Wednesday, November 11, 2009

And I'm Still Sayin'...

Last week Benjamin scored himself a job as party coordinator for an 8 year old lego party.  The guest of honor is the son of a school friend of mine with whom I've been recently reunited via facebook - and whom I hadn't seen in 21 years.  She was using her facebook status to vent about her unpreparedness for her son's birthday party when I recommended she employ Ben's talents...and so she did...and so we got the chance to jump from 17 to 39 in one afternoon.  Ben did a wonderful job with the party, the Party Boy was happy, the Mom was happy, the guests had fun and all was a success - but all that has nothing to do with what I'm sayin'.

My friend's son has some issues - issues which require speech therapy, attempts at special diets, navigation through doctors, IEP's and other such fun.  So, consequently, did several of his friends.  So there I was at the party supporting Ben and hanging out with the moms of the 8 year old boys.  I was tagged as counter-cultural from the get-go when I was introduced to each one as the friend she hadn't seen in 21 years who has 12 kids - one of whom is getting paid to run this party - and homeschools.  That little intro didn't earn me new friends very quickly so I was relegated to listening to them share their public school woes while intermittently watching their sons "interact" with one another.

Now, I'm no developmental expert but I'm thinking by the age of 8 kids are supposed to be beyond the parallel play stage - as least mine are by the time they hit about 2 1/2 or...1 1/2 depending upon the kid - and one of those at age 12 was doing a rather adult job at running this party.  (But never mind that, mine are all unsocialized homeschoolers, back to the party at hand.)  What I observed was that the only boys actually interacting with one another were the birthday boy and his younger brother.  The rest of the 8 year old boys were simply engaged in parallel play - even when Ben tried to encourage them to share together in group games.  They didn't make eye contact with one another, they didn't share and they didn't speak to each other except to proclaim loudly the injustice of one infringing upon the other's personal space.  Even then they wailed at the closest adult rather than try to work it out with their peers.  They all seemed to be sweet boys but oddly out of touch with each other and with their party manners.

Upon closer observation I guessed that at least one of the boys was on the autism spectrum.  After listening to the moms chat I realized that at least 4 of the others (including the birthday boy) were, at the age of 8, still receiving speech therapy services - which probably indicates some larger problems at that age.  So at least 5 of the boys had some undetermined level of special needs.  I'm not sure about the other 3 or 4.  All of them had been raised up through the public education system and so had the great benefit of inclusion with their peers and specially tailored special education services. (nope, no sarcasm noted here, move along people)  Why, then, I'm asking myself, were they so woefully deficient at relating in a social situation?   They were in the bodies of 8 year olds with the play skills of toddlers.   Isn't this the exact goal of integration - to include children with special needs in an inclusive classroom setting so that they can be guided into normal, healthy social relationships?  I don't know about those moms, but I personally wouldn't check off a 6-year gap in social skills as a goal met.  But wait, maybe I should check their IEP's first - perhaps I can check it off.

For answers to these questions I turned my attention back to the moms.  They unanimously agreed that the speech services their children had received over the years were inadequate for various reasons.  The same held true for those who had utilized the OT and PT services in their public schools.  There were scattered compliments amidst a general distaste for the whole special education experience - which ranged from IEP meetings, to general classroom teachers to administrators to therapists.  One mom complained that she had even been reported to the vice principal for observing her son's classroom for a few minutes during her weekly volunteer day!  Aside from IEP meetings, these moms have been left out of the therapeutic picture.  For the day to day skill building efforts they relied entirely upon school staff and yet none of them expressed a whole lot of confidence in or affection for the staff serving their children.  In Mary Land that is simply unacceptable.  My kids don't go into a therapeutic setting where I am not invited.  Consequently I now have some basic understanding of behavioral therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, social skills development, hippotherapy, remedial math teaching techniques and my list goes on and on.  These moms had...well, Nothing.  And it showed.

If you haven't yet read my previous post on this issue go ahead and read it now.  I'll wait.......done?  Good...So, the part about the importance of the teacher/instructor/facilitator?  This is simply a case in point.  These boys are suffering from a lack of skilled and interested adults in their lives.  This was evidenced first-hand by the moms' reaction when their boys were not able to get along with others - they wailed, they grabbed, or they just went off and pouted and the moms.did.Nothing.  They have been well-trained by the school system to stay out of their kids' lives.   As much as they whined and complained about the other adults in their children's lives they didn't seem to know how to fill in that gap where the other "authorities" had fallen short.

Sad, sad, sad - so sad to me that  I found myself feeling insecure, angry, frustrated for these boys as this conversation with the moms and my observation of the boys at play wore on.  The specific mechanism at play here was the abdication of both school authorities and parents in the lives of these children.  When adults don't do what adults are supposed to do for kids, those kids get hurt.  If they already have a compromised sense of normal they fail to be able to accomplish even the most basic of tasks.  So here I had the perfect test case for inclusion - special needs children, trained up in the public school system, and set loose in an integrated, outside social setting.  And I'm still sayin'  not much to see here, folks.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ugh


This  remarkable photo was in my email in-box today.  I think it is the most disgusting rendering of  "Jesus Christ" (I can't even seriously say that who it's supposed to be) I have ever seen.  It's sort of a Jesus-Cross-Dresses-As-Danielle-Boone portrait.  Protestants seriously need to explore real iconography and stop clogging our Christian pop culture with this nonsense.  Lord have mercy!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

More Art that Moves the Soul

Thanks to Dixie for posting this first.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I'm Just Sayin...

Last week was fishing camp. This was a federally subsidized program at a local public park. Registration was only $15 per camper for the week and the idea is to teach kids to fish to give them a productive and fun alternative to illegal drug use. I'm not sure about the premise of that (something tells me several of my pot-smoking friends from my past probably spent a lot of time tripping while fishing...) but I am all for a good deal. And since it was federally subsidized I knew they couldn't turn down my dear children with special needs. That's one child with Down Syndrome, check, One child with Autism and Mental Retardation, check, One child with Reactive Attachment Disorder, check. So I signed them all up - Miriam, Philip and Ruth all got to go to fishing camp. Andrea was also signed up but sine she's stuck in PA with her foster family in a tangled web of interstate compact requirements, she wasn't able to go.

