Today is Yom HaShoah

Night

One year when I was a 10th grade teacher, my colleagues and I built a heck of a unit around Elie Wiesel’s holocaust memoir, Night.

We were so proud of that unit as we planned it. The novel was the centerpiece. Then there were ancillary short stories, movie clips from Band of Brothers, Schindler’s List, The Devil’s Arithmetic. We wrote quizzes and essay prompts that mimicked the exit exam. We made photocopies and lesson plans and a culminating project. We prepared profiles of real Jews who had experienced the Holocaust to pass out to the students, and on the last day, we would tell them if their person survived or died. We stole that idea from the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

We made it as thoughtful and authentic as we could. Then we set out to teach it.

That first year, I was pregnant with Gabe and I skipped the part with the babies. I skipped a lot of stuff that year, because I just couldn’t.

The second year, I made myself sit with it. That was the first year I got a parent phone call about the book, a mom concerned that the story was affecting her student too deeply. Does it have to be THIS book? I was right there with her. I didn’t skip the part about the babies and I had a baby at home.

I also had nightmares.

The third year, I was pregnant with Kate. This was the year we decided to mix up the movie clips, so I sat at home one Saturday and watched The Pianist and Sophie’s Choice, back to back.

Keep the baby quiet.

A son and a daughter. Choose.

I didn’t sleep for two nights.

That year, I cried when I read the part about the babies. I cried when I read the part about the hanging. I cried when we watched the clip in The Devil’s Arithmetic where the mother refuses to leave the baby she has birthed in secret and they are sent together to the gas chamber. I hugged the student who laid her head down on the desk and sobbed. I didn’t write referrals when kids said “That’s fucked up” in class or when a young man stood up in class, threw his book across the room and said “This book is fucking stupid” after we read the part where the son steals food from his own father and leaves him to die.

But when the unit was done, I asked to be transferred out of tenth grade. I couldn’t do it anymore.

Last week, I saw a picture on Facebook of a teacher friend. Her students were all crowded into a small space—the size of a boxcar. She was standing on a desk over them, reading from the book. They’re still doing it, I thought. God bless them.

I get how this sounds: Like we’re all snowflakes who can’t handle the truth, melting at the first suggestion of genocide. Protect the children from this history. Teach it to them, but don’t teach it, teach it. Don’t read about ten year old boys taking three hours to die from hanging while other ten year old boys watched. Don’t talk about babies ripped from their mother’s arms and thrown alive into a bonfire.

We’ve come so far, that mom told me. Do they really need to be exposed to the horrors when we’ve made sure as a society it will never happen again?

There it is. That right there is why we taught the book in the first place, why we built such a confrontational unit, why we created a place for the kids to sit in the bald faced truth of what happened.

The danger of being 80 years away from something is that we think we have the luxury of choosing to pass the information on or not.

We don’t.

Look around the world today. Hatred lives. And not just There. Here. So high school English teachers all over this nation pick up that book every year and walk through the horrors of the Holocaust with a new group of students so that the kids will know.

Today is Yom HaShoah, Day of Remembrance. We can remember the victims of the Holocaust and pray for the peace and repose of their souls. We can ask forgiveness in the name of our ancestral family and friends who did not know or did not do enough. We can pray for generational healing.

And we can all make sure our kids know—at whatever level is appropriate for them—that when we don’t love each other enough, when we don’t remember that there is no such thing as other people’s children, when we see the world as us vs. them, we invite Evil to walk among us.

Resources for parents and teachers

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Museum of Tolerance

How do we get The Talk right?

I was having coffee with a mom friend of mine and the subject of sex and chastity came up. Her son is 12 and Gabe is 10 and Kate is 8 and while she’s early for all this, some of her girlfriends are wearing bras.

So far, we’ve covered just the facts, ma’am, with both of our older kids. I wish I had a camera when I told Kate the proper names for her parts. Her face. I pulled over, I was laughing so hard, but I have to agree with her here. We could have found more user-friendly names.

Or maybe that was the point.

Anyway, I was saying that the facts were enough for now. And maybe moving to side hugs for a few years, since the boys are face-to-boob-level now. My friend told me that in 6th grade, our Catholic school runs a sex education program with an emphasis on chastity. It has led to some awesome conversations with her son. As of this moment, she reports that he is holding out for marriage with one eye on maybe becoming a priest. Solid.

