Fonticulus Fides

Friday, February 27, 2004

Just not what Lent is supposed to be about...

Yesterday, I heard a radio commercial for a local seafood place that went something like this: "Don't let Lent get you down! Come to Midwest Seafood this Friday and indulge your tastebuds in fresh lobster, crablegs and all your other favorites..."

Okay, so maybe the owners of Midwest Seafood aren't Catholic or Lutheran or one of the other Christian denominations that observe Lent. But really! The point of giving up meat on Fridays isn't to feast, it's to fast.

Now I have to admit, pretty much any form of seafood seems celebratory for me, because I love it so much. And we pray a dear price for it out here in Nebraska, being so far from the ocean and all. A hamburger is far more of a humble meal than shrimp pizza or fish and chips, and only one-third the price.

When the practice of giving up meat and subbing in fish began, fish was "everyman's" food, and beef, pork, mutton and the like were luxuries. Because if you wanted to eat a steak or beef roast, you had to buy a calf, give it a home, feed it, make sure it had clean water, etc., butcher it, and then feast like crazy because there was no form of refrigeration to preserve any excess. Beef was rich man's food. But if you wanted to eat fish, you just went fishing.

Now it's the reverse -- at least it is here in the U.S. Huge cattle farms and factory-style processing centers make beef super cheap. Meanwhile, our lakes, rivers and oceans have seen the perils of modern technology and many are so polluted, you can't just cast a line and hope to catch a fish safe to eat...or catch a fish at all for that matter. So in most cases, fish and seafood have become the luxury items.

Canned tuna, now that is a penance as far as I'm concerned. And with it on special now for 33 cents per 6 oz. can, it's actually cheaper than beef for the moment. Though not by much.

Ever since we started observing Lent, I've struggled with the temptation to indulge in things like shrimp, scallops, lobster and so forth each Friday. And I have failed more than once. This year, it'll be easier to avoid because we're just scratching by financially. No way I can afford shrimp, etc., even on sale. But still, I pray that I'll be able to maintain the right attitude about Lent as I meditate on the Lord's sacrifice for our sake.

May this be a meaningful and spiritually productive day for you...


Prayers for Zooey, please...

Zooey is running a stubborn fever and threw up once yesterday. He's also complaining of headache and body aches.

The fever persists. We only dose when it's 102 degrees F or higher, and he's had one does of Tylenol and two of Motrin so far. Won't eat and is pretty resistant to fluids, so my main concern is keeping him from being dehydrated. I'm going to run out and get some popsicles this a.m. -- maybe that will help.

Also please pray that Laurel doesn't come down with it. I think I can handle Edyn being ill, but Laurel is only 7 weeks old and had enough of a rough start that I worry about her strength. Even with nursing.

Thanks. I'll be back when I can...


Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Lent begins...

Ash Wednesday. I know it's not the start of the liturgical year, but for the last few years, I've felt like my personal year with Christ has begun on this day.

I've been so frazzled, though, with the new baby and a toddler and everything else, that Lent sort of snuck up on me this year. I haven't made a good plan for Lent and I'm sorry for it. Particularly because I have to substitute the traditional forms of observation in a couple areas. Since I'm a nursing mom, I can't fast meals because it would compromise Laurel's food supply. So I need to substitute something and I don't have anything in mind yet.

I generally try to pray more, study more, meditate more on the things of God during Lent, but my life has been so crazed since Laurel, I haven't even been keeping up with the minimum I do on a regular basis. More days have passed without me praying the Rosary than with...I've even had trouble sitting down to eat, so meal-time prayers have been sketchy. I've tried to say prayers before bed as I nurse the baby to sleep and instead fall asleep myself.

In light of that, I suppose the best thing to do for Lent would be to work harder at getting the basics on track.

The parish sent out a nice little calendar with a "thought for the day" kind of thing and short Bible readings. I am going to start with that.

