Friday, January 25, 2013

{Denver} March for Life 2013

This past Sunday my family had the opportunity to attend the Denver March for Life.  And by family, I do mean every last one of us, save for my son recovering on the couch from a tonsillectomy.

We started our morning with Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception downtown, where it was pretty much standing-room-only.  We naturally had a difficult time finding parking for our ginormous van, and thus showed up sweaty with not much time to spare--but just so happen to have the best friends ever, who saved us seats.

After Mass we walked over to the state capitol for the March for Life rally.  There were a number of pro-life speakers sharing different perspectives--from priests to Protestant pastors to women who have had abortions themselves. 

Then all of the children in attendance were invited up to the steps to participate in a balloon release.  And then the actual march started.

As you can see, we (proudly) took up our signs and began the long procession downtown.  Passers-by honked, and some yelled not-nice-things, but mostly it seemed that anyone willing to say anything was supportive.  I remember one car in particular that passed by, honking and with multiple passengers inside waving happily and excitedly. 

The most touching moment of the march for me, by far, happened as the crowd was dispersing from the steps to begin the walk.  That's when I noticed several women taking up huge signs with I regret my abortion written on them.  I actually had tears in my eyes watching these women because they deemed preborn children worth it.  Worth telling the world they had aborted their own children.  Worth telling a religious and pro-life crowd they'd had abortions.  Worth holding their heads up high.

It's interesting because the pro-life movement has received much discussion and criticism lately, especially from the feminist/atheist crowd.  It has been painted as oppressive, angry, naive, repressive, judgemental, irrelevant...the list goes on. 

But do you want to know what really goes on when thousands of people converge for a pro-life march?

Kids run around in the sunshine.

Parents connect with friends and applaud women who are willing to share their stories.

People release a bunch of cheery and colorful balloons.

Everyone (including eight-months-pregnant me) marches around with signs that say things like "Defend Life", and spectators honk happily when they discover they're not alone in their conviction that children deserve to live, period.

We of course didn't see any media.  None whatsoever.  Apparently the local paper was too busy writing about the new WalMart that's opening.  Ahem.

But you know what?  The local media is more than welcome to pretend that this annual event doesn't happen.  My husband and I certainly didn't drag six of our seven kids (plus the child presently hitching a ride in utero) downtown thinking we Heldts were going to change laws or minds or hearts or anything, really. 

We simply went.

Because it's important. 

Because it matters. 

Because my kids are watching.

Because people are watching.

Because children are dying.

God does not ask us to change the world or do Big Huge Things that make a Big Huge Impact.  Instead He wants our hearts, wants us to love Him, and wants us to spend forever with Him in Heaven.  So it is on the one hand an infintesimally small thing to spend the day marching downtown with friends and family.  And yet on the other hand, it is of great and eternal significance.  Because while we may not directly effect any sort of political change, when we participate in something like the March for Life, we affirm some of the most foundational truths about God and humanity. 

We tell ourselves, our children, and our culture that men and women are created, from the moment of conception, with dignity and purpose.

We stand in solidarity with the mothers, fathers, and children who've fallen victim to this barbaric industry.

We serve as a public witness to the radical and counter-cultural reality of a life spent following Jesus.

We speak out for the many little lives lost and forgotten, who cannot speak for themselves.

The truth is that most of our lives are spent on the small things, like living out our vocations and putting one foot in front of the other and seeking relationship with God through humble means.  So even if few care or take notice, God sees.  And He cares.  And I believe He will use even our smallest efforts in His plan of redemption.

And that is what I hope my children took away from the march.  They took a stand for Jesus and for life and for humanity last Sunday afternoon, when our family could have been doing any number of other things.  They witnessed the joy, the passion, and the grief that permeates what is known as the Pro-Life Movement.  They saw first-hand that a whole lot of people, including some of our dearest friends, are concerned about abortion. 