“But, Jen” she said. “When I was his age I thought the same thing! I’m still worried about when the hormones kick in. What do we say then?”

I think we all know what we don’t say. We don’t say “Because I said so” or “Because God said so”. Teenagers are naturally programmed for rebellion. Ultimatums are a bad idea.

We don’t threaten hell or excommunication from the family or church. How many times has fear of family reaction driven pregnant 16 year olds to abortion clinics? The life of my grandchild and the mental health of my child are worth far more than my need to be obeyed.

And we don’t tell them “Don’t do it. But if you’re going to do it, be safe.” Or we do, and accept that we’ve given permission to carry on.

My friend told me that another friend tells her kids what the church believes about chastity, love, marriage and children. (I did some research and found a wonderful resource here at National Catholic Register, written by Simcha Fisher)

Then she cut me side eye. “Although,” she said, “that may or may not have worked for me.”

It may or may not have worked for me either.

I had to think about why that was.

My young perception was that God lived at church, up on that cross. I heard all the reasoning about why chastity was important and I believed that God loved me. But when I started making dodgy decisions, I just stopped hanging out with him. Then I didn’t have to feel guilty. And if I wasn’t honoring Him, he surely wasn’t going to come looking for me.

Which is all wrong.

Would my behavior have been different if I knew that he was there with me? If I had a more rich prayer life where I listened as much as I talked? Where I trusted He had a plan for me that was greater than any plan I had for myself?

It’s hard to know for sure, but I will say this—for a long time in my young adult life, it was my MO to do things the hard way.  I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

So this is my new goal, as my babies turn into tweens.

TO LOCK THEM IN THE BASEMENT.

TO GET A MONTHLY DELIVERY OF KETTEL ONE FROM AMAZON PRIME.

To teach them what a give and take, talk and listen, love and be loved relationship with God looks like. To pray out loud, to model patience and to talk about how my prayers are answered. To make sure they know that God is on that cross but He will get down and come after us if we walk away. He will get down and walk next to us in the darkness when we need him, before we know we need him.

In the darkness. Like of a dorm room or the backseat of a car.

Right. There.

 

I have this cross

I try to walk with a “Thy Will Be Done” attitude, but I am telling you as a cancer survivor, the days surrounding the six month testing appointment challenge my resolve.

The appointments don’t loom on my calendar like they do for some, but you better believe I feel them coming. I don’t sleep as well. I’m irritable. And I rediscover my hereditary gift for superstition.

Tuesday morning I went to my ultrasound appointment, sipping my third cup of coffee, because everyone knows that’s calming.

I parked in a spot right in front and hopped out of the car into a pile of wet leaves. They squelched, so I looked down and this caught my eye:

img_20161130_150022

Some folks would say “Ooooh. A sign that He is with me!  My test is going to be fine.”

I said “Sh*t. A sign that He is with me. The cancer is back.”

In the waiting room, I tried to calm myself. I even texted a picture to my mom, who said “Nice message!”. But then the check in lady kept looking at the cross where I had laid it down on her desk. She leaned in and gently asked “You brought your cross with you to your test?”

My heart sank, even as I smiled and said “Oh no, I found this on the ground when I got out of the car! Can you believe it?” She patted my hand and said “You need it today. Hold on to it.” Then I heard her go around the corner and tell the lady at the next desk “She’s here for a cancer test and she just found a cross on the ground in the parking lot. Isn’t that amazing. God always knows what we need.”

I swear I almost crawled over the desk to tell the both of them “Look—I don’t even know if this cross is for me. Maybe I should put it back. Or leave it with you, in case someone comes along who needs it. I don’t need it. I am fine.”

But I didn’t. I picked up my cross and carried it back to my seat.

And I’m not talking about the stick.

Once you have cancer, you never don’t have it. You’re marked, in your own heart and by others. You never ever just have a cough, or a bump or an unexplained bruise. There is always an asterisk. And every odd thing that happens feels portentous. Why did I find a cross TODAY? Why is the nice lady speaking so tenderly? Why did she say I needed it?

