Yom HaShoa and Divine Mercy

Yesterday was Divine Mercy Sunday and unless you live under a rock, you also know we have two new saints, Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII were canonized. It was a big day for Catholics.

But at sundown, our Jewish brothers and sisters began a much more somber remembrance. Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance. Could you imagine this happening in our country on September 11th?

 

Simon Schama’s PBS series, The Story of the Jews, begins with the Yom HaShoah sirens in Israel and shows people all over stopping what they are doing and standing in silence. The entire country stops when those sirens sound and everyone waits in silence. And remembers. Remembers what we have sworn never to forget. The rounding up and murder of six million people who were chosen because they were God’s chosen ones. The descendents of a generation that wandered the desert with Moses. The descendants of a people who enjoyed great prosperity under David and Solomon. The descendents of those scattered and taken into captivity by the Babylonians.

I have struggled, and struggled with how to make the Holocaust which we all know also took the mentally ill, developmentally disabled, and at least one Catholic priest named Maximilian Kolbe who died in place of another man, among others. I have looked into my beautiful daughter’s face and thanked God we were born in the US during the 20th and 21st centuries and not 1930s or 40s Europe. But I know I must teach my sons. I must not allow them to become apathetic and forget. Because while we are not Jewish, while we have no biological nor ethnic ties to Judaism, if I am to raise children who grow up into adults that value human life, it is my absolute obligation not to forget and not to allow my children to forget the atrocities done during the Holocaust, the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, the ethnic cleansings in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia–both of which happened in my lifetime. But how? How do you explain unexplainable evil or indescribable pain?

I don’t remember how my parents told me about the Holocaust. I have vague memories of my mother seeing a man on the monorail at Disney world with the undeniable tattoo on his arm of a number that identified him as inhuman in one of the Nazi extermination camps and telling our family about it. I don’t know if I had asked what “holocaust” meant then or if it was sometime later. I know I knew about the atrocities before leaving elementary school though. And when I was fourteen, in eighth grade, we read The Diary of Anne Frank and The Cage by holocaust survivor Riva Minska/Ruth Minsky Snyder. Schindler’s List also came out that year.

I arrive at this need to discuss what happened all those years ago in Eastern Europe (and the variety of atrocities before and since) while my sons who can comprehend are still very young. But they are growing up in the internet age, an age of constant 24-7 information and if I want my children to understand what happened, if I want them to realize why it’s so important that we remember, if I want to ensure they get the proper information as to why we must fight for the dignity of all human life, then it is MY responsibility to teach them.

I googled talking about Yom HaShoah with children and came across two articles by the same Jewish mother who has struggled to tell her 21st century children growing up in America what has happened. Her first article from two years ago appears on Jewish momsite Kveller.com (which I like because while there are some very religion-specific articles there are also just plain great mothering/parenting ones too no matter what your background) and describes her own agony on how to start the conversation. She talks about how our own traumas regarding the Holocaust (or Jim Crow, slavery, civil rights, or any genocide) make it difficult to talk to our kids or determine what might be the best way to communicate with our kids. This year, on examiner.com, she discusses how since she began the discussion some things many thought were useful, were in fact not as she expected.

I plan on purchasing The Butterfly, but I’m hoping that, like our talk about civil rights and slavery and Martin Luther King Jr, it may start more organically. Joseph saw a news report about how black dogs and cats were not being rescued because of ridiculous stereotyping based upon their fur coloration. Joseph correctly ascertained the absurdity of this irrational prejudice. I used that conversation to segue into reminding him about Martin Luther King Jr who he had briefly heard about at school and how we also do not hate someone based upon the color of their skin. We talked about his I Have a Dream speech which mentions how he wants a country where his children will be judged not on the color of their skin but the content of their character. We talked about Shelby and things people might say about her because her behavior is different. It happened so organically. But I don’t have any delusions about that discussion regarding genocide.