The three of them had a blast. They *loved* fishing. They loved fishing camp and they all said they'd like to return next year. Now my beef is with this whole idea of integration. It's been called various things over the years - started out as mainstreaming and may be called something completely different at this point but I wouldn't know as I checked out of that idea long ago. In fact, I've been kicked out of yahoo groups and left support groups because of the controversy caused by the opinions I'm about to share. So go ahead, flame away in the comments, just keep it clean please.

On about day 4 of 5 days of camp I turned to my three children with special needs and asked them if anyone could tell me the names of people they'd met at camp (and with whom they had now spent about 12 hours of camp time). Out of three people, I got one name. One. And that wasn't a name that was shared with any enthusiasm. Apparently making friends with said child didn't work out too well and I can only imagine the reasons.

Now my understanding of this whole integration or inclusion or mainstreaming or whatever you want to call it is that it is supposed to benefit everyone. The typical children are supposed to glean valuable friendships and insights from their differently-abled classmates, the teachers and instructors are supposed to facilitate and foster such exciting and comfortable relationships and the differently-abled children are supposed to find themselves in a wonderfully tolerant and inviting atmosphere. Never have I seen this actually happen whilst out and about. Granted, we homeschool so it *does* happen in our home. I am their instructor and facilitator, their sibs are their friends and they are the recipients of a lot of social instruction and "inclusion" in main-stream activities and learning environments.

I know their rights and I do try to include them in as many mainstream programs as they can handle. But I refuse, for example, to sign up Philip for a parks and rec U13 soccer team when I *know* he will not be able to keep up with the other boys. He will not understand the team dynamics, he will not be an asset to the team spirit or to the scoring record. The other boys will find him odd and annoying and the poor parent volunteer coach will most likely have no idea how to handle the dynamic, reign in the criticism of the other children and help Philip conquer his autistic tendencies and make his own little splash on the team. It's a pipe dream at best, at its worst it's setting up my chidren with special needs for failure they aren't even going to recognize or understand. Which is why the three of them went to fishing camp together. They had each other at least (Philip also had his one best friend in all the world along too so he had a bonus but that's fodder for a different post) and they could relate to one another when no one else would try to relate to them.

I have had some small successes. I have to say that the key to making the whole idea work is the instructor/teacher/facilitator role. I find, for example, the YMCA programs to work really well for our kids with special needs. Their instructors/coaches are paid employees, well-trained in teaching and coaching children with a broad range of needs and abilities. They are generally great at drawing out the talents of our kids and helping the typically functioning kids relate to them at a more personal level. Our recent foray into swimming lessons went quite well , also, for the girls, who had an instructor who immediately keyed into Miriam's and Ruth's needs and strengths. If the schools were full of teachers with her level of insight and skill at handling their needs I may not hesitate to send them to public school. Philip's instructor, however, was young and inexperienced with his level of needs. She made some crucial mistakes in instructing him and now he may never be able to do a few of those strokes since he learned them wrong the first time. The girls' instructor also made an effort to form a cohesive group among the four students in her class (3 of whom were my girls). Philip's instructor made no such attempt and Philip remained an outsider without any chance at developing relationships with the other students in his group.

But we have had great success at helping our kids with special needs find a place and feel loved, accepted and be able to form genuine friendships. That is within the special needs population itself. When Philip and Miriam are with other folks who share their needs they thrive. Philip gets to be the hotshot on the Special Olympics basketball team because he happens to be a bit higher functioning than the others. Miriam can't sing a single note on key but she loves to sing and she got her chance to put on a costume and sing her heart out in the special needs musical production. The other parents know how to talk to my children, to bring them out, to joke with them and to seek out their true personalities. The place where we feel most at home with our chidren with disabilities and where those children can really shine is right in the midst of others like them.

I do see it as my job to prepare them to be as much a part of the mainstream population as they can be. Eventually they will hopefully hold down jobs, perhaps live in a group home within the community, or walk to the store to get themselves some groceries. But I don't think they will ever find true acceptance in the mainstream, excepting the few gems who surprise us along the way and care enough to open themselves up to them. And so Getting Along in the World is, for us, just another school subject. They don't do well in that subject and they need lots of extra tutoring. Mainstreaming, Integrating, Including...it's nothing but a pipe dream.

You see, I'm just sayin'...if they can spend a week with a group of kids who didn't even bother to share their names with them, even under the tutelage of two paid instructors, what good does the whole idea do them?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

When was the last time...

you read through the Declaration of Independence? Here is my friend Nick in Revolutionary soldier garb reading the document from beginning to end on July 4th. It's always good to remember our roots! Thanks Nick!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I Have PTSD

I have PTSD- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It isn't something that only affects war veterans. Anybody with trauma in their past can experience it.

I was just a child when I was traumatized. I didn't ask to be molested, to be a witness to other sexual violence, to be forced to keep secrets that no child should have to bear, to be born with a heart condition that required life-threatening surgery, to lose friend after friend in car accidents. But it happened to me. I was only a child. I had no authority, no power, no responsibility to fix what I experienced. And nobody saw the signs, and nobody helped me and so I learned that the world is not safe, that people cannot be trusted, that those in authority do not always help or care, in fact often they hurt, that even grown-ups can turn a blind eye to what is really sick in the world. I yearn to feel safe and when there is no safety I turn away or lash out.

I have bad dreams. Sometimes I am afraid to go to sleep at night because men with guns haunt me and try to shoot me down. Sometimes I am afraid to go to sleep because something will chase me and I won't be able to move my legs, I will be unable to avoid being hunted down and hurt....again.

I may lose my focus during a conversation. If I hear something that doesn't seem safe I will turn off and stop hearing and try to figure out how to get safe again. Sometimes I can never figure it out. Sometimes I won't be able to have anymore conversations with you or I will have to avoid certain topics, especially if my pain is bumping into pain you don't even know you have inside of you.

I may lose my temper and you won't know why. You won't know that the door slamming makes me feel like a lost 5 year old again, alone in a hospital bed wondering what is coming down the hallway outside my door, outside my control. There are many sounds, many phrases used in conversation, smells, songs on the radio, which remind me of past trauma and make me feel helpless and angry inside.