I feel kind of bad that my husband is doing the fast all by himself. Especially since I am such a voracious eater when I'm nursing. He doesn't mind so much, but I find companionship helpful in such sacrafices.


Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Courage and Cowardice

No, it’s not a long-lost Jane Austen novel. Just adventures in parenting around here.

With my old 1984 Toyota Corrolla on its last legs, we’ve been borrowing a minivan from my in-laws. It was parked on the street the other night and we were just sitting down to dinner when we heard a crash and a car pealing out. Some moron had rear-ended the minivan, taking out the bumper and back left quarter panel, then driven off leaving nothing but a bunch of broken pieces of his/her own car as a clue to his/her identity.

We called the police and filed a report, but we know there’s next to no chance we’ll be able to find the culprit. "Cowards!" my husband muttered angrily.

"What’s a coward?" Zooey asked. My husband explained that a coward was a person who did a naughty thing and then tried to run away or hide. He didn’t have to say that cowards were not welcome in our family – his tone made it abundantly clear.

Zooey was a little confused, though, so we spent several days answering questions like, "Do cowards have feet?" and "Do cowards live in houses?"

Well, last night, I had an opportunity to teach Zooey about courage and cowardice in a different way. I was feeding the baby (again) and Zoo was sitting at the dining room table cutting up scraps of paper. I’ve been encouraging more scissors work because he’s lagging a little behind in fine motor skills – mostly because he’ll use his left hand one week, then his right the next. I’m all for being ambidextrous (since I’m mostly ambi myself), but if he’s going to keep switch-hitting, he needs lots of extra practice time so he can get both hands up to speed.

Anyway, Zoo suddenly appeared at my side holding the scissors (correctly, with the blades clasped in his palm, pointed down), saying that something had happened. I looked at him and saw immediately that he had cut not one, two, but three holes into the Gap t-shirt he was wearing. Right in front, belly level.

I have to say he’s really very fortunate that I’d bought that t-shirt at a thrift store for $1.29. If I’d spent $10 (or more) on it, I would have had a major fit.

"You cut holes in your shirt!" I exclaimed.

Zooey burst into tears. "I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!" he sobbed.

He really was sorry. That was one of his favorite shirts – red, navy and white stripes. He wore it all the time, and it would easily have lasted him through the summer because it was still a little big on him.

"Maybe you can sew it up," he cried. I took a look at it, but the cuts were so close together and angled along the knit – no way to mend that effectively. So I had to tell him the shirt was ruined.

After he cried for a while, it was time for the lesson in courage. I told him he had to go down to the basement and tell Dad what he had done and that he was sorry and wouldn’t do it ever again. The tears regained full flow again, and Zooey desperately tried to talk me out of it, hiding the evidence by balling up the front of his shirt in his two fists.

"Look, Zooey," I said. "A coward tries to hide the things he does wrong. But a man stands up and says what he did and says he’s sorry. Dad and I want you to be a brave man, not a coward. So go down and tell Dad what you did. If you tell him yourself instead of letting him find out on his own, he won’t get so angry at you, because he’ll know you aren’t being a coward."

Zooey took one of those long, shuddering deep breaths that you do after crying for a long time and headed for the basement.

Just as he opened the basement door, I suddenly realized that my husband might actually get really angry, if he happened to have forgotten that this particular shirt was a cheap thrift-store purchase. So I called after Zooey, "Be brave! Tell Dad what you did and say you’re sorry, and he won’t get so mad at you." – loud enough for my husband to hear.

Poor little Zooey went slowly down the stairs and stood next to his father’s desk. "Excuse me, Dad," he began. And then he confessed the whole thing. My husband answered him in calm and measured tones, and Zooey was grounded from using scissors until Wednesday. Another apology and a hug, and it was all over with. You could tell from Zooey’s behavior, all smiles and relief.

