Thursday, June 30, 2016

From Skeletons to Relics

He left.  And when he left I didn't speak of it for a year.  I was twelve or thirteen, really just a little girl trying to be big, and never spoke of it to anyone outside our home for at least that long.  The fear and shame and hurt was so deep that I had no words, my heart and mind too little to handle something so big.  People knew, of course.  There were seven of us kids and there was no big organized conspiracy to keep it from the people we knew.  But I somehow unconsciously decided that it was too ugly and I was too ashamed to let any of my friends or teachers know how broken we were.  So I didn't say a word, not even to my best friend across the street who must have known something was off.  The shame was overpowering and the wound too deep. 

It was my first skeleton.

We think of those closet skeletons as something rare.  Maybe it's because we've told ourselves we're the only one or we'd just like to be the optimist who hopes so anyway.  Or maybe we're one of those people whose closet has been kept clean and ordered with everything mostly right where it should be.  (God bless you!) But the more I talk to people the more I think that it is they, the clean-closeted ones, who are the exception.  The rest of us?  We have our secrets - the sins that hold us bound, the wounds that scarred our souls, the situations that are too full of shame and regret to share.  We are held bound by our fear of the pain, the judgement, the assumptions, the rejection.  For many of us, even those who profess the power of the cross, there are sins still too scandalous, too ugly, too bloody to talk about.  There are even still a few that society would frown upon.  So we bury them deep hoping that they'll stay hidden and quiet and just leave us alone, or at the very least, never ever come to the public light.  We shut up and hope that no one ever tries to get in.  We small talk and smile and guard our closets well, learning the art of distraction so no one can see the dirt.

Closets are where we put the stuff we don't want out in the open.  They're closed and dark and they feel like a safe place to put the mess.  Instead they become the perfect playground for the one who loves the dark.  The prince of it whispers in our souls that it's too ugly, too dirty, too messy for anyone to see, even Him.  Because as long as we're afraid of those past wounds and sins and give them the power to bind us and keep them hidden away in fear and pain, Satan still wins.  Christ comes to bring light and freedom, to heal every wound and to break every chain.  Where darkness is, Christ is not.   "For freedom Christ set us free," St. Paul tells us.  If we trust in God, in His mercy, in His forgiveness, in the power of Confession, and in the reality of redemption, then those dirty little secrets become a vehicle for grace and mercy.  We turn sin upon its head when we allow it to be where Christ's glory is made manifest.   If we throw open the door and let His light shine in upon the mess, the blood, the bones, it is only then that He can work to transform them into something beyond our wildest imagination.  

Perhaps it is those very skeletons that have the potential to be our sanctification.  Maybe it is in the deepest shame and regret that God most wants to bring healing and light.

So we dig out those bones - the abuse, the raging anger, the DUI, the sexual perversion, the drug problem, the affair, the suicide attempt, the abortion, the childhood wound, the eating disorder, the family secret, whatever it is that we bury down deep or tap dance around because the fear and shame is just too much.  We turn on the light, we dig them out and we blow off the dust.  And then a funny thing often happens.  When we, trembly-handed as we may be, reach for the switch, we find that while the pain may be deep and the healing take work, the light isn't nearly as scary as we thought.  We find a person or two or twenty who looks in and says, "mine too."  We find healing and freedom and the reality of a God Who loves us beyond and through our dirtiest of secrets.  

Perhaps it is in that very wound or sin or shame that Christ wants to purify you.  Never the way we thought, far from what we would plan, He reaches in to the very darkest parts of us and asks us to repent and to allow Him to turn that evil into something beautiful.  Perhaps by bringing it further into the light we can help others who hurt.  Perhaps the cross will still be there painful and stinging but at the same time redeeming and glorifying.  Perhaps by being willing to drag out those bones and bring them into the light, we will find ourselves part of a glorious story of healing and redemption.