I probably won't remember your name or what you look like after I meet you for the first time. I can't remember a lot of things - the color of my children's eyes, details about people I've met, whether or not I've seen a movie or read a book before. Memories are painful things and my mind doesn't always like to make new ones and so I've forgotten years of study in college and graduate school, I don't know if I liked a movie I saw last week because I can't remember a thing about it and I can't tell you my children's birthdays. There are, however, some memories in my mind that are vivid, painful, agonizing, that haunt me and won't go away.

I live with the constant fear that those I love will be gone in an instant. I assume the worst will continue to happen to me and the ones I love. I expect to be traumatized again and again.

All I want in the world is to feel safe and for my children to be safe. If I feel we are being threatened I will do my best to protect us. Sometimes my best is too much and I fear the day when it will not be enough.

I am getting help for this condition. I am in therapy and I've come a long way. I no longer feel the rage I once did. I remember the trauma that caused this all and I can now put real emotions to what were once just silent movies running in endless loop through my mind. I don't have nightmares very often anymore. I understand what "triggers" my feelings and my reactions. I can identify when I don't feel safe and I know why I feel that way and I have healthier ways of handling that feeling. I have adopted children who have been traumatized also. I understand them better. I am a better parent because I know their pain. I want to be a whole person. I want to have my memory back. I want to be able to feel appropriately and love freely and trust more. I want to *know* that God is good and loves mankind. And I want all that for my own children. I want them to have the care-free childhood that was stolen from me by perverts and circumstance.



I wrote this as part of my own healing process but as I get better, I am realizing more and more just how many of us walk around with pain from our past and never get help. And hurt people wound others. So many people who hurt shut off parts of themselves to maintain and move on as if nothing happened. If you can relate to what I've written here, please get help. You don't have to live with the fear and the rage and the confusion. It can get better.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Mermaid

This is an amazing paint on glass animation. In my recent search for art that moves me this just surged to the top, although I'll have to watch it a few more times. If you go to youtube, some of the comments explain the lore behind the story.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Holy Week: Wednesday - Anointing

Here are some images from last evening's service of anointing. I took them on my cellphone so not the best. I have lots more to say about this service but I also have lots to do to prepare for Great and Holy Pascha...




Wednesday, April 8, 2009

When it Works Too Well...

Anyone familiar with treatments for autism should know about the gluten-free/casein-free diet. Many have tried it, many have found it successful, many have given up on it. I am among the many giver-uppers but I didn't give up on Philip's dietary intervention completely. I was relieved to be able to leave gfcf behind (and all the cooking with fickle tapioca and rice flours) and embrace the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. While gfcf promises to relieve the symptoms of autism, SCD hopes to go to the source of the problem and heal. The main premise of the gfcf diet is to eliminate those gluten and casein proteins in order to keep the gut and the brain in balance. (Without that balance, the brain interprets the break-down of the proteins similarly to its absorption of opiates.... explains quite a lot 'bout autism, don'tcha think?!) It is a forever proposition and, in Philip's case, I found that tiny infractions could affect him for a month or more. This is why so many of those who use this diet for autism seem oddly militant with their separate cookware and utensils, their incessant checking of lists and ingredients and their hyper-vigilance to avoid even the tiniest infractions. I can't say that I blame them one bit.

SCD, however, attempts to actually repair the gut so that it can safely digest the offending proteins. The main tool for this repair is the SCD yogurt which is specifically cultured to eat up the bad bacteria and build up the good ones. When we first put Philip on the gfcf diet it was months before we saw any dramatic difference. We were watching for indicators like...well, just read this blog post and you'll see what we're hoping to improve upon - she says it much better than I could have. With the gfcf diet we saw small improvements here and there - enough to keep going but not enough to keep us from jumping ship when we figured we'd found something better.

SCD is the something better for us. Within a single day we saw vast improvements. Philip stopped many of his perseverative habits, he was able to maintain eye contact with us, he desired to socialize with his peers and became concerned with building friendships - huge differences in no time at all. That yogurt gets into Philip every morning - just a spoonful will do it - and he begins to seem, well, almost normal at moments. The biggest indicator of "normality" is that he will express emotions that just never hit him otherwise. Unfortunately they are generally emotions like anger, frustration, blame and they are never directed at his own self (which is, ironically enough, normally the center of his Universe Focus). Yesterday was just such a day when the emotions erupted and I found myself unprepared. He cried, he screamed, he threw his glasses down the hallway and it was all my fault. Why? Because...brace yourselves....I treat him like a slave - I make him do...gasp!...JOBS! For a few moments there he started to sound like a typical pre-teen boy.

Now I'm not saying things are rosy - it may be a long walk in this park with Philip before I even spot any roses - but it's times like this that I get a glimpse into who he may actually be underneath all of his dysfunctions and inabilities. I only wish the success we find could be at the Happy end of the scale.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Always There

John Michael is frequently out and about with me since he is the only one in the family who likes to go the "food store". John Michael lives for trips to the food store. Recently he started a game he calls Always There. He noticed that by the time he got unbuckled and climbed out the door of the van, I was there to open the door and get him safely out. He remarked, "Mom, you're always there. I'll call this game Always There and every time I go somewhere with you, I'll look for you and I know you'll be there because you're always there." Since then, every time he hops out of the van or climbs up onto the sidewalk and sees me there waiting he smiles and says half to himself, "yep, always there."

I've been absent from life lately, as evidenced by the dearth of posts on this blog. I've been focused entirely on our household and little else. Things have been hard here - in a doing-really-good-but-hard-work sort of way. Adora is growing and seeking new boundaries and stretching her wings. Tad is deep into rediscovering himself now that he's no longer a priest and is trying to reconnect with his focus in life. His sessions with our therapist have been intense. JT has been struggling with self-esteem issues triggered by Math Blues. His response to that struggle has been intense. We have a complicated adoption in the works which is about to require a lot of time and attention as we do a rush job on a homestudy. And my body is busy gestating while my mind and my heart are sorting through all of the above business and trying to hold it all together. In the midst of it all, I've spent my own share of time in the therapist's office, this time to attend to my needs instead of those of our children. My own inner child is getting a work out too.

