Raising Catholic Teens, Rough Cut Version

So I have this artist who lives at my house and makes Bible verse paintings.

 

The one she hung in the bathroom is . . . topical:

So that’s all good.  We’re keeping Hobby Lobby in business with our canvas-buying habits, even more so since I just gave her a new commission: I need John 20:22-23 on the wall, stat.

What happened is my 13-year-old came home yesterday and told me about an apologetics argument she’d gotten into with a grown-up who wasn’t too keen on the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  She gave it her best, but she’s not a hardened veteran like her older brother is, and plus she was one-on-one.  We talked about some different ways to charitably approach the topic, and then I went to the living room and moved the dog bed and the cedar chest and pushed back the couch until I could fish out our New Catholic Answer Biblewhich we don’t ordinarily store under the couch, but I had seen it there when I was laying on the living room rug and I’d forgotten to rescue it then, so it was ready and waiting.  I left the sock and the plastic Easter egg for another time.

I couldn’t give her the actual citation, I just knew the verse was at the end of one of the Gospels since the moment occurred post-resurrection, so I sent her to check all the ends of the Gospels, but then I needed to go do carpool so I quick looked up the verse on Bible Gateway via keyword so that I didn’t leave her hanging.  I also handed her over my Precise Parallel New Testament, and explained that it was important to look up the verse in several translations so you don’t get blindsided if the person you are arguing with has another translation that phrases things differently.

“When in doubt,” I told her, “most Protestants will accept the KJV, so always check that.”

She did check the KJV, and noticed the use of the word ye.  I explained that meant Jesus was speaking to the group of apostles, not just one person, because ye is plural.  “The KJV is great for apologetics, actually, because you can point out the thou whenever Jesus is only speaking to one apostle.”

“Like ‘upon this rock I will build my Church,'” she said.  Yep, that’s my kid.  And that verse will be commission #2.

So this morning in the car on the way to school I quizzed her on what Bible passage shows Jesus giving the apostles the power to forgive sins, and she nailed it.  Probably I’m the only one who needs the art on the walls.  Also, she observed it must have been pretty weird for Peter getting a new name like Rock.  “Think about going around and everyone’s calling you ‘Rock’,” she said.

Yep.

So I’m proud of that kid, but here’s the thing: Just because you are growing up in a house with Bible verses on the walls doesn’t mean everything is swell in your little Catholic bubble.  And that’s why, when my eldest daughter came home the other night and was talking about her frustration with the Church, I decided I needed to write about it.

The things she had to say are things I hear from a lot of adults, too.  What she has to say are things that some people like to dismiss, but I showed my daughter the number shares we’ve already gotten, and that tells me and her that she’s not alone.   There are a lot of people out there like my daughter, people who want to be Catholic, but it’s not going so well. You can read about it at the Register: “What Good Catholic Teens Want from the Church”

Why We Homeschooled So Long

At The Washington Post: The decline of play in preschoolers — and the rise in sensory issues.  Reading this article was a moment of revelation for me.  Way back when #2 was about seven or so, I can remember walking down to the corner elementary school to play on the playground after hours, and we looked into one of the classrooms.  It looked ideal.  It practically called her name.  There was a wooden play kitchen, and child-sized tables, and loads of art supplies, and of course the wonderful playground just outside the big windows that filled the classroom with natural light.  For my little extrovert, this classroom was her people.

And I thought to myself: Maybe I should not be homeschooling this child.  Maybe I should send her to school.

Then I came to my senses: This was was the kindergarten classroom.  By the time you are seven, it’s rows of desks and standardized tests for you.  Not to mention we’d had dealings with one of the neighbor-kindergartners, and so we were acquainted with the long list of “reading words” that five-year-olds at the corner school were somehow expected to memorize and supposedly “read,” at an age when, developmentally, not all children are even capable of learning to read.  All four of my kids went on to become fluent, competent readers who read for both pleasure and information, but none of them would have been able to read that list of words at age five.  They were physically unable.  Since they were at home, instead of being embarrassed by their supposed stupidity, they received the kinds of pre-reading instruction that educational research shows actually helps.