That doesn't necessarily mean we need to break into the speaking circuit or pen that tell-all or share what God may want private all over the internet.  Not usually anyway.  But we need to say it.  We need to have the conversations in the right setting.  We need to drag those bones out of the closet and bring them into the light.  Because it is only when we do that that they lose their power over us.  It is only then that the surgeon can see the wound enough to heal.  It is only then that they can be redeemed into something beautiful.  I believe that often it is in and through these very wounds and sins that Christ wants to transform us.  I believe that when we bring those skeletons out into the light of Christ and let Him work we will see something amazing - that some day those ugly old bones will have been transformed into the relics of saints.

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Friday, June 24, 2016

Our Bit of Earth (and a simple garden sign idea)

Over the winter I read The Secret Garden to the boys.  It's one of my favorites and the boys soaked it right up.  One of the themes is the simple goodness and nourishment of digging in the earth and making things grow.  Mary requests "a bit of earth" on her uncle's property so that she can dig and plant and weed and resurrect the secret garden of her late aunt.  In doing so, she herself is resurrected and becomes the healthy and beautiful little girl she was meant to be.  There is something so fully human about digging and planting and tending and something so fulfilling about seeing the little green sprouts poke out of the ground.  Every single time I'm amazed that it worked.  A seed goes in and a short while later a flower or even (real! edible!) food comes out.  Not, um, to say that I'm the one that does all the tilling and digging and planting and tending around here.  Oh no.  But I sure  can wax poetic about it on the keyboard when I want to ;)

We didn't have a garden last year.  It's a good amount of work especially in April and May, which last year was right when I was largely pregnant and due with the baby.  It was a good decision but we did miss it.  This year we're making up for it and the husband has done a great job putting everything in and keeping it watered during these past dry dry weeks.  I'm actually selfishly thrilled that it hasn't rained much, though I feel bad for the big farmers.  Our yard is dry and the weeds are low.

We're so blessed with this little bit of earth we've been given.  I feel the need to remember that it's all a gift.  Years ago we asked God for the right home and land for our family and He gave us this.  It's served us well and we've tried to take care of it the best we can.  Provided we can keep out any nibblers or nasty garden bugs (which is a pretty idealistic little dream, I know), we should have a pretty large haul in a few weeks.  And I'll probably be amazed once again that a few little seeds could turn into food for my family. 

The boys - especially the four and seven year old - have been helping in the garden lots.  It's so good for them.  David requested his own little bit of earth a few days ago to plant some flowers.  He cleared out a little section on the property next to us in a random place next to the burn pile.  I spied him out the window yesterday sitting in the dirt working so hard to clear it out.  This morning I gave him some zinnia seeds to plant.  He carefully planted a dozen and drowned watered them well.  We'll see how it goes.

For the garden files:  
We planted from seed broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, lettuce mix, carrots, pole beans (2 kinds), snap peas, shell peas, corn, cucumber, white pumpkins, orange pumpkins, zucchini, summer squash, red potatoes, golden potatoes, russet potatoes, sunflowers, and marigolds.
From nursery plants we planted lots of cherry tomatoes (sweet 100's), a couple roma tomatoes, yellow peppers, banana peppers, and basil.  (Our tomato and pepper plants never seem to do well from seed.)
Do you like our rustic little garden signs??

Our nine year old had the task of working on the new signs.  Using clean pallet wood, he used the wood burning kit received for Christmas and labelled all the plants.  I love that he did it pretty much all on his own.  It took longer than he anticipated and there were a few episodes of frustration when he realized that someone *cough*myhusband*cough* had spelled some of the words wrong for him.  In all fairness, zucchini and broccoli are a bit tricky ;)  But he pushed through and now this project is his to claim.

When he was done they were cut to size and sealed with a coat of poly (not really necessary but I'd like them to stay this color rather than weather). 

The husband and boys then attached them to sticks from the yard or salvaged from the burn pile.  Depending on the size of the stick they used either nails or fencing staples to attach.