As I've discussed all the various issues of hurting and wounding children - whether it be my husband, my own children or me - our therapist points again and again to how God grants us what we need to make it through traumatic experiences. When children experience trauma they are ill-equipped to handle, they learn to keep themselves intuitively safe. They devise all sorts of methods to distance themselves from the pain - they detach, disassociate, learn to hum in their heads, develop intricate imaginary lands, write stories, paint pictures, daydream...And somehow they survive. It is our therapist's contention that all these things are God-given gifts. Yes, God allows children to be hurt and abused and wounded - it would not be a loving relationship with humanity otherwise - but He also gives children the ability to survive, to make it through childhood to safety.

In my own reflections, I've been pondering the idea of being "weak" versus "strong". In all that I experienced that was traumatic in my childhood (and there were many experiences) I survived by doing all I could to prove to myself that I was "strong". Strength, to me, became a measure of survival. The stronger a person, the better able to survive. Unfortunately, my strength became a weakness as well. I was so "strong" that I alienated almost everyone I came in contact with. What friendships I managed to forge over the years fizzled after a while. I was too intense, too judgmental maybe, too something for others to be comfortable around me for long. I've mellowed over the years and now have a lot of wonderful, meaningful friendships but I had to learn to accept some weakness in myself in order to do so.

I've come to see that the strength I gained through my childhood did not come from me. It came from the One who created me. It was His gift to me to see me through the pain and the struggles of life. I'm safe now. I'm no longer drifting in a sea of pain. I don't need the same safety nets I once did. I can learn to embrace my own weakness but even that weakness will become a strength because it, too, comes from the Source of Strength. So I've been looking back and forth - between my childhood and my present and what I see is that God is Always There. Just like John Michael's game, I, too, can smile when I get off the bus and see Him standing there. When I step off the sidewalk into the unknown of my weaknesses He is quietly standing by to give me a hand down. He is, always has been and always will be Always There. Sometimes it takes the wisdom of a 5 year old to really get it.

Friday, February 27, 2009

5th Photo Meme



This the 5th photo from the 5th folder in my "to be sorted" folder. Nate is the baby so must be Christmas of 2006. Obviously I'm a bit behind on my to be sorting.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Shout Outs

An on-line friend has finally succumbed to Blogger Fever and graced the blogosphere with her presence. I assure you she is a treasure the internet has been missing. So, folks, meet Molly (chrismation name Empress Theodora), fellow homeschooler, humorist and Orthodox pilgrim. Prepare to be amused!

Another Orthodox homeschooling friend has a new foodie blog with loads of great fasting recipes just in time for Great Lent. Denise has a real gift for sharing the joys of family meals.

Enjoy enjoying blogs I enjoy! (OK, so I used that line on my other blog already...I thought it was a really good one.)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Three




I've picked up this meme from Don's blog. If you join me let me know so I can come learn a little more about you too!

THREE NAMES I HAVE BEEN CALLED:

1. MaryAnnie (don't anyone get any ideas)
2. Mairs
3. Cwazy Mawy (can't believe I'm admitting to that one - that was before anyone could recognize a manic episode for what it was lol)

THREE JOBS I HAVE HAD IN MY LIFE:

1. Drapery Seamstress
2. Bakery Drone in a grocery store
3. Youth Minister

PLACES I HAVE LIVED:

1. Providence, RI
2. London, England
3. Lewisburg, PA

THREE TV SHOWS THAT I WATCH:

1. "House"
2. "American Idol"
3. "Ace of Cakes"

THREE PLACES I HAVE BEEN:

1. Pittsfield, MA
2. Bread and Puppet Theater in VT
3. Calais, France

PEOPLE WHO E-MAIL ME REGULARLY:

1. Catherine
2. Linda
3. Shelley

THREE OF MY FAVORITE FOODS:

1. Stromboli
2. Custard filled donuts
3. Chocolate fudge

PEOPLE I THINK WILL DO THIS:

1. Hmmmm
2. Ummmm
3. Anyone?

THREE THINGS I AM LOOKING FORWARD TO:

1. Labor and Delivery (yes, I LOVE to give birth!)
2. Holding my newborn
3. WARM weather!

Now, here's what you're supposed to do... Copy to your notes (if you're on Facebook) and then fill in your own answers. The theory is that you will learn a lot of little known's. If you're a blogger, please leave a comment so we'll know to check out your "three" on your blog!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Living For Forgiveness Vespers

Last year we found ourselves in the rather odd position of participating in Forgiveness Vespers as relative new-comers to our parish. We'd been a part of the Four Evangelists family for just a few short months, not yet chrismated in our first Sunday as catechumens and still trying to figure out the whole Orthodoxy thing when we suddenly found ourselves thrust into approaching each and every member of the parish seeking from them and granting to them forgiveness. Our parish is gracious and our participation in this annual ritual was handled with joy and love.

I fell in love with the whole idea of Forgiveness Vespers immediately - perhaps precisely because of the love shared with us by our fellow parishioners. Shortly thereafter I began to reflect on what it would mean to come back in a year, with these same people, and wondered if over the course of that year I would have time to collect ill thoughts, unforgiven grudges, judgmental attitudes, disgruntled murmurings in my heart about these people. Surely it is possible for I am a sinner, I am driven by pride, I have strong opinions. A year seemed a long time to go without tripping over my own vanities and carrying genuine feelings and actions in need of forgiveness into the next year's Forgiveness Rite.

I vowed then that I would attempt to live my parish life in anticipation of Forgiveness Vespers. (Notice I only said parish life - extending this little experiment to my whole circle of relationships seemed way too daunting a task.) I said to myself, "If the opportunity arises for me to feel slight or anger or to grow judgmental, I will choose humility. I will bow before the icon of Sophia and hear her wisdom to my soul." That sort of vow changes things in a person. It made me hear the words of others and decide to hear in love. It made me see the actions of others and choose to see hands that serve. On a very, very few occasions it made me drop my pride in an instant and accept that people are who they are - all of us in process, all of us with failings and shortcomings. It gave new meaning to Lord have mercy on me a sinner.