I feel good about our parenting choices on this one. It’s an important thing, to teach our children to be courageous and to admit when they’ve done something wrong. It not only builds their character, I think, but it also prepares them for the confessional some day. I want my kids to know that admitting to our wrongs and making a good confession really does feel good. I want them to embrace the Sacrament of Reconciliation gladly, not to dread it. It’s good for the soul.


Wednesday, February 18, 2004

The Confrontation

So my mom called the other day, shortly after I blogged about Laurel's baptism. She gave me a little more information about my aunt & uncle -- including news that they had informed their daughter of their intentions ahead of time, how Susan is coping (not very well; she's terribly distraught as you can imagine), etc.

At one point, Mom said, "I hope you don't think badly of Aunt Diane and Uncle Bob for doing this." Which was pretty much an invitation for me to do as Fr. W. counselled and say what God had established as truth. So off I went on a wing and a prayer. I said, "Well, you know I'm coming at this from a faith that says we can't kill, not even ourselves." I tried to be measured in my words for the next part. "It's not that I think they're evil or anything," I said, "I'm just sorry. Sorry that they felt like they had to do this."

We talked a little more. Mom still in favor of the double-suicide. Me trying to focus on how God can work through suffering, how miracles still happen, etc. Mom brought up a weird tagent about Dr. Kevorkian and how great he was, and I said flat out that I was not impressed with him. I talked about how legalized euthanasia was dangerous, using her own mom (who was unable to speak after a stroke) and Terri Schiavo as examples.

I thought it went pretty well. Until yesterday, when Mom called again. I rarely get two phone calls a month from my mom, let alone two on consecutive days. So I knew something was up.

Turns out she woke up at 4 a.m. fretting about our conversation. She said she felt like she "participated in something negative about Diane and Bob" and since she just lost them, she didn't want to do that.

Now, I'm really hormonal these days, so don't rely on my judgement of things, but that just ticked me off. I get really tired of simply stating my opinion and not condemning any individual and then listening to the other person's opinion, only to have that person come back and say that I'm too judgemental. Why can't people just have opposite opinions?

I suppose because I mentioned God as my reason for believing what I do. Siiiigh. That'll get you a "judgemental" label every time.

So I said again that I was simply sorry that Diane and Bob came down to such a choice. That I don't consider being sorry either a negative or positive statement about their choice. I said I disagreed with their choice but I knew it was their choice to make.

And then I told my mom if she ever got to that point, that she could rely on us (meaning my husband and myself) for help. Doesn't matter how far apart we live, how far apart our beliefs are, how superficial our relationship is. We'll help.

I'm sure my husband wasn't too happy to overhear that (my parents have not been nice to him these 10 years we've been engaged/married). I'm not sure how my mom took it. I don't expect her to come to us in her hour of need ever, but I still felt compelled to offer my companionship and support if she needed it.

Anyway, I think my mom decided that I don't have an opinion about Diane and Bob's suicide. Which isn't accurate, but that's the way my mom works. She just ignores the parts she doesn't like and fills in the blanks with something that makes her happy. We ended the conversation with her asking if we (she and I) are okay with things now. And I said, "Just like we were before, Mom."

Which makes her happy. And me a bit sad. But then, I'm post-partum, so I'm not the most reliable judge of things right now.


Monday, February 16, 2004

Our First Cradle Catholic

You will all be happy to know that Laurel is safely "in the fold." Her baptism was yesterday. A low-key affair. Actually, another baby was baptized right before Laurel, and I thought it strange that the parish secretary hadn't mentioned to me that there was another baby to be baptized the same day. And also strange that they did the entire service for that baby before Laurel, rather than do them simultaneously.

Well, it turned out that Fr. Finn didn't know about Laurel. So after he was done with the first baby, he started to put everything away and my husband went up and asked what about Laurel. Fr. Finn just rolled with it and went ahead and baptized her.