And I pray that this spark ignites within them a deep love and respect for life, as given by God, from conception until natural death--regardless of whether Roe v. Wade is ever overturned.

And that is why we march for life.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Why you can't erase women

With the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade approaching, I've been thinking quite a bit about a post I read last month over at the popular atheist blog "Love, Joy, Feminism".  The article asserted that most pro-life (or anti-abortion) ads portray photos of already-born babies and pre-born fetuses, while failing to depict the mother.  Libby Anne therefore concludes that anti-abortion "fundamentalists" care nothing for women themselves, in spite of the fact that--gasp--these babies would not and could not exist without the women carrying them!

Now when I performed my own image search on Google, it netted the same result.  (Along with a photo of a lady licking a pumpkin--Google images are scary.)  So I grant that Libby Anne is correct in her assertion that women are oftentimes not depicted in anti-abortion literature.

I'll also grant that her argument is, on the surface anyway, semi-logical: people are only showing photos of babies, and not showing photos of women, and so therefore it must follow that these folks care nothing for women and only for babies.  Rights for the pre-born zygotes, embryos and fetuses!  Enslavement for and the ultimate erasure of women!

But being one of those anti-abortion types the article was complaining about, I would argue that this is a completely false and ridiculous dichotomy.  These ads are not intended to convey the entire, complex issue of abortion and human rights within the confines of a city billboard or Facebook share, but instead to demonstrate the humanity and dignity of a pre-born being.  Women can, after all, speak--and be seen, for that matter--for themselves.  A 10-week-old embryo on the other hand cannot.

Because the horrors of abortion, everything from the procedure itself to the inherent risks and not-uncommon shame, are utterly hidden from the culture's view.

Abortionists do their work behind closed clinic doors, where they are virtually the only ones seeing the tiny, barely-formed baby struggling to dodge the sharp instruments.

Even the woman herself is unconscious, and therefore not witness to her body being invaded as her child is systematically ripped apart and killed. 

So if anyone is rendering a woman voiceless and irrelevant, it is the person on the other end of the curette.

And what Libby Ann fails to see is that we anti-abortion folks actually believe the very opposite: the woman carrying the child in question cannot be erased.  She is a mother, from the time her egg is fertilized, to a person made in the image of God Himself.  And far from being merely an incubator or host, the mother has participated in mankind's most creative act: the bringing forth of new life.  Whatever her personal circumstances--and I will not pretend that they are always conducive to or ideal for raising a child--she has conceived a human being, a body + soul.  And that is a fact that simply can't be erased.  It just is. 

But so long as women seek salvation and freedom via Planned Parenthood escorts, vacuum aspirators and forceps, they fall prey to the culture's narrative which says that pregnancy renders women as little more than host to a parasite. 

See, it is the culture that fails to acknowledge a woman as anything more than a body with a uterus. 

It is the culture that fails to acknowledge that a woman is a person.

Abortion advocates who deny the humanity, dignity and personhood of a fetus are simultaneously (and rather ironically) denying those very things about the woman carrying the fetus.  No one should argue that carrying a pregnancy to term is not a sacrificial act.  Because it is.  But this is part of the mystery of womanhood, a profoundly amazing truth that gives rise to the awe of the human condition.  Because in spite of God's original design, not all children are conceived in an act of conjugal love, but they are carried and birthed through a constant choosing of the weaker's good over the stronger.  And it is a testament to women, not a denigration, when they choose something difficult because it is right and honorable.  Even when it costs them.  Maybe especially when it costs them.

So every single image you see of a fetus, whether online or by the side of the highway, represents not only a life, but the creative act of God, in which He allows us humans to participate through our free will and choosing.  The fetuses represented by these images do not exist independently as such.  Those fetuses have parents.  

And so it follows too that every single baby discarded in the medical waste bin or stored in a clinic's refrigerator jar has a mother and a father.  The baby's body may be distorted beyond recognition, or too tiny to even see, but the soul lives on--as does the motherhood of the woman whose child was killed for profit under the guise of "compassion".