I believe I can enter into our Forgiveness Vespers this year truly holding no grudges or ill thoughts. Granting forgiveness will be simple and genuine because of this discipline in which I've lived over the past year. (Well actually it will be simple because I have the best parish *ever* with people who truly fail to offend in the first place. If only we all had it this easy.) I only hope that the other angle proves fruitful as well. In my own bumbling and prideful way I am certain I have offended others. In coming out of a traumatic church environment and into the safety of a healthy environment I have let my fears and insecurities show. How could it be that I have not made a single hurtful comment or nary an inadvertent harmful reference? I often go to Liturgy tired and end frustrated with all the distractions and busy-ness of singing in the choir *and* handling the needs of 10 children. I'm not nice when I'm in a bad mood or when I'm interrupted for the umpteenth time. Certainly I have offended others. But I am counting on their forgiveness. I am banking on the hope that they are more gracious to me than I will ever need to be to them.

Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Thought for the Day

If Orthodox are supposed to fast from *everything* before receiving Holy Eucharist than why are they so late to church?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

My Turn for Fame

About a month or so ago Kh. Frederica was at our little mission parish to meet with her spiritual advisor. Her daughter also attends Liturgy at Four Evangelists. After Liturgy I got a chance to sit down with her and ask to what we owe the pleasure of her visit. In answer to my question she pulled out her tape recorder and asked if she could interview me for her podcast. I think the intention was to discuss large families, instead we got off on quite a few tangents about special needs and charismania. The podcast is now posted on Ancient Faith radio. It was a lot of fun to do - and I'm giggling through most of it because we had soo many interruptions. She wanted to do a podcast on our large family and she got plenty of little ones who wanted to join in the attention! I haven't figured out how to embed sound links yet so you'll have to travel to Ancient Faith to enjoy it - it's titled "And Baby Makes Twelve" (that was right before we found at that I am pregnant again).

Not to be outdone, Tad was invited back to the Generation Orthodox podcast which is now up (I haven't given it a listen yet).

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Obligatory Post: Inaugural Reflections

I've been attempting to put into words my thoughts about our recently inaugurated president. I am not a particularly political person by nature although I do care deeply about the foundation of our nation and preserving our citizens' rights to worship, parent and live with the freedom to follow our convictions without undue government interference. Although this article came from a Catholic source, it probably embodies my thinking better than anything else I've read or tried to contemplate on my own. I have a lot of questions in my soul about how our nation turned to such a leader with so much enthusiasm. I just don't get it in the deepest part of me. I am not a one-issue voter, I am a Character voter and the abortion issue to me is an excellent litmus test for testing the character of a person. Our current president has failed...miserably. What is wrong with so many who simply overlook his desire to annihilate the least and the lost while spouting rhetoric that holds himself up as a champion of human rights? I, like the author of this article, feel remarkably like an alien in my own nation.


Alien Nation

January 20th, 2009 by Doreen Truesdell (posted to CatholicExchange.com on 1/20/09)

I am a middle aged, middle income, traditional Catholic female and I don’t belong here anymore.

The nation I have loved all my life has rebelled, like some arrogant teenager who smugly tells his mother and father that he knows more than they do. It’s been coming on for some time, but I’ve always comforted myself with the thought that I stood with a silent majority that was just too busy working and striving and living and dying to voice their concerns about where the culture of our nation was headed.

Forty years or so after the cultural and sexual revolution began, the “teenagers” have won, the silent majority is a minority, and this nation — on an executive level — has become alien ground to me and many others.

This is not just inaugural griping, this is the realization that our nation has finally, officially embraced the post-modern world; that, in addition to media elitists and collegiate intellectuals spreading nihilism, we finally have a U.S. president who embodies such a culture. Propelled into office by voter greed, Barack Obama will now lead the nation that leads the world, using his successful blend of atheistic humanism and political manipulation that make for easy-to-digest sound bytes. The immoralists are no longer only in the ivory towers, they are in the White House, not to mention the courts, the educational systems and the financial industries. And most Americans don’t mind at all or are too busy or distracted to notice.

obama.jpgThe U.S. has unequivocally, unabashedly and electorally embraced a subjective reality where truth is changeable, depending upon how it can serve our pocketbooks and our uninformed consciences.

“Every generation feels the same way, and yet the nation survives,” you may say. But I say our nation is dying and it’s closer to its death throes now than ever before in its history. The United States is 233 years old and it is creaking under the weight of its own arrogance.

“In the end Christ will triumph and the His truth will be vindicated,” you may also say, and I concur with a grateful heart. I thank God for His promises, which I know He will keep. But between now and His triumph could be the end of the great American experiment. Christ never promised the U.S.A. would be around to welcome His victory, and it’s not alarmist to say that our beloved nation may well fall before that glorious day arrives.

Stop. Before you click the “comment” link, stay with me a while longer because here’s where this article takes a surprising turn towards optimism. After two months of pondering what this new presidency and administration will wreak upon unborn babies, legitimate marriage, public education, health care and a bevy of other life-altering issues, I maintain there is opportunity alongside this heartache. In God’s universe, thanks to His mercy and providence, there always is.

The universal struggle between good and evil, between Christ and His enemies has now taken center stage in this nation. For decades most American Catholics have lived relatively comfortably by accepting shades of gray. Little by little the grays became darker as more of the Church’s moral teachings were questioned, ignored and rejected. Now, the gray areas have turned to blackness. It is no longer possible for lukewarm Catholics to remain faithful. The gray areas are gone. American Catholics will either embrace the white light of Truth or accept the darkness.

So where does this leave aliens like me? Totally reliant upon God, and for many of us it will be the first time in our lives. I used to define myself as an American Catholic, but now I realize I am a Catholic in America. The nation I used to depend upon to accept my spiritual composition is gone. No longer does our citizenship agree that our laws are, and should be, based on Judeo-Christian concepts. No longer can a Christian assume his moral beliefs will be given fair representation or even toleration in the public forum.

As aliens, we have an important role to play as keepers of the faith on hostile soil. Here’s our opportunity to get off the fence on every controversial issue that offends God and start pulling our weight as Catholics in America. Many Catholics already are very publicly defending Christ and His Gospel truths. Most aren’t. Are you defending Christ in America? Am I?

This era, just beginning, represents our time in the long history of the Catholic Church to accept suffering, offer prayers and penance, and do battle in the public forum so that the voice of Christ can be heard. It is our turn to live as Catholics who look only to the magisterium of the Church for instruction on true human dignity and authentic social justice.