The fact that this year Yom HaShoah and Divine Mercy Sunday overlap is not lost on me at all. Asking for mercy on not only myself, not only all those who believe, but the whole world is something that has always brought me comfort. And I know Christ’s sorrow over our sins past and present is encapsulated right there in the Gospel. That explaining how as sad as this whole event has made me feel or may make my child feel, Christ’s grief, his mourning is much more than I can comprehend. Than any of us can. As we cycled out of Year C on the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Joseph was completely struck by the first reading which is 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14 which includes this:

With his last breath he said: “You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up– to live again forever, because we are dying for his laws.” (vs 9)

We discussed obedience to God even when it costs us our lives. It was this same obedience to God that Jesus showed when He went to the cross and died for our sins. And He was risen on the 3rd day. His sorrow for what was done to the Jews at the time of the Maccabees, the sorrow of what was done to the Jews during the Holocaust was overcome by His great love for us and His obedience to God in that love. And I think that is what I want my children to take away from this because as Peter wrote to the churches in Asia:

“love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8

Ironically, Peter wrote that to the churches in Asia when he was trying to encourage them not to abandon their faith and their Christian standards and behaviors under persecution. And as God’s love can cover our sins, so can our love for each other. We may be human and our justice and mercy, imperfect, but when we believe in God’s mercy and we love one another and remember that although atrocious things happen in our world, we can’t make sense of those terrible things but we can know God’s rewards for those who are obedient, for those who lay down their lives for their friends and refuse to abandon their principles even to the point of death are waiting. And once I can get around to that point with my kids, I believe my kids will understand not only the pain but the need to act on behalf of those who are persecuted. It’s just the getting that conversation started, I need to work on.

Light in Darkness

Joining Maria for her weekly meme Light in Darkness.

This week, again, I’m going to share some happiness from my life. Namely two things that have made me smile during Spring Break.

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Brothers and best friends enjoying the backyard on a staycation.

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Shelby in her bodysock walking around our backyard. Yes, it probably does freak the neighbors out but who cares? Shelby is sensory regulated so all is well.

Spring Break Round-up

Tomorrow at 7:30 and 8 AM, I will put two little people on the school bus to go back to school. Spring break will officially be over.

We ended it with only one injury (boy’s head meets ceiling fan). Shelby had lots of sensory needs. She was able to use her sensory swing and body sock and occasionally her brothers obliged to sit on her lap to provide deep pressure. We put the tent up in the living room and had a playdate. I got the kids clothes switched out for the season and also went through some hand-me-downs. No one got sick save for Jeff’s stomach virus on Holy Saturday. And the weather was all good except for Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.

It was difficult not having Jeff’s help at times. And we already know next year will be the same. I am hoping next year we may be able to plan more excursions but it’s a whole year away. I had lots of creative bursts which was very good. And all the Easter candy is gone, a bonus to not buying a ton of it.

The kids made lots of “recycled art” and read new books we were given. We had lots of great imaginative play, but also got to play the Wii and computer games not to mention board games.

Jeff was also able to get some work done for his dad at his dad’s house doing some landscaping his dad would rather pay him to do than an overpriced gardener. I have enjoyed getting to sleep in a bit this week but I will be glad we have about five weeks of “normalcy” til we get another break and then it will just be a 3 day weekend and a short reprieve before summer break. I am grateful that 2 weeks into summer, Shelby will have extended school year for 2 hours each morning four days a week which will both keep her in routine and also prevent regression. Bonus, it will give the rest of us time to get non-Shelby related activities in as we need them.

I enjoy having the kids home on break, but we are all ready for it to be over when the time comes.

Tis the season

For IEPs…

Actually, mine was done in March because Shelby’s teacher is awesome and stuff.

IEPs are individualized education plans which are drawn up by a child’s parent (or guardian) and specific representatives of the public school system. Typically they will include a special education teacher, a regular education teacher, any associated therapists, and an LEA (representative of the Local Education Agency who is qualified to provide, or supervise the provision of, specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of
children with disabilities; knowledgeable about the general education curriculum; and knowledgeable about the availability of resources of the LEA). Sometimes, if the child is old enough (cut off date is 14) the child will be present. Also any of the above must be able to interpret any evaluations or a person who can must be present. The parent can also invite anyone they want who has a vested interest in the child’s future. I often bring along a parent advocate but grandparents have also attended.

Shelby goes through this process annually. We periodically have re-evaluations done (we’ll have one done next year) but each year her academic, behavior, speech and occupational therapy goals must be reviewed as well as updated to account for any progress. We also have to make decisions about testing (as Shelby will be going into 3rd grade) and transportation and, in our district, a program called “extended school year” which gives Shelby academics and therapy over the summer.