Becoming pregnant, giving birth, and raising children does not cause me to cease to exist, nor does it diminish my personhood as a woman.  On the contrary, it gives witness to the very love of God, the community of the Holy Trinity, Christ's Church in all her radiant glory, and the mystery that is husband, wife and family.  And at the same time it is a beautiful paradox.  Because in giving myself away, in saying yes to Jesus by loving my husband and my children, in emptying myself of selfishness through sacrifice, I gain far more than I could possibly imagine. 

And far from being a mere duty or obligation, it has the potential to be an incredible source of joy.

It is interesting to note that many (most?) of the readers in "Love, Joy, Feminism"'s combox used to be pro-life, yet now as humanists cannot comprehend how one maintains that an embryo is a life worth fighting for.  And the atheistic worldview espoused there makes logical sense if life on earth is all there is, if we are all merely a biological accident of the cosmos.  Because if that were the case, there would be no objective morality, period--no standard outside of ourselves--and so one really ought to seek the easiest, most comfortable life possible.  (Why wouldn't you, when the ultimate worship and autonomy of self takes the place of a God that is "other"?)  And since becoming a mother and raising a child are not always comfortable, convenient or expedient, abortion suddenly becomes a reasonable solution.

The truth is, of course, that women will never, ever be "erased" by motherhood.  That notion is virtually impossible because our womanhood actually finds its fullness in love which, when we have chosen the vocation of marriage, is ultimately (and exquisitely) expressed through the conception of a child.  It is love begetting love.  It is, as Blessed John Paul II so eloquently described, a love which says "I may become a father/I may become a mother."  Instead of being rooted in the utilitarian motive of mere pleasure-seeking, it is a love saying "yes" to God in the fashion of our Blessed Mother Mary. 

And I would suggest that even when a child is not conceived within the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, even when a soul springs into being amidst any sort of poverty, it is a love which calls for a different (though no less important) sort of self-giving on the part of the mother.  It is a love which acknowledges the child as having an eternal soul regardless the circumstances of his or her conception, and which acknowledges the woman as a mother regardless of her marital or societal status.

Because as women, our dignity and personhood can't be separated from the fact that we were created as women, with the great and profound potential for motherhood, by a loving, personal and creative God.  We were created through love, for love.  And so we will never, ever be erased.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Lessons in homeschooling

Technically this photo, now several months' old, has nothing to do with homeschooling.  But it's of me and all the kids.  So there you go.
When we first made the decision to homeschool, our oldest was about to start Kindergarten.  She'd already taught herself to read by that point, was self-motivated, and made me feel like the best homeschool mom ever

Because CLEARLY this gig was going to be simple, easy and fulfilling.  I was raising classically-educated prodigies!  My 5-year-old daughter was reading unabridged books!  We were finished with school by 11 am each day!

But then the following year, my sons began Kindergarten...and they weren't reading at all.  When we'd work on blending, they didn't retain anything I taught them.  Even simple Bob Books were a challenge.  And they just plain weren't all that interested.  I found it all incredibly frustrating (so much for my impressive prodigy-producing skills), and so I began to occasionally ponder signing them up at our neighborhood school.  They are very smart boys, I reasoned, so I must be doing something wrong--that someone with a teaching credential would surely do right

Of course I (thankfully) never did give in to that temptation.  I simply put the Bob Books and phonics instruction away.  We did other stuff instead.  And yes I questioned my decisions and choices  But we never gave up on homeschooling itself, because in spite of the fact that reading did not come as easily to some of my kids as to others, I had become committed to it for philosophical, ideological reasons.  I was invested. 