We will join Catholics from around the world who “lost” their countries long ago — Italians, Greeks, Slavs, Chinese, Russians and others who have already inured themselves to the agonies of living in an atheistic nation, one that they used to love with patriotic fervor but now are estranged from. We will lean on the rich Catholic tradition of the Church Militant and go on living in an alien nation while fortifying ourselves with the Word Made Flesh, He who makes His dwelling among aliens the world over.

Are you up to this challenge? As Americans, we’ve grown undisciplined, flabby and unused to suffering. We can’t bear the pain of unpopularity; how will we bear persecution? And it is coming. With this new administration we have the makings of unprecedented Christian persecutions in our nation that will make martyrs and saints of many who stand up for Truth. You won’t have to be a political activist to have it thrust upon you: parents, clergy, health care providers, teachers, workers of all kinds will find themselves facing moral issues that assault the foundations of the Catholic faith. Which issue will be the one that forces Catholics like you and me to confront how shallow our relationship with Christ has been? Which issue will finally inspire us to make the commitment to “put out into the deep,” whatever the cost?

Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta, after visiting our great nation years ago, said she pitied us our “poverty.” She understood the seriousness of the spiritual poverty that the U.S. suffered. We may be on the brink of changing that poverty, one Catholic, one Christian at a time.

The history of the Church is one of suffering and triumph. From that perspective, the Obama presidency could be the beginning of a great renewal of Christianity in America, if each of us lives the faith the way Christ calls us to. So in an important way, this article is not about losing a nation, so much as gaining a deeper relationship with Jesus, the King of all nations. We, who have always assumed that our nation would validate our faith, now find it must be validated only by God.

“[T]he new age has begun; and…much must now pass away,” Gandalf says in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Let it pass. With prayerful renewal and faithful responses, we can find that God alone will suffice. Then maybe, in small ways that have great power, we can work to bring our beloved nation back to God.

Doreen M. Truesdell, a former newspaper journalist, is a freelance writer and editor. She and her husband, Stephen, live in upstate New York with their four homeschooled children, aged 4 to 13.

Monday, January 19, 2009

From Hindu to Orthodox: The Conversation Continues

Anjali has created quite a stir in the blogosphere with her post about her conversion to Orthodoxy from Hinduism via Baha'i. She had one person ask her some specifics from a Hindu perspective about the relevance of the resurrection for Christians. Since she took the time to try to explain her point of view in detail, I have dug out the question and the response from the comments section and onto its own post for all to read. Maybe it's time for Anjali to start her own blog?! (Not that I mind her using mine at all but she has plenty of fodder to keep a forum of her own going for quite some time!)

Interesting to read about Anjali's conversion to Orthodox Christianity. As a fellow spiritual traveler, I would like to better understand your statement, "As for Hinduism and other ancient faiths pre-dating Christ - I have not "discarded" them, I believe Christ fulfills them - basically, every way in which Baha'u'llah claims to be a fulfillment, I believe that is already found in Christ and the Christian faith.

How is Christ the fulfilment of the Hindu tradition? As someone born in the Hindu tradition, I still don't get, what is so special about Jesus's resurrection as you experienced it in the Eastern Orthodox Church as different from other Christian sects? Why does it feel different to you from the hundreds of miracles that is commonplace in Indian epics and puranas? Regards.


Dear fellow spiritual traveler,

Well you are definitely right in not seeing it spelled out in this blog post – I actually originally wrote this to respond to Orthodox Christians who were curious about my religious background, so I think I’ve left a lot out with the assumption they already understood it – plus I was trying to make it short, since you can already see how long it is :-)

Well, in the beginning, the resurrection made no difference to me – especially because of all of the miraculous/supernatural phenomena I had heard concerning various Hindu yogis and the Hindu myths as well. That was one of the reasons why I never cared when Christians talked about the resurrection – a) Hinduism had its own miracles; b) why would I care if someone else (Hindu or not) had a miracle anyway, it had no effect on me; c) why would I care about a bodily resurrection anyway, since as Hindu I viewed the body as a source of bondage. The first time I realized Christians wanted to rise from the dead in new bodies, I was revolted by the idea. I thought it sounded like some very primitive fairy tale idea compared to Hindu concepts of the body, birth, and death. In any case, I figured Jesus was an enlightened yogi-type figure or maybe even an avatar, that maybe he was just misunderstood. As a Hindu, I read the Gospels and thought it was about Vedanta. And I know there are Hindu gurus who have written volumes about the Gospels from this perspective.

For these reasons, I didn’t see Jesus as unique, and in some ways, less sophisticated than his Hindu counterparts. In the course of reading Hindu myths, I had grown accustomed to the idea of oral traditions changing, different versions of myths being handed down, of the essentially important message having more to do with symbolic meanings and metaphysical issues, not necessarily the outward details of these stories. I assumed the same had happened with Jesus. And I certainly noticed certain universal themes, the idea of God coming to earth to save his people reminded me of the avatars of Vishnu.

What got me more interested in Jesus was when I realized that we actually have quite a bit written about him with an effort to preserve what historically happened, not just to convey various spiritual messages. Despite what people say about how little we know, we know more about him than the true historical figure of Krishna. And as I began reading more about Judaism and the earliest Christians, I became convinced that these people were genuinely trying their hardest to preserve their sacred scripture without mistake, and that they were intending to preserve the history, not taking the freedom to change details to reveal a new moral story – and not basing everything on mystical experiences and visions either (thought some of that is in there too, of course).

I really overlooked Judaism and Christianity when I explored religions earlier, because they seemed kind of boring to me. Their were some miracles, but for the most part, it was a lot of history, and it didn’t seem as interesting, exotic, or spiritually enlightening (boy was I wrong about that part!) as the myths and writings of other religions. But I now began to really respect the uniqueness of that endeavor, I realized there was something different happening here. I could read these writings and really get a look at historical people in historic places, it was more concretely based in historical reality than, say, the story of Ganesh losing his tusk. Instead of thinking it was just boring, I began to really respect this and get curious. Various other books piqued my interest in the Biblical basis for the Big Bang theory, the archeological evidence supporting the historicity of various Biblical figures, the written documents concerning Jesus himself by non-Christians. I began thinking – well, if Jesus was an avatar or powerful figure like this, maybe I should start looking more deeply at this. Even if Krishna were an avatar too, Jesus seemed much closer in history and more concretely accessible through research. So I kept reading more, trying to understand Jewish beliefs and culture at the time of Jesus, and what his teachings would have meant at the time.