Most everyone else finds a lump and calls someone who tells them “Oh my goodness. Don’t be dramatic. It’s not like you have cancer.”

But I did. I did have cancer and I can’t unhave it. Every six months I get to spend a day being that person again, the one others are gentle with and speak softly around. It makes me crazy, but it is what it is and it’s better than some of the alternatives.

Even though the tech said it would be two days, my doctor called four hours later to tell me my ultrasound was clear. For 179 more days, I have a clean bill of health, with an awesome cross thrown into the bargain.

I’ll take it.

 

It’s What We Need

I don’t know what to say and I am not alone. There are only so many ways to write “Love each other” before we all start sounding like a Beatles songs, after they started doing the hallucinogenics.

So instead, I want to show you something.

In the Catholic church, we use a lectionary for the readings at church. The lectionary is a book that has all the Bible scripture readings laid out for both the weekday masses and Sunday masses. The Sunday masses work on a 3 year cycle, called A, B and C. In year A, our gospel comes mostly from Matthew. Year B we read mostly from Mark and chapter 6 of John. In year C, we read mostly from Luke.

This was all set down long time ago. Like, long, long time ago. In some Christian churches ministers choose their readings based on current events. Not us. Catholics have this thing with tradition.

Maybe you’ve noticed.

Anyway, 2016 is a year C. We’re reading a lot of Luke in Ordinary time, which what we call all the time that is not Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter.

Remember, these readings are pre-ordained. Back and back.

These have been the Gospel readings the last three weeks.

Luke 10:1-9Luke 10:25-37Luke 10:38-42.

The first one, two days before the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, is when Jesus sends His disciples out in twos and tells them to be bringers of peace wherever they enter.

The second one—last weekend, after the killing of the police officers in Dallas—was the parable of the Good Samaritan.

This week, after Nice and the killing of the police officers in Baton Rouge, was the story of Martha and Mary.

And next week, the reading is Luke 10:1-13, when Jesus gives his disciples the Lord’s Prayer in response to one of them asking “Lord, teach us how to pray”.

Bring peace. Help, regardless of race or creed. Listen. Pray.

Some will call this coincidence. It’s not, though.

It’s what we need, when we need it, if we have the courage to listen and believe.

IMG_20130325_161833

 

When an Apology is Not

Braeburns at Riley's Apple Farm in Oak Glen

Not all apologies are created equal.

As Rhett Butler said to Scarlett “”You’re like the thief who isn’t the least bit sorry he stole, but is terribly, terribly sorry he’s going to jail.”

I recently read an article that talked about the difference between remorse and repentance.

Remorse is when we cause someone pain and feel guilty and will do anything to make our guilt go away. It’s me focused.

Repentance is when we desire to understand the pain we have caused others, to acknowledge we have work to do on the inside and humble ourselves enough to do it.

Remorse makes us say I’m sorry for all kinds of wrong reasons: to make something stop, or go away; to distract; to regain power; to inflict pain.

Repentance gets us back into right relationship with God and the person we hurt, which is a place where true understanding and forgiveness heals the wound.

Remorse looks like a bandaid, until the next time. Repentance is a tree of life.

I guess this is on my mind because I’ve noticed a trend in apologies that seem long on remorse and short on repentance.

This was handled years ago…I can’t change the past…let’s move forward, I promise to do better…I never meant to hurt you…I didn’t know.

Other people’s sins are not our business, it’s true. But in this day of instant social media, we are privy to more information about people than ever before. Sometimes, the apologies of public figures help us decide if we can vote for them or continue watching their show or buying their products or listening to their music or cheering for their team.

We do have to judge, in that sense, the quality of their character based on the quality of their apology.

We know a bandaid when we see it.

We should look for the life-giving tree.

Grace Walking

IMAG0132

It isn’t often that grace walks around on two feet in this world. But grace is walking in Charleston.

Felicia Sanders played dead in a puddle of her son’s blood. He died. She survived to offer mercy to his killer.

Nadine Collier’s 70 year old mom went to that bible study and didn’t come back. Nadine offered forgiveness.

Bethane Middleton Brown’s sister was killed, leaving behind four daughters. But Bethane told the world “We are the family that love built. We have no room for hating.”