 They're not fancy and won't last forever but I love their simple rustic look!  Plus, free :)

Tending his bit of earth

""You can have as much earth as you want," he said.  "You remind me of someone else who loved the earth and things that grow.  When you see a bit of earth you want," with something like a smile, "take it, child, and make it come alive."  

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Butterflies, Gardening, Projects, et al.

Some little {phfr} updates from 'round these parts...

Our peonies are almost done blooming, thanks in part to a super helpful child who tried to pick some for mom but succeeding mostly in just bending the stems all to the ground because he couldn't snap them.  So at least it was an excuse to cut the rest to grace the house.  Peonies makes such a {pretty} cut flower!

We released some butterflies last week.  Our first batch of caterpillars came dead but the company sent out a replacement in a couple of days.  We tried again with great success so we had some {happy} boys.

We've done this a couple times but both before these two could really remember so it was fun to watch them do it!

I can't remember if I shared our garden move here but the old raised beds are gone and the husband moved the garden to a better section of the yard.  

The plants are {happy} about it.  He's done 99% of the work with the boys and it all looks awesome.  The spinach is beginning to be harvestable but the rest still has a little bit to go.  We have all the things...lettuce (mix and romaine), spinach, brussel sprouts, broccoli, snap peas, shell peas, provider beans, some other type of green bean, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, roma tomatoes, yellow bell pepper, hot banana peppers, basil, marigolds, corn, orange pumpkins, and white pumpkins.

When you have boys who need some purposeful work to do, you set them at removing two bush/tree things that have grown too big too close to the house.  (Can you see one of them hidden in there?)

Not sure what's {funny} about this except that I have no issue with the rusty saws and children chopping down trees if it helps me get a project done.  

And it was probably pretty {funny} to watch me and the lady and three of the boys finally pull the tree down in success and sweatily lug it over to the burn pile.

I'm so excited that the husband and older boys are also tackling this job this year!  I've been wanting to paint this garage for years but it was never high enough on the priority list.  Now that the older two can mow the lawn, they're able to do that during the week so the husband doesn't have to spend hours on the weekend tackling that!  It's awesome and leaves us able to get to other projects that we've been eyeing for years.  I knew paint would make such a huge difference and I was so right.  The old paint was more an orangey-red and either was only put on in one coat or it was just a stain.  The parts that are done look so fresh and nice!  While it would be nice to have a free couple of days to do it all in one shot, that's not {real} life right now so it's getting done one big section at a time.  We're about half done?

And sad but {real}, our bees didn't survive the winter!  We were really disappointed.  I'm not sure what went wrong since it was an easy winter for these parts.  There was still honey so it wasn't a food issue and we didn't see any infestations of anything.  So now these two hives sit empty and sad and waiting for a decision from us on what to do next.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

What Catholics Believe About Animals

A few months ago I had the opportunity to speak with someone about the Church's teaching on the environment and stewardship and the role we as humans are called by God to play in relation to the rest of creation.  We talked about food choices and farming and chickens and balance with a whole lot of other stuff mixed in.  It reminded me again how beautiful and comprehensive is the Catholic Faith I love.  Long ago in college we were required to read the Catechism for a class and take a test on the whole thing.  It was difficult but life changing.  I highly recommend it to pretty much anyone, Catholic or not but especially if you're Catholic and have never read it!  It's actually a really beautiful read.  While I can't cite much from memory anymore, steeping myself in the actual legit teachings of the Church was so formative for my worldview and life choices later on.

Anyway, since our conversation revolved much around creation and food and how my faith affects our shopping choices, it's been on my mind the last few months.  It reminded me that the Church has something to say not only about creation as a whole but even specifically about animals.  I had this post going through my head weeks ago but given recent current events, it's become even more relevant and perhaps it's a topic that could use some better understanding within the Church and the rest of the world.