This is where I began to realize that there was a whole story here that was unknown to me as a Hindu. I began to learn about the Judeo-Christian metastory for all of humanity. I used to think that the Old Testament really only concerned Jewish people, just as Hindu creation myths seemed to be so entrenched in India – meaning we hear about the origin of the Ganga, the founding of the caste system, things that are very Indian. I never imagined as a Hindu that all people really originiated in this way, then spread out and lost their Hindu belief system, as that was never a part of our mythology. But in the Old Testament, I found a (proposed) history for all of us – not just the Jews….combined with all the other ideas I was having that I have described above, I felt that if I were to believe any of these stories, this one was the one I trusted the most. The story of creation and the Fall, and the promise to send a Savior – yes, it was similar to Hindu concepts of an avatar, but to me it seemed it was in keeping to what St Paul talks about when he says that people have written in them, innately, a knowledge of God. To me, what the rishis were seeing, as well as the myths of avatars – the myth of this savior type that can be found in various cultures – was the innate seed planted by God within the human soul, for us to be able to recognize our need for Christ. And when Jesus came, unlike many similar figures, he emphasized the crucial importance of his followers traveling to the ends of the earth to bring tidings of his coming so that everyone could be saved, restored to God. As with all things, there is a concrete urgency on the practical, earthly, level - this is all on a very real level, it's not just happening on a mythological level or in some Jungian way, if that makes sense?

I know I’m still not going into enough detail to really iron these thoughts out, but you can see how long this is already getting! The way Eastern Orthodoxy came to be very useful for me – I simply did not understand the way others were describing salvation and sin and justification – the Eastern Orthodox emphasis on theosis was similar to the Hindu idea of Self-realization, further demonstrating to me that the rishis were truly “on to something”, as it were. It just made a lot of sense, whereas the Western perspective seemed really random to me. Also, I didn’t understand how Adam’s fall led to all of us having fallen nature, and I didn’t unerstand how Jesus’ victory spelled victory for the rest of us, until I read “On the Incarnation” by St. Athanasius. If I had just read that book from the start, it would have saved me a lot of confusion. It was also Eastern Orthodoxy that finally made me understand that Christianity was actually very unique in the importance it places on the body, the idea that a human is both body and soul together, not one without the other. I used to think this was backwards, until I realized that the body is way too amazing of a thing to pass off as just a cage – I realized I was actually insulting the work of God by not realizing it’s incredible importance to the state of being a human. I also learned that this was not a primitive belief at all – in fact, it was the opposite – it was very novel compared to the Hindu and Platonic notions that the body and soul were separate, and that the soul was what we truly were, the body just a cage…

I know I am leaving this kind of vague by simply referring to another book, but again, I see this message is getting lengthy. I think to truly address your question, I'd have to give a really solid catechism, actually! In a way, I think your question, as simple as it sounded, really struck at the core of my spiritual journey, and I don’t know how I can write it out briefly or quickly – it would have to encompass all of the books I read, the experiences I had, the thoughts and feelings I mulled through….I wish I could write it more clearly and in greater detail, but that would end up being a book, I think! I’ve been meaning to try to tackle this very thing….but I haven’t really had the time to sit down and do it, and I feel I realize more and more everyday, making it kind of overwhelming to write about it in a way to do it justice…

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Holy Moly is Right!

Anjali emailed me this evening pointing out that her post on Thoughts was linked here. It has generated quite a bit of traffic to this blog but I'm especially thrilled that, more importantly, it has generated a lot of great discussion and commentary about the issues Anjali addressed in her post. I think Anjali is also doing a stellar job at entertaining the questions and comments which have come her way so far.

Tad's Famous! (Well, sort of...)



Tad has long been a big fan of Generation Orthodox and somehow he got himself a guest spot on their first podcast of the New Year! I'm listening to it as I type so no comments yet but I'm sure it's gonna be awesome!

Meet Our Miriam


I've been meaning to post here about Miriam since she gets so little discussion. She's such a sweet, easy child that I really don't have any angst over her disabilities which I need to hammer out here...lol (now you know the true mission of this blog for me!). I decided to use the questions Meg answered by Adam as a vehicle for my readership to get to know my eldest child. So here goes:

What is Miriam's specific diagnosis?

Miriam has Trisomy 21 - commonly referred to as Down Syndrome. She was diagnosed at birth.

Tell us about Miriam. How old is she? What's her personality like? What does she love/hate?

Miriam is 13 years old and sweet as can be. We adopted her from Hong Kong (when it was a British holding) when she was almost 5 years old and I was very pregnant with Betsy. The family joke about her origins is that she is our Chinese British National with a Polish last name - all of which means absolutely nothing to her. Miriam is nicknamed "Girly" and she is a girly girl. She loves to play with nails and hair and dolls. Her favorite toys are her little princesses and her crate full of horses. She loves to play soccer, hates basketball. She could sing all day long - especially songs to Jesus - and loves to pretend with playmobiles and her younger brothers. We always say Miriam is the best Christian among us. She is so sincere in her worship and devotion. She has always loved Mary and had a special connection in her heart. She may not understand a lot about theology but somehow I think she understands things about God I will never learn this side of Heaven.

What therapies, diets, special interventions, etc. have you used to help Miriam? Is there any one thing that has been the most helpful for her?

Miriam hasn't required a lot of special therapies. She has had speech off and on and we continue to work on her speech goals at home. She is very hard to understand and has trouble stringing together more than 4 or 5 word sentences. The whole family follows the Feingold Program which removes all artificials and certain preservatives from our diet. We also avoid corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup for Miriam. The diet helps her to focus a bit better. At times we have given her fish oil supplements which also helped her focus a bit I think.

What is the most wonderful thing about Miriam?

