.  Undiagnosed medical conditions.  Heart defects requiring open heart surgery.  Past history of sexual or physical or emotional abuse  You.just.don't.know.

And I am of the opinion that stable families ought to at least consider and pray about adopting a waiting child.  There is great need, and there is great blessing.  That being said, not everyone ought to adopt, and those who do must go in with eyes open.  Consider what YOUR particular family may be a good fit for (and how much you can be stretched--usually more than you think).  Then find where you can best meet that need. 

Once our initial adoption ideas fell through, we had to re-group and begin the discernment process all over again.  Through research and prayer we realized our happy little family had the potential to be a good fit for a child with Down syndrome, and lo and behold there was a need.  As a result, we have added two beautiful daughters to our family (both born with Trisomy 21). 

One of them, unable to do much at all with her legs three months ago, is now attempting to climb from her highchair onto our kitchen table.  The other, who struggles with balance and walking, made her own bed and dressed herself for the first time this morning.  Precious victories for our girls.

When I read about families who change their minds or have to back out or who end up actually disrupting an adoption, I am reminded that adoption and parenting and poverty are a messy business.  When I'm tempted to judge, I think back to 2006 and about the Chris Tomlin songs and how I thought I had a lot of things figured out.  I think about how our own process in 2010 changed course in the blink of an eye due to things not in our control.  And I'm reminded that I can't know your heart, or your limits, or what God has for you when it comes to adoption.

It's a funny balancing act because I DO long to advocate for the waiting child and oh how I want people to know that they are more capable than they think, and that fear ought not hold them back.  I especially want people to know that there are so very many waiting children with Down syndrome, children who need parents, and that this just plain should.not.be.

But I have a lot of friends who are raising really difficult children.  And I have a lot of friends who have disrupted their adoptions.  The truth is that where there is adoption, there was first loss.  And where there is loss, there is pain.  Brokenness.  Unpredictability.  Don't go into adoption looking for a quaint Norman Rockwell painting.  Because it's more like an abstract work-in-progress.  Don't expect your friends with adopted children to look like the Brady Bunch.  Chances are, they've been through some challenges and will continue to need support and acceptance.  Sometimes those friends will need to regroup or make a decision that doesn't make sense to you.  Seek to understand.

In the interest of full disclosure, all of our adopted children have been overall sweet, loving, and willing to attach.  From day one.  We have had a relatively easy go with adoption.  Our family is happy and everybody works well together.  But I admit that in spite of all that, it's still been hard at times.  Not necessarily because of my children, but because of my own need for control and order, and my impatience.  I unfortunately get frustrated when a child refuses to use the toilet, takes a long time to grasp what I see as a simple concept. 

Suffice it to say, being a mama is humbling.  And having children from the hard places will profoundly change your life.  I am incredibly blessed to have each of my four Ethiopian children, and am ever so glad that in God's grace He led our family to adopt them.  And all I can say in response to the online brouhaha is that I find myself increasingly humbled and grateful that He continues to give us the strength and faith and hope and love for this sometimes-difficult journey.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Catholicizing my kids

I shared last week about our experience joining the Catholic Church--with kids in tow.

If you've been through this, then you know that conversion is, well, a funny thing when you have little ones with lots of questions--and opinions.  Because our faith is central to everything we do (or ought to be, anyway), this switch was a family issue for us, not simply a private theological shift for Kevin and I.  The books we read and the prayers we said and the church we attended would all be a bit different.  So I thought I'd share some resources and practices that we've found helpful along the way.

One of the most important steps was actually explaining the Mass, and Catholicism in general, to our children.  We purchased a couple of books for just this purpose:

We Go to Mass, a simple board book for the littler ones


The Mass Book for Children for my bigger kiddos.

Our family loves Saint stories.  A year or so ago I bought The Children's Book of Saints, which is great for short daily readings.

Then some dear friends of ours gifted us with these out-of-print gems. 

And we LOVE them, our favorites by far!  We try to make sure we read about whichever saint is having a feast day that day.

I've always made sure that we have some type of religious instruction as part of our (home)school day.  This year I've begun using a Catechism curriculum by Faith and Life.  Kids learn various prayers  and also about the doctrines of the faith.  There's an accompanying Activity Book that's great, and the lesson book includes lots of wonderful artwork.  I'm really enjoying this resource.

We read the Bible each day.  I'm still hunting around for just the right Catholic Children's Bible, but one thing I've enjoyed is just doing the daily weekday Mass readings with the kids.  We have the Catholic One app on our Kindle Fire, and we also have a Roman Missal.

Weekday Mass.  I would love, love, love for us to eventually make it to 8 am Mass the majority of the days of the week.  Really.  Recently I've tried shooting for ONE weekday Mass (and of course we always go on Sundays.)  It's an amazing way to start our family's day, but of course the main obstacle is getting seven kids fed and out the door so early, then keeping the two 2-year-olds semi-quiet during the 30-minute Mass.  But it's always worth it.  The kids really enjoy getting up and going to weekday Mass.  And I'm finding that I do too.

When we attend Mass on Sundays, we try not to sit TOO far back, so my kids can see what's going on and feel as if they're participating.  I also don't personally allow my children to bring toys along.  While they seem to work well for others, I've found that for us, they wind up just being a distraction and way more trouble than they're worth.  Plus, I feel like my five oldest kiddos (ages 4-7) are capable of sitting, standing, kneeling, singing, praying, and getting a little something out of the homily.  I try to always excitedly remind them during the Consecration that Jesus is here now!!!, and what a miracle it truly is.

My four oldest kids received their own set of Rosary beads in their respective Christmas stockings this year.  (Oh, you didn't know Santa is all about Marian devotions?  Well, he totally is.  He even brought each of them a little picture of Bernadette with a Rosary at Lourdes.  'Cause that's how Santa rolls around here.)

Each of my kids has their own small crucifix--Mekdes and Tigist each have one from Ethiopia, and my other kids' came from the Vatican, in Rome.  We picked all of them up on our trips this past year (just prior to joining the Church.)  They love kissing Jesus and really value them.  So, so sweet.

So, those are some of the resources and sacramentals and practices we've stumbled upon, and found beneficial so far.  But enough about me.  How about you?  How do you incorporate the Catholic Faith into your family life?


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