Only her godparents were there (our sponsors from last Easter -- the only Catholic friends we really have at this point, still. At least IRL). My in-laws conveniently ran late and showed up at the house afterwards. My brother-in-law also came to the house, as did my best friend. My husband's sister called later to say she forgot all about it, and his grandparents didn't acknowledge the event or invitation in any way -- which I assume is because of hard feelings Grandpa has against Catholicism.

As for my side, they're all out of state, so we didn't bother inviting them. The family I used to work for was down with the flu, so they stayed away out of fear of infecting all of us. My best friend popped came to the house for cake and snacks, but skipped the baptism itself.

I was glad to have a nice little party for Laurel afterwards, but my post-partum hormones must be getting the better of me, because I am just so sad that her baptism was so poorly acknowledged. It started with Fr. Finn not knowing she was to be baptized (I have to call the parish secretary to find out what THAT is all about, because I know we agreed on the 15th). And then seeing this large group of family and friends gathered for the other baby, complete with misty-eyed grandparents and tons of photos snapped...followed by less than half the people coming to Laurel's party than I had expected. It's just got me down. It shouldn't, but it does.

Laurel didn't mind. She was a perfect angel through the whole thing and slept in various people's arms all afternoon.

Better news -- my brother-in-law has finally landed an engineering job. He'll be designing all types of fire trucks. Pretty cool, huh?


Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Well, it wasn't a gun and it wasn't a murder/suicide...

My aunt & uncle were found in the garage with the car running. My mom said her last conversation with her sister was normal -- that Diane was alert and communicative. So it looks like it was a mutual choice they made together. A suicide pact.

Doesn't make it any easier on those left behind.

Please in particular pray for my cousin Susan. She is all alone in this, with one brother long deceased and the other not to be found. Her husband and children are at home in Hawaii, and my mother has neglected to contact her this week, so she really has nobody to depend on as she works through all the details with the police, the attorneys, the government, the insurance company and what not.

My mom did manage to look up Diane's neighbor and inquire about the deaths, so that's how we know it was carbon monoxide poisoining. There will be no funeral. Bob and Diane said they didn't believe in anything beyond this life and so there was no need for a service. They wished to be cremated and have their ashes spread on their back lawn.

I haven't found an obituary anywhere on the web. Please, if any of you live in the Chicago area and have heard about this couple from Woodstock, IL (a Chicago suburb) and have either a news story or an obituary you could send me, I would much appreciate it. Their names were Robert and Diane Treese.


Monday, February 09, 2004

Thanks for all the prayers & encouraging words...

I'm still struggling a bit with how to phrase my feelings on my aunt & uncle's deaths. I called our parish priest today to bounce the situation off him. He agrees that I have an obligation to speak the truth about things when my mom starts in with how heroic and romantic it was -- okay, I just have to say how anybody can look at a murder/suicide and think it's romantic is beyond me. Especially when the murder victim was her own sister.

Now it's just a matter of figuring out what to say without coming off like a religious freak. There's one thing that was easier when we were evangelical charismatic protestants. Everybody expected us to say freaky extremist things.

All I want to do this time is say what God would want me to say in the way He wants me to say it. Suggestions from you folks would be more than welcome. At this point, I've got: "I just feel so bad that Uncle Bob got to the point where he couldn't trust God any more and felt like he must take things into his own hands."

Part of me thinks that sounds waaaay too judgemental. The other part of me thinks I'm soft-pedalling it. Fr. Witt said, "Call it murder -- that's what it was." But I'm afraid to.



Sunday, February 08, 2004

A Tragic End...

My maternal grandfather was married twice. His first wife, Mary, died suddenly when they were still practically newlyweds with a baby daughter. She had some sort of genetic heart ailment, and she was only something like 23 or 24 years old when her heart gave out while she was mixing a chocolate cake for my grandfather's supper. He lost not only his wife at that point -- her family swooped in and carried off his little girl, reasoning that he could not possibly raise a daughter alone. That was my mom's half-sister, Diane. (Mom was born several years later, when my grandfather married my grandmother in hopes of regaining custody of Diane, but that didn't work out.)