Deep-down I really, truly felt--and feel--that home educating is the very best thing for my children at this time.  When I consider the many amazing benefits of doing life this way, the things we gain and yes also the things we are able to avoid, I don't want to sign my kids up for a five days a week, eight hours a day public education.  I think they are better served spending that time with their family as they learn within a natural and organically Catholic context.  I think I am better served by the slow, family-centered pace of life we maintain by limiting commitments outside of the home.  And so we continue moving forward, even when it's difficult or seemingly bears little fruit.

Homeschooling has, quite literally, forced me to embrace ideas that were easy for me to claim to believe, but far harder to actually live out and stand by.  Like the fact that children develop at different rates, rendering it impossible to expect kids sharing a chronological age to do this or that at precisely the same time.  But we do expect this, or at least I do.  I feel the pressure to make sure my kids conform to arbitrary standards set by federal bureaucrats (who don't know my kids).  And quite frankly, that is ridiculous.  Education and development simply don't work that way, especially when you take environmental and hereditary factors into account. 

Of course my sons are eight years old now, in the second grade, and I'm happy to announce that they are reading!  It's still a work in progress, and they're nowhere near being ready to tackle Aquinas' Summa (maybe next year?), but by golly they can blend sounds and recognize a number of sight words.  They can pick up an Usborne reader and make it through most of it without much assistance from me.  They are noticing street signs and blurting them out in the car.  They've conquered the Bob Books.  They love to compete with each other when I write words on the white board for them to sound out or memorize.  Best of all, I can teach a lesson and they remember it.

And none of it is really because of anything I've done.  Just like I had very little to do with my eldest reading at an advanced age, I don't take any credit for finding the perfect curriculum or method that finally made things start clicking for my sons.  They are simply in a more advanced place developmentally than they were two years ago, and thus ready to read.  It's still touch and go sometimes, but with consistency and exposure I'm at least pretty confident that they won't leave our home completely illiterate.

I know I'm not alone in occasionally (regularly?) feeling insecure about homeschooling.  So I thought I would share five specific things that have helped TREMENDOUSLY in maintaining clarity and focus amidst the ups and downs of educating at home.  Perhaps some of them will help you too:

1.)  Keeping my eyes on the big-picture.  When you do something every single day, it is easy to forget why exactly you're doing what you're doing.  Math facts and history timelines and science experiments are great, and we want our kids to succeed, but our ultimate motivation in educating our children at home runs far deeper than academics--and so do the benefits.

2.)  Being flexible.  I'd envisioned my kids all becoming proficient readers by the end of their respective Kindergarten years.  I'd imagined them making steady and predictable progress.  But that wasn't happening.  And so in desperate pursuit of sanity-preservation, we shelved reading instruction altogether, for a time.  This is something that, while hard, ultimately revealed my own issues with pride and caring too much about other peoples' opinions.  It was an important lesson for me to learn.  And something I've had to practice again and again with parenting in general, because over the years I've had to double-back and shelve things and re-prioritize and change up my plan--and I anticipate having to do so going forward.  Meeting the needs of my children requires being in tune with their specific situation at a specific given time, and that means that sometimes I'll need to adjust my own plans.

3.) Acknowledging that there is more than one right way to do a thing.  I'm a big believer in objective and universal truth, but I'm also a big proponent of freedom in many areas of life and, more specifically, parenting.  For some, plodding along and sticking to something is the right way to go.  For others, like me when it came to teaching some of my kids to read, it worked better to just put the whole thing on hold for awhile.  We ought not beat ourselves up for taking a different approach than others, when we are seeking to do what's best for our individual families.

4.)  Rightly ordering my life.  It is incredibly easy for priorities to become skewed--I become so engrossed in wearing my "homeschooling hat" that I forget that first and foremost, I'm a mother.  My vocation is much bigger than how well my child writes his or her letters, and while I take education seriously, I've noticed that when I zero in on the minutae of school at the expense of my vocation at large, discouragement and frustration begin to take root.  On the other hand, when I focus on following Jesus and on simply loving my children?  I maintain perspective.  I see academic subjects within their proper context.  I don't lose sleep over the fact that one of my kids still has horrible penmanship.  I remain more concerned with the encouraging of virtue and clear-thinking, and of helping my children reach their larger potential.