I don’t know if I could do what they did. Maybe, now that I have seen them do it.

A mother. A daughter. A sister.

There are some people calling these women weak, saying things will never change if we appear to accept and forgive the things that are done in the name of hatred, ignorance, bigotry.

But these women aren’t sending a message to men. They are talking to the evil that walked into their sacred house of God and tried to rob them of their faith.

And they are telling him that he failed.

Wherefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

2 Corinthians 12:10

If you want to help the people of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC you can donate to these two funds, one to help the church members and one in honor of Reverend Pinckney. Or you can send an email of prayer and support directly to the church from the Contact US button on their website.

Mother of mothers

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with Mary.

It gets less complicated as I get older. Motherhood has made her more real to me. After Dana’s post about the spoons, I wondered if Mary ever ran out of spoons.

A two year old is a two year old is a two year old, right? Plus there’s the business of the missing teenage years.

Part of what I struggled with for so long was my church’s characterization of her as small, meek and sugar coated.

Because I’m not.

I resented the Renaissance depictions of her that hang in churches and museums all over the world, beautiful in form and face even as she grieves at the foot of the Cross.

I wondered, if she is the ultimate example of womanhood and obedience, in all her delicate beauty and grace, then what are the rest of us?

Then I became a mom and I knew the truth.

She was a lot like the rest of us.

She labored and gave birth.

She felt mama fear, as we all do. Probably more, after meeting Simeon in the temple and then being forced to flee in front of the slaughter of the innocents.

She felt mama anger, too. The bible tells us that she searched wildly for her son for three days when he was lost. And when she found him in the temple, she spoke up to him, in front of the men surrounding him.

The strongest word I could find to describe her tone is “questioning”.

Yeah, I bet. She probably wanted to question him all the way home and into his room until he was 30.

Which would explain the missing years. Huh.

She was Immaculately Conceived, gave birth to the Son of God and lived a sinless life (hey, I said she was a lot like us, not just like us), which makes her the Mother of mothers. She walked our path and then some. She gets it.

That’s what matters—not how she is depicted in a painting from 700 years ago.

When I descended into the darkness after Annie was born, and my counselor told me that meditation would quiet the loud and ugly voices in my head, I turned to the rosary.

For Catholics, the rosary is meditation. It’s also closely connected to Mary, and I needed the Mother of mothers badly at that time in my life. On the nights when the fears were chasing me, I let the beads slip through my fingers,  begging Mary to pray with me for peace in my heart and thoughts, to add her voice to mine and ask God for healing.

I never made it all the way through before falling asleep. But when I awoke in the morning, my rosary curled up in bed with me, I felt peace and knew that Mary was with me in my struggle.

My friend Steffani is the one who brought me closer to this understanding of Mary. She’s a homeschooling mom with eight kids, and her family is a great big joyful bundle of noise and love. In the midst of this, she is a very calm and wise woman. I used to think this was because she’d seen it all. But then I realized it’s because she gives it all to God. And she asks the Mother of mothers on a daily basis to pray for her and her family.

So I started praying the rosary beyond bedtime, looking for support and wisdom. I do feel that those moments of quiet reflection bring me closer to God, help me clear out the distractions and listen for the answers to questions and prayers.

A few weeks ago, my 36 year old rosary broke. I knew right away what I wanted to do. I had a rosary handmade for my godson Owen, out of his birthstone, for his First Communion last year. I got it from ClaresGift (Agnus Dei Creations) on Etsy.

I went back to the same shop and asked Ellyn if she could make me a mother’s rosary out of my birthstone and the birthstones of my kids. But of course. It arrived on Saturday:

IMG_20150208_184240

I love it.

I love what it represents, a powerful way to pray for my babies.

I love that it connects me to the Mother of mothers, who is ever ready to pray for me and with me in support and love.

I love that it brings me closer to God, and creates a quiet space where I can ask, honor and listen.

It’s another way to remember I am never alone.

I’ll bet Ellyn can make any kind of custom rosary—mother’s, grandmother’s, dad’s, godmother’s, First Communion, Confirmation, Wedding, Quincineara, etc. Or she has a standard collection of Catholic and Anglican rosaries at https://www.etsy.com/shop/claresgift.