So, this year I walked in feeling all…

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and walked out like this:

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Why? Well, most of us look forward to an IEP meeting like we do getting a tooth pulled. Not the best or our favorite thing to do. BUT, when you have an awesome team, it can be such an amazing experience. I sat there in amazement at the staff because it hit me: everyone has been paying attention this year! Unfortunately because of the behaviors of some of the other children in Shelby’s class in years past, sometimes important things were missed because her behaviors are less troubling or violent than most. I was so excited to realize that Shelby has been getting so much one on one attention and that she has been improving because the staff has been so in tune to her motivations and her areas of need that they’ve tailored everything to actually get her to do the work. And she’s none the wiser. I am incredibly impressed with not just Shelby’s teacher and assistants but with the administration and other teachers in the school who work so well with her. Her art teacher sat in as the regular education teacher who asked if certain speech techniques being used in the classroom could be extended into her art, music, PE, computer and media classes. It was refreshing to hear people being encouraging, not frustrated. And I understand the frustration, but it’s hard for it not to be disappointing.

I’ve given advice before on what to try to do to better ensure a good IEP meeting but I know that we can at the very least hope for good things. We may not look forward to these meetings, but we can try to be positive. We can sometimes be surprised.

“You need to learn to ask for help”

This is, thus far, the only comment on a friend’s facebook post about the impending doom of a doctor’s visit after injuring her back doing home repairs. This person is a single parent who recently lost a parent and has a special needs child. Not asking for help is not new territory for this friend. Despite my (and several friends’) urging to go into IEP meetings with a parent advocate, to apply for SSI for her child (she’s a single parent, so it could happen) which she could do over the phone to help pay for her child’s numerous treatments, and join various support groups so she wouldn’t feel more alone, this friend prides herself on being a person who can do it ALL herself ALL the time.

Which is even more interesting because she is an evangelical Christian who goes to a local mega-church. Everything is all God is my homeboy for her, but she cannot see the people God has placed in her life to help her. She can’t see that God gave us each other because we can’t make it through this life alone.

When we ask for help from God, are we like my friend, and insist God only help us under our terms? Her terms being, “let me do it all by myself?” God tends to thrust those of us like my friend, and ahem, like myself, who would rather avoid human contact into situations where we HAVE to ask for help. And then it’s up to us. I’ve made two wonderful friends in the last few years that I can ask for almost anything from. I hate doing it, but I have asked for a ride for me and the boys from one and to print important documents I needed for Shelby from the other. And both of them think it is no big deal, not an imposition at all.

I remember a joke my grandfather once told about a priest in a town near a river that was flooding. The priest said he would stay at the church because God would save him. As the water approached the bottom of the church steps, the police chief came by in a rowboat and asked the priest to jump in. The priest refused saying, “Oh, no, I will stay here with the church, God will protect me from any harm.” As the water reached the top of the church steps, the police chief came by again and again the priest refused. Finally, the water was up to the church roof and the police chief came by and once again, the priest refused. The priest died of drowning and went to heaven. One day in heaven, the priest came upon God and said, “God, I stayed with the church, why didn’t you save me?” To which God responded “I sent the rowboat THREE times!”

How often are we like the priest in that joke? How often to we ask God for help and then say, “Not what I had in mind God,” when the help He provides is not what we expected. Say for example, instead of a large deposit in a Swiss bank account in our name, a job offer comes up to help us pay down our medical debt? Or ask God for the strength to complete a project but instead of our own physical strength God sends us friends who offer to help that we never respond to? When we fail to ask God for help and when we fail to take his gifts of help in answer to prayer, we are all guilty of pride. Pride that says, “I won’t bother God with this, instead I’ll just do it myself.” Why wouldn’t you “bother” God with it? Do you think He who created the universe and all who inhabit it cannot handle your measly problems? Do you think your problems aren’t important enough? If you’re not praying to the omnipotent, the sovereign, the Alpha and the Omega who loves you beyond anything you can understand and who always finds your worries and problems important enough, well, I’m not sure who you’re praying to, but I’m sure it’s NOT God. And I say this as I confess I am guilty of trying take my own problems and sneak off with them or, worse, take them to God, lay it all out, then try to take them back.

God did not create us in a vacuum. He created us in a world. With other people. And it would be incredibly dense of us to think so highly of our own ability which has only been endowed by our creator to think, “I, and I alone, am the ONLY person who can solve all these problems. We need to rely on God. To trust Him and His promises. And we need to realize that help is not always coming in the form we expect, when we ask, we need to be ready to receive what He gives.

Are words “claimable?” Or do they HAVE to belong to everyone.

Simcha Fisher has a brilliant piece on the need for feminism and yes, calling it that word over at Patheos. This has engaged an entire conversation about the use of the word “feminist” or “feminism” and if the word can be “reclaimed” or if it “belongs to everyone.”

