Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Donating Clothes to the Poor

I bet none of you remember anymore that, way back in July, I mentioned I had bags of kids' clothes that I had decluttered after feeling like God wanted me to give things away to the poor.

Well, they sat in my bedroom for months as I tried to finish getting them all cleaned and sorted. A dozen times during that period, I thought to myself that I should just dump them off at the local thrift store when the clothes were all ready. It's what I usually do when I want to give stuff away. But somehow that didn't feel right; God had told me to give things away to the poor, not hand them over to someone who would sell them (albeit at a cheap price).

Then, some months ago, a trio of women gave a presentation to my prayer group about different aspects of the Right to Life movement in Portland, such as the 40 Days for Life campaign. Because of that presentation, I ended up getting the name and address of a local crisis pregnancy center.

I was thrilled.

The pro-life movement lies very close to my heart; I am often pained at the thought of all the abortions that happen. There is little I can do about it, though, beyond simply raising my own children. To have this chance, this opportunity, to actually help women (and babies) who would otherwise be at risk for an abortion, even if just by donating used kids' clothes, gives me great joy.

Which didn't stop me from taking forever to actually get the clothes to them. It was only yesterday that I finally delivered the clothes, and the only reason I finally got around to it was that the light in my bedroom went out, and I didn't want my neat-freak landlord to see the bedroom that messy, and the only other place to put the clothes was in the van. And then the kids had a dentist appointment in the general vicinity of the center, so it was reasonably convenient to just drop them off.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

On Not Indulging on Sundays

I realized lately that I've been on the No-S diet for something close to a year.

It's simple: No Sweets, No Snacks, No Seconds, except on Saturdays, Sundays, and Special days.

I haven't lost any weight at all.

This may have something to do with the fact that I still eat too much on the weekends. So I was thinking and praying about that on Sunday morning. And after asking God for help figuring out what to do about it, I opened the Bible randomly. (I think it was Luke 6).

I came first across a verse about level ground, and it instantly struck me that God was telling me to make my week level, to make my weekends the same as the weekdays.

I kept reading, and came across "Fortunate are the hungry." Call it confirmation.

Sunday is supposed to be a feast day, and one of the objections in the back of my mind was that "fasting" from sweets and such would violate the spirit of the Sabbath rest. Then I glanced over at the adjoining, previous page, where Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath. "I am the Lord of the Sabbath", he says, "Is it lawful to do good or do harm on the Sabbath? To save life or destroy it?"

Temperance is a virtue. Being temperate is doing good; eating healthier by not over-indulging is like saving my life. In this way God made it clear to me that this was what he wanted me to do.

I had a lot of doubts during that day - Was I really to never eat sweets again? Should I wait until I'm more clear on the details before denying myself the sweets I so desperately want? - but I stuck with it, for this Sunday at least.

At the end of the day, while praying, I felt as if God was pleased with me, and it seemed to me that he told me that because I had obeyed him, he would heal me. I think He meant heal me of my intemperance, but frankly, I'm not 100% sure.

(In the interest of full disclosure, since then, I've been thinking that God is guiding me towards some new rules, like maybe two sweets per week, or something.)

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Infinite Suppleness of Prudence

I mentioned once, in passing, that God had told me to read this book.

The Four Cardinal Virtues, by Josef Pieper

Now I'd like to share one particularly helpful insight that I got out of it.

Pieper speaks of the limited usefulness of casuistry - the laying out of morality in particular examples - and then, in speaking of its limitations, he quotes [my bold emphasis]:
"Casuistry, on the contrary, carried to excess, substitutes techniques and prescriptions for the infinite suppleness which the virtue of prudence must retain in the face of the complexities of the ethical life," as we read in a French commentary to the Summa Theologica.

Now, in all honesty, it took me most of the first section before I finally figured out that the classical notion of "prudence" means something like "knowing the right thing to do in a given situation". So Pieper1 is saying that life is infinitely complex, and therefore any set of rules you come up with about how to behave - no matter how complicated - will necessarily be an over-simplification of reality.

Prudence is infinitely supple.

So then I happened to be driving one day.

I pulled to a stop in a left-turn lane behind another car. Waiting for the signal to turn, I started wondering if I should pull up a little. This sent me into a spiral of thoughts that looked something like this...