The Catechism has several specific paragraphs about animals within its discussion of the seventh commandment (2415-2418).  Here are a few key points:

Animals have their own dignity
Animals have a dignity inherent in themselves outside of humanity.  They give glory to God simply by their existence, the Catechism says (CCC 2416).  So whether they directly benefit humans or not, they are beautiful in and of themselves and deserve to be treated with dignity.

Animals Are Not as Important as People
That said, animals are still ordered toward the good of humanity and are under our authority (CCC 2415).  Traditionally we speak of man and woman being the "crown of creation."  In the Scriptures, the ordering of the creation narrative is very intentional and shows that human beings have the highest dignity of all the created world.  BUT humanity is charged with taking care of the rest of creation.  Being the highest of creation obliges us to guard and protect, not abuse and destroy.  We can therefore use animals for food or clothing or research if it is ordered toward the good of humanity, provided we treat them with their due dignity.

Our Treatment of Animals Matters Morally 
The Catechism is clear that the use of animals and the rest of the created world "cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives" and we should have a "religious respect for the integrity of creation" (CCC 2415).  This means that we have a moral obligation in respect to animals and the care of creation.  It's not optional and we can't pretend it's a matter of opinion or personality or just for those "other" types of Christians.  In Centesimus Annus 38, Saint John Paul II clearly laments the ways that human beings fail in their role as caretakers of the earth and created things and calls for us to remember that they are to be treated as gifts.  Pope Benedict XVI reiterated in Caritas in Veritate that we have an obligation to take care of the earth and creation (CV 51).  Mistreating animals, whether by abusing them OR by giving them more worth than humans, is a sin.

Killing Animals for Fun is Not Okay
The Catechism clearly states that "It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly" (CCC 2418).  Unless we have a legitimate reason to kill an animal (self protection, food, clothing, etc.), it is degrading to US when we kill for the sake of killing.  All life is important.  In the order of creation, some is of more value than others but all life deserves to be treated with respect. One of my favorite quotes from Pope Francis in Laudato Si draws a clear relationship between how we treat animals with how we will treat people:  "It follows that our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings. We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people."  (LS, 92)

When We DO Use Animals, We Should Alleviate Unnecessary Suffering
We're allowed to use animals for own benefit whether for research, food or clothing.  Medical or scientific research must be within "reasonable" limits AND "contribute toward caring for or saving human life" (CCC 2417).  However, we are required to do what we can to mitigate any suffering that we can.  So we as Catholics can and should work for more humane treatment of the animals we use.  We should also do what we can (as far as we are able) to make sure that the animals we eat or the products we use have taken steps to treat the animals with dignity.  This means that they should be raised according to the design God gave them, be killed with the least amount of pain and suffering possible, and used without unnecessary waste.

It's Not Okay to Love Animals with the Same Love or Resources as People
The Catechism states, "It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery.  One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons" (CCC 2418).  So, take care of your pets and love them as animals and companions.  Treat animals with respect.   Don't kill them for no reason.  They are a gift from God.  But never confuse the fact that human beings are more important and practically speaking need to trump animal life.  Don't let the love for animals become disordered.

We Don't Know if There Will Be Animals in Heaven
The Catechism doesn't directly address the question of whether there will be animals in heaven because, quite simply, we don't know.  They do not have the same type of soul that a human being possesses but that doesn't exclude the possibility that they could be there.  And despite faulty media reports, Pope Francis never said that they would be.

I am absolutely in love with this Faith that is so beautifully comprehensive.  I love that the teachings of our Church make sense.  I love the freedom that is to be found when we assent and the clarity that the eyes of faith give.  I love that the Church respects our intellect enough to trust that we can understand these truths and with grace, follow them.  I love that there is so much dignity and reason and profound beauty within the truth that it safeguards.  More than anything I love that the truths She teaches lead us to the one who is Truth Itself. And that, after all, is the whole point of it all.

(The Catechism's specific paragraphs on animals can be found HERE in paragraphs 2415-2418.  The entire Catechism is available free online from the Vatican HERE or in print here.)  

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