I found out a couple weeks ago that my aunt Diane was dying of pancreatic cancer. It's not uncommon for me to not hear of such things from that side of the family until the end is in sight. They're fairly reticent people who just don't share that kind of information.

Well, this evening, my cousin Susan called my mom to let her know that both Diane and her husband Bob were found dead at home today and there is a criminal investigation because it looks as though Bob killed Diane and then committed suicide. We won't know much until the investigation is complete -- it is entirely possible that Diane died a natural death and then Bob committed suicide out of his own despair. Which would be tragedy enough, of course. Susan did not reveal any of the details, so I don't know if there was a gun involved or not -- Bob was an avid gun collector, though, so my initial thought would be that a gun would be his first choice in such an endeavor.

I have been blind-sighted by so many different feelings I had to blog about it. I can't quite figure out how I should think or pray about the whole thing. My husband gently points out to me that all I can do is pray for their souls, and indeed I understand that and I have tried to pray accordingly. There is no way to be certain of their eternal fate, one way or another, and that is very sad. One can only rely on the fact that God is loving and merciful and incapable of making a mistake in regards to either victim. And of course, one must focus some prayer to those left behind, like my cousin Susan, her brother Robin (whom I believe was estranged from his parents for at least 25 years -- I hope they reconciled before today, but I don't know), my mother and so forth.

One of the things that troubles me most about the whole thing is my mother's attitude, which is a thinly veiled "Good for them!" sort of a thing. She says things like, "At least they're together and they're no longer suffering..."

You see, this is exactly the sort of thing I would expect from my parents -- a suicide pact at the very least. I have long anticipated that they would choose to commit suicide together, rather than suffer any long illness or the potential of one departing this world before the other. And though I'm not at all close to my parents, it bothers me tremendously that they would consider such an exit -- grand and "dignified" and romantic as they think it might be.

I don't know how to reason with such people. Especially when the attitude that "nobody should have to suffer" is so prevalent in our society. We have been trained to take a pill at the slightest headache, to run for the cough medicine at the first rumble in our throats, to dump our spouses at the smallest sign of weakness or unhappiness, etc., etc., etc.

I suppose only a true saint is strong enough to embrace suffering. I don't think I'm one of them. I fear suffering just as much as anybody else. I fear it more for my children and my husband than myself, but still, I think suffering is just about the worst thing that can happen. Everybody prefers a quick end, everybody dreads a lingering illness (or ongoing money trouble or relationship problems or whatever).

I am the chief whiner when it comes to "suffering." And I put it in quotes, because most of what I "suffer" is only what is common to all -- minor inconveniences, lack of time, feeling over-obligated, never having a moment to myself, lacking funds to go buy what I want to own, and so forth. Hardly suffering at all, and yet I complain about it like I'm on par with Job.

But in becoming Catholic, I have learned that suffering can be used for good. It can cleanse our own souls. And we can offer our suffering up for the sake of others.

I know my uncle Bob loved his wife and if he did take her life, it was only because he couldn't stand to see her suffer so. He told my mom as much last week when she went to visit -- he just couldn't handle seeing Diane writhe in pain. But if he did kill her, he took something away from her that God wanted her to have -- more time to grow closer to Him in her last hours of need, maybe. Or perhaps a chance to serve His kingdom by laying down her flesh to be tormented. Who knows?

And as for is always so tragic when somebody suffers such despair, they would take their own life. How small his faith must have been in those final moments, how distant God must have seemed to him that he could not have sought comfort in the hands of the Maker, how lonely and hopeless he must have felt!

I always think of these things too late to do anything about it. Not that I could have had any influence on Diane or Bob -- I haven't seen or spoken to either one of them in years. But there are many others with whom I might have some impact. I need to think ahead, of course, and not wait until they are desperate to bring such things up. I need to be frank about my faith in God, my understanding of suffering and so forth, all the time.