There's all those times where the cars from the turn-lane stretch back so far they block the driving lane; clearly in those cases it would be helpful if all the cars pulled forward as much as they can, so no one gets blocked - but you can't pull too far forward or you risk hitting the car ahead of you, of course. And if someone comes too fast from behind and rear-ends you, then you want to have more space between you and the car ahead so that you don't hit them. And if you had a whole line of cars who had pulled forward in the turn-lane so as not to block the other lanes, and someone came along too fast, you could get the whole line of cars hitting each other. If you can see behind you that the cars are not blocking the other lane, then it's ok to stay back. But a lot of time you can't see around the cars well enough to know if they're blocking or not. So you have to guess. Or if God tells you to pull forward or stay back, you could go with that - if you can figure out whether he's really telling you something or not. Maybe you should just figure that it's better to play it on the safe side and stay back, and accept lane-blocking as the price of safety. Or maybe you should just figure that it's better to pull forward, because it's a lot more likely that you'll end up blocking the lane than that someone behind you will rear-end you into the car ahead.

Eventually, the phrase filtered into my head... infinite suppleness.

I realized that my train of thought wasn't just impractical. It was impossible - even in theory - to work out what you should do in every single case. Because the variety of situations isn't just beyond my grasp, it's infinite. That's why we need prudence and God's guidance in the first place: so we know what to do right now even when we don't have, and couldn't possibly have, every single case figured out.

So I tossed out the whole fruitless line of thought, and a peaceful sense of freedom came over me.

It turns out, I do this kind of thing quite a lot, and "infinite suppleness" is becoming my new rallying cry.

1. And, apparently, some French commentator, as well as Thomas Aquinas.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Miracle of the Ipad - or Not?

Let me just start by using this picture to make it clear that my kids' ipad has a very dirty screen. This is not part of the story, I'm just explaining why, on all the rest of the photos, you have to ignore all the fingerprints that show up on the ipad.

My brother Caleb, who bought the kids the ipad last Christmas, has wondered several times how long the ipad would last under the abuse of five little kids.

Can you see that through the fingerprints?

Well, mark it on your calendar Caleb - ten months.

This video clip might show the damage a little more clearly. There was a faint crack that I could feel, and it was clearly messing with the display. When it showed up like this, I could still access all of the apps, and they appeared to respond ok; I just couldn't always see what I was selecting. At least the internal computer did not appear to be damaged; just the display. Unfortunately, when the screen cracked on my Macbook Air earlier this year, and messed up in just this same way, the only way to fix it was to replace the whole screen - which I doubted was possible with the ipad, and if it was, probably cost more than buying a new one.

Some of the time, when I turned the ipad on, this was what I got instead. When this happened, I couldn't do anything with it except turn it back off.

And then, some of the time, I got this. A black screen with some slowly fading-in green lines. Again, completely un-usable this way. 

Now, I was using the ipad to provide the musical accompaniment during the seven-week Life in the Spirit Seminar that my prayer group is putting on. If the ipad didn't work at all, that would really screw up what I thought God wanted us to be doing, musically speaking. My kids would also be very sad not to be able to play Angry Birds anymore.

So I started praying for God to fix the ipad. I had recently read a book on healing prayer that talks about "soaking prayer" - which basically means lots and lots of prayer, even for hours. And it seemed to me that God wanted me to do that with the ipad. I figured it might not be a bad idea to practice on an inanimate object before praying for people that way. So I prayed, and I prayed, and I prayed. Every now and then I would turn the ipad on again to see if it was fixed. It never was.

I tried not to get discouraged, and prayed some more on a later day. Again, no results.

It was really discouraging.

Since at least some of the time it was usable, even though difficult to see, I took it along with me to the next Life in the Spirit session. I got there early and plugged it in to charge while I helped set up. Plugging it in brought it out of sleep, and this is what I saw...

Pure crystal clearness. 

This time with less reflection from the flash.

Praise God, I thought.

I'd been wanting a miracle. Something I could point to as an indisputable violation of the natural laws of physics, like Peter walking on water. It didn't have to be something that other people would believe was a miracle - just something that I  would know was one.

And this was it.

This was my miracle.

Or so I thought.

Until I let the kids play with the ipad, and they came back telling me it was broken again.

Sure enough, it was making some of those lines again. It didn't seem quite as bad as before, but it was clearly not working right. And I thought I could feel the crack again, which I had not been able to find when everything was clear-looking. I didn't have time to deal with it right then, so I turned it off and stuck it on the charger and told the kids not to touch it. 

Later, on impulse, I turned it back on for a moment and it came on crystal clear again.

Still, I was upset. As I did the dishes later that day, and had time to think about what had happened, I started to fume at God. Why would you take this away from me, God? Why offer the miracle in the first place if you don't mean it? It would have been better not to have fixed it in the first place! Why does it seem like every time I get my hopes in you up, you do something to dash them back down again? I know I'm supposed to trust you, but seriously, how is this not messed up?