5.)  Allowing room for grace.  Guess what?  I'm not perfect!  I make mistakes all the time.  And sometimes this homeschooling thing looks a whole lot more like clumsy trial and error, and a whole lot less like studious preparation for Harvard.  I want to do my best and I want my kids to succeed, but really, stuff happens.  Plans change.  I have days where I'm tired (hello being 33 weeks pregnant!) and days where I want to give up and cry.  I have days where my kids are tired and days where they want to give up and cry.  I have days where I cancel school altogether and we go visit Grandma and Grandpa instead.  (Those days are the best, for sure.  Shhhhh.)  And far from seeing the sum total of this as a failure or deficit on my part, I see it as simply life.  Which is messy and unpredictable.  If I measure our success as homeschoolers by an exquisitely perfect adherence to a schedule, or by constantly happy feelings towards home education, I am doomed to fail.  But if I acknowledge that some days will just be hard, and that the world is not all on my shoulders, and if I regularly consider the wonderful gains my kids are making in various areas, I can continue pressing on in faith that God is doing something beautiful with my family as we educate at home.

Finally, I want to close with these wise and encouraging words from Pope Benedict XVI:

"Everyone knows that the Christian family is a special sign of the presence and love of Christ and that it is called to give a specific and irreplaceable contribution to evangelization. ... The Christian family has always been the first way of transmitting the faith and still today retains great possibilities for evangelization in many areas. Dear parents, commit yourselves always to teach your children to pray, and pray with them; draw them close to the Sacraments, especially to the Eucharist, ... introduce them to the life of the Church; in the intimacy of the home do not be afraid to read the sacred Scriptures, illuminating family life with the light of faith and praising God as Father. Be like a little Upper Room, like that of Mary and the disciples, in which to live unity, communion and prayer!"

May you be encouraged and blessed on your parenting journey!

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Christmas 2012

 The Heldt kids on Christmas Eve.
Merry Christmas, friends!
Things have been quiet here on the blog front lately, as the past couple of weeks have found me busy shopping, decorating, baking, cooking, and wrapping gifts, all in preparation for Christmas.
It was actually a great joy getting things ready this year--I find that I have a much greater appreciation for Christmas in general, being Catholic and thus seeing it in the greater liturgical context.
The kids of course love it too.  My oldest even told me as she was climbing into bed on Christmas night, "Our Christmases just keep getting better and better!"
One of my goals the past couple of years has been to make the celebration and feasting so very special that the day and meaning itself is not eclipsed by gifts.  And I think it's working well.  In conjunction with this I've also become more intentional about gift-buying.  Each of our kids receives one primary gift from us, something we know they've been wanting or that they will really enjoy, and then we get them some smaller and group gifts too.  This year the big gifts were scooters for my sons, and special dolls for my daughters (from Baby Alive to Laura Ingalls).  Stockings contained chocolate and holy cards, as well as jewelry for church.
Up until last year we'd always travelled for Christmas, so we are still carving out our own family traditions.  Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve (yes we do get all dressed up, all nine of us, and trek to church in the dead of night), sleeping in and eating a yummy breakfast on Christmas morning, lighting our tree and placing the star on top, reading the Christmas narrative from the Bible, singing Christmas songs, opening gifts, and enjoying a huge dinner of ham and all the trimmings.  And my parents live in Colorado now so we were able to share Christmas with them here for the first time.  So special!
Now I didn't manage to get Christmas cards sent out this year (sad!), and I still have two gingerbread house kits on the counter that my kids never made (craft fail!), so clearly I don't have this thing quite mastered yet.  But we have had a lovely Christmas celebrating Jesus' birth amidst family and friends.  And I hope you have, too!

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