Honestly, I don't feel brave enough. But I must keep in mind that there are souls at stake here. My own parents might be just a few years away from making the same sort of decision. If I keep waiting to be honest with them about my faith, I might miss all opportunity. If I start now, I can share my faith quietly and honestly and pray that the years of gentle influence will take hold.

Already, I've screwed it up. When my mother started in with her jolly-good-for-them report of the tragic events, I didn't tell her what I thought. Well, I wasn't quite sure of what I thought, and I still need time to sort it out and phrase things as well as I can. But I should have said something that indicates I do not agree with my mother's approval of the way her sister and brother-in-law died.



Sunday, February 01, 2004

Sorry for the long absence...

Alas, computer time is hard to come by these days. Our clothes dryer broke, which was no surprise, since we bought our first one when Zooey was a week old and got our second when Edyn was around 2 weeks old. So this dryer conking out when Laurel was 3 weeks old should have been expected, right? The replacement dryer (a refurbished Maytag) arrived yesterday, and I am thrilled to not have socks and underwear drying in front of all the heat vents in the house for a change... Too bad we had to pay for the thing out of our savings meant to cover doctor bills. But my husband has a potential recording gig coming up in the next month that should save our budget -- a Christian worship team wants to do a short-run CD and my husband is just the guy to handle engineering & production for them.

We also now own a minivan. We had expert advice that said we could fit three carseats across in the backseat of the Toyota, but we couldn't make it work (and I've had 4 hours of training in carseat installation). So, the old vehicle went bye-bye and my husband came home with a 2000 Toyota Sienna. Car payments aren't bad -- actually, they are a bit cheaper than what we had before. But the guy at our Toyota dealership whom we buy from is a real character. He's always fumbling around for prices, quotes, financing rates, business cards, you name it. Most people would find him irritating, but we've found that working with him goes to our favor. We got the last vehicle for $4,000 less than anybody else said we could, and then he gave us a nice trade-in value and a decent price on the Sienna, so we're pretty happy.

Except for the fact that we now own a minivan. But man, with three kids all still riding around in carseats, you just HAVE to have a third-row seat.

Other brother-in-law celebrated his 31st birthday on the 24th. I always find it significant that he was born just two days after the Roe v. Wade decision, particularly because he was adopted by my in-laws. I wonder how many kids conceived just a few months after he was didn't make it?

His birthday was shadowed by still being unemployed and continuing difficulties with Heidi. She's taken a shine to motherhood again, which is a two-edged sword at this point. For one thing, she's enrolled their daughter in daycare here in town, which means my brother-in-law -- though he's home most of the time because he's still unemployed -- has much less time with Madeline. Certainly, Heidi is attempting to reduce his influence on their daughter. But the price -- not only is Maddie in daycare, Todd is alone and depressed. As my husband says, it's his fight and he's not fighting. Something about the continuing unemployment, I suppose, rocks his confidence and makes him feel like he can't stand up and say no dice, since Heidi does have a job. On the other hand, Heidi's renewed interest in being a mother again might be the source of her salvation from the shady lifestyle she's been living. Having Maddie around more often and having more responsibility might just make Heidi see the error of her ways and shape up. But in the meantime, I must pray for Madeline's protection, because who knows what the child is going through at daycare and at her mother's apartment.

My brother-in-law intends to put the house and acreage up for sale in March. I told him I was sorry to hear it, knowing how much he loved the place and how much work he has put in the renovation. But he told me he was sick of it. "The house was meant to be for the family," he said. "But that doesn't really mean anything any more."

I really ache for him. He had two job interviews last week...hopefully at least one of them will lead to a second interview and gainful employment soon.

As for us, we're fine. Well, Edyn has a cold, but other than that, we're all okay. Laurel passed her weight check on Thursday so no more weekly visits. And I'm finally getting my strength back.

I head kiddos crying upstairs so I'd better go rescue my husband...