Eventually I felt I should stop fuming, and I tried to let it go. My husband found out it was still a sensitive issue for me when he suggested that we ask Caleb if there's a warranty on the ipad, and I snapped at him. (Sorry, love!) I figure not to let the kids play with it, until the Life in the Spirit is over next week. After that, if they break it, well, such is life.

So I'm left not knowing what to think. On the one hand, I have pictures to prove that something happened. Electronics don't just spontaneously fix themselves, you know? And, as of right now, the ipad is working just fine. Perfectly clear. But I think I can still feel a crack, and I can't make myself believe that the ipad is going to last much past the end of the seminar. Maybe the lines came back as a warning from God that the fix isn't going to last - that the miracle is just temporary, as it were. God only knows.

But at least He does.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

God Tells Me To Be Less Selfish With The Kids

Last Sunday's readings could be called the "good leadership" readings. And God used them to make it clear to me all the ways in which I am NOT being a good mother to my children.

Part 1: Morning Prayer

Gabe and Julie and I all had a cold Sunday morning, so we weren't making it to Mass. Instead of our usual morning prayer at breakfast, plus reading the Mass readings to the kids, Ken had led them in grace. So I was figuring to take it easy and skip our usual Sunday morning prayer routine. I did, though, sit in the bedroom to read the readings for myself. You know, in peace and quiet. Without the kids around.

And now, O priests, this commandment is for you:
If you do not listen,
if you do not lay it to heart,
to give glory to my name, says the LORD of hosts,
I will send a curse upon you
[Malachi 1-2]

Umm, right God. Yes, I had chosen the path of less-glorifying-of-God's-name this morning, and he was not pleased with that. So I called in the kids, and we had a surprisingly fruitful session, in which I got the kids to think more about the prayers than usual and about the readings.

Then I went back to reading the readings for myself.

Part 2: Homeschooling

I don't know if it was last month's series of posts about homeschooling or what, but the idea had come to me to make a complete curriculum. As in, write a set of textbooks for each subject that would eventually be something I could publish and sell. Because, obviously, I can write the most excellent curriculum ever1. I became slightly obsessed with this idea for a couple weeks, steadily ignoring the fact that (a) I was filled with grandiose visions, a sure sign that I'm not really being inspired; and (b) in all my research into what matters in education, it is consistently said that the teacher matters a lot more than the curriculum, and spending time writing curriculum would mean I would be spending less time with my own actual kids.

You have turned aside from the way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction;

O LORD, my heart is not proud,
nor are my eyes haughty;
I busy not myself with great things,
nor with things too sublime for me.
R. In you, Lord, I have found my peace.
Nay rather, I have stilled and quieted
my soul like a weaned child.
Like a weaned child on its mother's lap,
so is my soul within me.
[Psalm 131]

All their works are performed to be seen. ...They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation 'Rabbi.'
[Matthew 23]

We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children. With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well,
[1 Thess 2]

"With great affection"... that's exactly how I haven't been homeschooling; instead I've been pushing the kids away so I can do my own thing. Okie doke, Lord. I will quit all the grandiose plans to achieve the greatest curricula ever - which is mostly motivated by the desire for others to be impressed by me anyway - and instead focus on sharing more of my whole self with the kids.

I got these treasures at the used book store today, and plan to go back for more when I can find someplace to put them.

Part 3: Chores

You recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery. Working night and day in order not to burden any of you,
[1 Thess]

They tie up heavy burdens hard to carryand lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.
[Matthew 23]

Yep, that's me again. I've been giving the kids more and more chores lately, which is fine. But once or twice the niggling thought crossed my mind that I was giving them more chores than I was really doing myself. So I'm going to re-focus on getting lots of cleaning done myself and help show them how their chores should be done. There's plenty for all of us!

1. In my defense, homeschooling curricula are rife with propaganda, which is a steady failure to pursue excellence.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

PicVids - October 2011

Ken's birthday was this month.
Like father...
... like daughter.
He enjoyed his presents.
The kids got quite inventive with the pictures they drew for him.1
I made a homemade cake. It was good, but a bit on the rich side. The kids preferred the ice cream.
I figured I'll do a candle per decade for anyone over the age of 18.

A good time was had by all.

We also spent time with friends.
Friends who do cool science experiments.
Friends who have cool lightsabers.
Much fun was had.
Even Julie enjoyed hanging out with the other babies.

1. Elijah hid 8 tiny pumpkins in his drawing that Ken had to find.