Simcha, in her piece, shares this brilliant insight:

People do dreadful things in the name of democracy, and people do dreadful things in the name of beauty. People do dreadful things in the name of Christ our savior. That doesn’t mean we abandon the name. That means we rescue it, we rectify the misuse.

Back in college I was a Creative Writing major, I nearly could have been a double major in English if it didn’t mean I’d have to take a second senior seminar. Anyways, there were three classes, one of which I was required to take for one or both majors. My options were Linguistics, Structure, or Semantics. I ended up in structure which involved diagramming sentences (boring but I got an A) because I was deathly afraid of the linguistics professor. Sadly, during the semesters I was eligible to take it, semantics was not offered. It was the one of the three I REALLY wanted to take. Why? Semantics is defined as ( in terms of linguistics): a. the study of meaning. and b. the study of linguistic development by classifying and examining changes in meaning and form. How words and meaning change over time fascinates me. So this current discussion of “claiming” and “reclaiming” of feminism or of it “belonging to everyone” to use as they like is of particular interest for me.

We’ve most frequently heard of words being re-claimed in respects to marginalized groups. Certainly those thought of as “radical feminists” felt that by defining feminism and femininity in their own way gave them power. Those in power make the decisions and definitions for sure. Similarly we find the use of the “n” word, a word used once by whites to degrade anyone with dark skin, “re-claimed” by African Americans using it in rap lyrics or even in language to refer to friends. Whether these uses are correct or justify broader use of the word by anyone not in the marginalized groups is not for me to decide but it certainly says a lot about power, rebellion and control. When a word describes oneself, one does have a tendency to feel they should have some say in the usage and meaning of the word. That choice to “re-define” or “re-claim” a word can be made in defiance or to stir up controversy or because someone feels really upset.

But what about words belonging to everyone. Even the words we choose to describe ourselves as? I live in the southeast surrounded by Baptists. Southern Baptists, Free Will Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Missionary Baptists, Bible Baptists and yes, Westboro Baptists. Among others. Now, those first groups will loudly protest that last one. Can you blame them? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone who attends a Baptist church say that “those are NOT ‘real’ Baptists.” But, the if the word belongs to everyone, particularly everyone who believes even just the smallest sliver of doctrine, then no bother for these Baptists to loudly stage their own re-claiming of the word through their actions contrary to those of Westboro. Right?

Let’s go a little closer to home. When we say we’re Roman Catholic, well does that term belong to everyone? Does it belong to those ordaining womyn priests? How about sedevacantists? SSPX? How about abusive priests who celebrated the sacraments and those that shuffled them from parish to parish? What about the couple who baptizes their children and then turns around and donates to Planned Parenthood or a pro-choice politician? Does it belong to the diocesan school with the openly lesbian gym teacher and openly gay male assistant principal? Do we get to decide who is more faithful and allowed to claim the title of “Roman Catholic?” Is someone who is only betraying Catholic teaching in one area of their life (say birth control pills for bad menstrual cycles but not actually having the sex to go along with them) able to claim the title of Roman Catholic or not?

I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking you. Technically, we all disobey Catholic teaching at some time or another. I haven’t we all told a lie at some point in our lives? Shouted an obscenity in frustration or taken the Lord’s name in vain and not immediately realized we’d done it and feel bad. I’m sure some of you out there are saying, “No Kristen, I never do ANY of those things?” But you do sin, in your own way right? And does your going to Confession mean you can still claim the title because you’re engaging in the sacrament? But what if you go out and do that sin again and again and again? And you keep going to Confession but for some reason this sin keeps coming back to torment you?

Words have meaning. I’m a writer. I deal in words. But so do motivations and actions and the states of our souls and a lot of other things. Human words FAIL to describe accurately God’s infinite love and mercy. So my telling God I love Him falls very short of the feeling I feel in all my being. Is God going to condemn me because my words and actions don’t always align? Even though I say I’m sorry and I’m going to try my best to NEVER do that again? Do I get to call myself Catholic because some other people say I shouldn’t because I’ve never been to a TLM? Eek.

The truth is I have no idea if you get to claim or re-claim a word. And yes, the idea of a word belonging to everyone is troublesome sometimes, but, thankfully, it’s not JUST our words we are judged on on that final day. And we aren’t the ones responsible for making the decision as to which “feminist” or “Christian” or “Catholic” gets into heaven. And thank God for that.

Times I should have known…

As I’m reading through a few blogs and facebook statuses dealing with loss and disappointment, I think back to two times I should have known I would be on the receiving end of bad news.