Miriam has been our easiest child to parent. She is sweet, compliant, eager to please and willing to try just about anything. When she first came from Hong Kong it was maybe close to a year before we even saw her cry (which, honestly, worried us a bit). Then one day she stood at the top of the steps and cried and screamed bloody murder. I was shocked - until I realized she wasn't really sad, she had suddenly discovered how to get her brothers in trouble...lol...

Miriam is one of our "lifers" here - she's just not going to make it in the great wide world alone and so we have a long time to look forward to Miriam's companionship. I have really enjoyed building our relationship with that in mind and Miriam is developing a wonderful little sense of humor. I think "companion" is the word that describes Miriam best.

What is the most embarrassing moment you've had with Miriam?

Miriam has some embarrassing moments with the typical things - she doesn't know when her nose has boogers and she forgets to close her mouth when she chews, things like that. But I think her most embarrassing moment actually happened with a male friend of mine. She had gone on vacation with our friends Michelle and Dan and their children. On the last day they were trying to get cleaned up and Miriam misplaced her bra. In exasperation she went to Dan and announced, "I can't find my booby thing!" Unfortunately her speech is such that she had to repeat it several times before Dan could understand what she was saying and refer her to Michelle.

How does Miriam's Down Syndrome affect her sibs?


Miriam might be fortunate in that she has sibs with much more annoying disabilities than hers. Compared to her brother, her sibs find her extremely easy to get along with and very pleasant. The little ones don't really notice that there is anything different about her. They play with her and fight with her just like they do with each other. I really like that they are growing up sort of taking people's disabilities for granted. They have been exposed to lots of other people with lots of different disabilities and have learned that there are all types of people in the world, that some of them need more help in life than others and they can be the ones to offer that help from time to time. The older ones have observed that Miriam has a very positive outlook and I think they enjoy that about her. I hope that as life moves along they will also realize they have learned a lot from her.

How have you changed your parenting style to accommodate Miriam's emotional needs?

Well, Miriam hasn't really taxed my parenting skills nearly as much as some of the other children. I am more patient. It just takes her longer to do things and learn things. I spent five years teaching her phonics but when she got it she really took off. I think more than anything I have had to realize that not all kids are this easy. If she were our only one I might be tempted to think I was the best parent in the world (and she would definitely be quite spoiled)...

What is the hardest thing about parenting a child with Down Syndrome? What is the best thing?

I have yet to find a particularly hard thing about parenting Miriam. She does have some typical teen moments these days with the eye rolling and attitude but honestly on her it's just sort of funny. Probably the hardest thing for her is to admit that she needs help. She has trouble letting me know when her cycle has begun and then she gets embarrassed or scared and hides her dirty underwear and pajamas. I think we had a breakthrough the day we both started on the same day and she figured out that even Mom has this problem - since then she's gotten much better at letting me know.

We are fortunate that Miriam doesn't have any of the physical problems that can go along with Down Syndrome. She was born with a healthy heart and spine, her physical development seems normal. Many parents of children with Down Syndrome seem to struggle with the day to day physical problems the most - esp when these kids are infants to toddlers and having one surgery after another. We have never had to deal with that. She was walking and talking and doing all the things a kid should be doing by the time we adopted her.

Not only is Miriam an easy kid, her disability is easy. I can just say to people, "Miriam has Down Syndrome" and suddenly they know exactly what to expect from her. It's so much more complicated with, say, Philip who looks mostly "normal" but whose disability is so complex and can't be summed up in a couple of easily decoded words for people. So if you have to deal with a disability I would say Down Syndrome is a good one. It's so ironic to me that about 90% of babies diagnosed in utero with Down Syndrome are now aborted in this country. I just don't get what is so bad about Down Syndrome that you need to kill a baby who might or might not have it (the tests are often false positives and I don't get the whole killing babies thing no matter what the circumstances). Maybe if they would actually let these babies live they would eventually meet up with older children with Down Syndrome and get a clue.

The best thing has to be Miriam's personality. Occasionally she will balk if I ask her to do something but it doesn't take much to get her to see the bright side of everything. She forces me to stop and smell the roses. I can forget about her in all the busy-ness of the day because she is so content to be in her little corner of the world but the times when I really stop and look into her eyes and see how they smile really bring me to a joyful place. I sit next to her at the dinner table and that's become our time to really relate to one another. I am so blessed to be her mom.

How has parenting Miriam changed you?

Oh boy. Parenting changes everybody and when you have a kid or four who have disabilities that can really change a person. I think Miriam makes me a better person. She keeps me humble, she reminds me to stop and enjoy the simple things.

Monday, January 5, 2009

O Holy One...

visit and heal our infirmities for your name's sake.

Praying this prayer each morning has helped me to understand the healing power of God. In the charismatic church we did a lot of shenanigans to "get" the Holy Spirit to "come" and "heal". Usually nothing happened, sometimes God in his mercy chose to acknowledge our prideful and ridiculous efforts and heal in spite of us. But whatever we thought was happening, the focus was always on the idea that there was a wound (be it spiritual, physical or pyshcological) in a person, we needed to get God to come to the wound, fix it and then kindly leave.

But as I've meditated on this idea of Christ visiting and healing I realized we had it all wrong. Christ visited the kingdom of darkness specifically for the purpose of healing us enough to lead us to the Kingdom of Light. But his visitation is not a breeze through on His way to WalMart to help some other poor sod find a parking spot. He *visits* our infirmities. He comes in, he settles down for the night, He infuses our infirmities with His power, His mercy, His grace. It is the infusion of Him that heals. And it is a visit only in the sense that this temporal world of iniquity is temporary. We are all visitors here. As visitors, though, we need to deal with the world. We can only do this when infused with Christ within our being.

There are more thoughts I have on this which I'm having trouble getting into words and what I've written I'm sure doesn't do justice to what I'm thinking and, most importantly, beginning to know in my innermost being - that somehow Christ is in me, that He has infused my being with His Being specifically for the purpose of healing this sickness with which I must live for now. This makes much more sense of Christ's suffering and crucifixion - His visitation into our iniquities - His complete infusion of himself into the sickness of humanity - in order to heal and restore at the Resurrection. This can only happen because Christ is the Light. No matter what place he visits, he Is Light and He Brings Light. Am I way off base here?!