The first one that comes to mind happened when I was younger. I had applied for admission to the University of North Carolina and it was my first choice. I had already received acceptance letters from Meredith College and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (where I would ultimately go). I was eagerly awaiting my response as almost all of my friends had heard and most had gotten in. I kept calling and calling their notification line. For a couple of weeks, no news. Finally, I got a lady who said a decision would be made and she would not be able to tell me but I would get the notification in the mail. I should have known something was up. Five of my friends who had been accepted had been told over the phone they were accepted. This woman was adamant she would not tell me. A few days later, I got the slim envelope with the one page rejection notice saying “many qualified candidates were turned away and blah, blah, blahgety, blah, blah.” I was devastated. Even now it stings. They might as well have told me “we’re just not that into you. See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya.”

The second was much more recent. Last summer I anxiously awaited the news of William being accepted into the pre-K program. I had stood in lines and filled out forms. Joseph had attended the previous year, I had every reason to believe we still qualified (no changes in income or otherwise) to believe William would be accepted. We cannot afford Pre-K on our own so I did not apply for any other program. Finally, just a couple of weeks before school started, I heard friends had gotten notification. I called three times, each time I was given the run-around. Finally, a week before school started, I got the notification. William was denied based on our income. He did not meet any of the extenuating circumstances (single parent household, English as a second language, developmental delay etc). It was too late to get him into any other program we could not afford anyway. Everywhere I called was both a) full and b) had closed their waiting lists. I knew in my heart of hearts I was not a good enough teacher to do this, but I had to suck it up. My parents offered to pay for a program but seeing as no one had space for Will, it just wasn’t to be. While our situation hadn’t changed, the state’s had. Our income was over the limit under new guidelines and we were given so little notice, nothing could be done. It all turned out for the best, Will is doing very well, but I can’t help but wonder if he might not have done better with an actual classroom structure and more peers. It also makes for an awkward situation when I am at kindergarten round-up signing in and there is a spot of “preschool attended” and I see every other parent has filled in the name of rather prestigous schools and (as two teachers hover) I write in “none.” I look up and smile sheepishly. I want to say, “We’re good people! We got caught in a bad situation. His dad is a teacher, I work part-time less than 20 hours a week. We do our very best with him.” But I just smile and we go about our way. But I should have known when no one would or could answer my questions that the answer had been a resounding “no.” It galls me I couldn’t pay the registration fees for many of the other schools my parents could have helped us with tuition for.

I realize now the women (and they were all women) who refused to tell me the bad news over the phone. They were conflict averse. They wanted me to get the bad news impersonally so they could be absolved of any “wrong doing.” Even though in this case, they had very little to do with it.

I get it, no one likes to be the bearer of bad news, but sometimes, you just have to be. Sometimes you have to be the one to tell your child that no, they won’t get to go to Disney World this year (or next). I had to tell William he didn’t get into pre-K. And he was so upset. It broke my heart all over again. But I didn’t make his dad do it or just fail to bring it up ever again because he is only four. He deserves the truth. The truth is, human beings disappoint us time and time again. Or sometimes they just have to give us bad news they have no way of changing or making better. I tried to tell Will we could do lots of fun things, just me and him! But I know he had to be sad about not making new friends at school or doing all the fun things his brother had told him about.

As badly as the rejection of humans hurt and as much as we know we should have seen it coming, we must realize it is a part of our human failing. Our human fallen nature. We expect humans to be God and be wonderful, omnipotent, merciful creatures and when they’re not, it hurts. Badly. And we slap the side of our head thinking, “Dummy, shoulda seen it coming!” And we beat ourselves up when instead we should be clinging to God and understanding there is mercy there and love and all the things humans fail so miserably at in this life and that if we continue to cling to Him, even when it doesn’t make sense, even when it hurts, we will not be rejected. We won’t be in the line of goats on the left.

I have never personally seen or had visions of the final coming, but I have the Gospel of Matthew, I have the visions of Sister Faustina. I have felt His mercy lifting me up out of abysses largely of my own creation when I cried out, “Help!” I have read His word and felt in my heart the conviction of knowing I needed to change or I was doing good and keep it up. I have felt him lift my head above the waters of sin in confession as I receive absolution and my lungs fill with the air of eternal love and salvation. I know that He can give me and does give me all I need: the joy and the pain, all of it. Maybe it’s not that I should have known that humans would let me down, but that God will lift me up. He will allow every happiness, every suffering to raise me to be His true follower, His daughter.