Some of things that help are language-based — read-alouds and rhyming games and stuff like that.  Something else that helps kids learn to read is learning about the world.  This is important because you can’t make sense of words on a page if you have no idea what those words are referring to.  You won’t understand a scene taking place in a grocery store if you’ve never been to a grocery store.  You won’t understand a nature scene if you’ve never been out in nature.  Playing teaches some important reading skills. It teaches you about the physical world, because you are physically doing stuff. It teaches you about human interactions, because you are creating scenarios and living them out.  Playing teaches you to think, because all play requires imagination and initiative and problem-solving.

***

(If you want to understand the great Maria Montessori vs. Charlotte Mason wrestling match, the missing piece is this: Charlotte Mason’s audience had access to the real world; Maria Montessori’s students were kids who would otherwise have spent their day alone in a tiny working-class flat while their parents put in 14-hour shifts at the local factory.  Much of Montessori is about providing Mason when Mason can’t be had.  At The Register I’ve got up a piece that is an example of that kind of adaptation, in this case for teens.)

***

I’m still a big believer in homeschooling.  I agree with Ella Frech’s philosophy of education.  For various reasons, though, my kids at the moment like school.  As a homeschooler I always involved my kids in decisions about their education. I’d propose some possibilities for the year ahead, and the kids would give me feedback on what they wanted to learn or which approach they preferred of the choices I put on the table.  I was open to suggestions if they had ideas different than what I was planning.  When I held firm on a curriculum choice, I had solid reasons that I could explain to everyone, kids and spouse alike, and they could see why that particular choice was the one we needed to pursue.

So each of the kids, at various points and for various reasons, deciding to go to school has been a natural extension of that philosophy: If I was open to you choosing a different science book, why would I not also be open to you choosing a different science teacher?

The WaPo article, though, underscores for me why the youngest any child of mine has gone to school was fifth grade — and at that point, she happened to choose our local parish school where the early-grades teachers seem to have a pretty strong grasp of what early-grades learners need.  When you are little, you needs hands-on and interactive experiences.  Homeschooling let us do that.  Inasmuch as I’m happy with the school decisions we have in place right now, it is because the schools are, in their various ways, providing the bigger-kid versions of that for our children.

Anyhow, all this to say: Let your kids play.

 

Related: On the Forming of Young Christians

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Not my children, but mine play this game too.  Photo by Abi Blu, courtesy of Wikimedia, CC 4.0.

Chamonix – How to Become a Zipline Snob

For those just joining the fun, this is another installment from the Epic Vacation files. (For a different set of notes on Chamonix plus bits of England and Italy, with more kids of more ages, check out Bearing Blog September 2017.  Do you want to know what is cool? Being in Chamonix and getting tips from Erin Arlinghaus on fun things to do there.  We totally took some of her advice.  Read her blog before you travel.)  Today’s topic is spurred by a combination of waking up to snow this morning in Kentucky and seeing a friend’s zipline photos.

July in Chamonix is where people from not-snow-places can experience snow.  Down in the valley it was sunny and warm and the grass was green.  So we used our lift passes to go up to the reputed “snow garden” at the top of Grands Montets.

We weren’t really sure what we would get, since the tourist literature was a little thin on that point.

The lift lets you off above the snowline, and you can walk down many stairs to a saddle-area that is fenced off so you don’t accidentally fall off the mountain.  You can intentionally fall off the mountain if you want, or start on a bit of mountaineering if you prefer.  Or you can stay inside the fence and walk around in amazement and then get down to business building snow creatures.

People who are from snow wouldn’t be as excited about this.  We are not from snow.  This was exciting for us.

It is also a good place for photos, which would be exciting for most people.  As you are standing with your back to the lift and facing the mountain, this is the view to your right:

Straight ahead:

And to your left:

What the pictures don’t fully explain is just how steep the land slopes away, and how far.  You are looking hundreds of feet down to either side.

While we were puttering around inside the fence, busy snow workers extended a line of plastic fence up the slope of the mountain, paralell to a spine of rock.  Thus bounded on both sides so you don’t fall to your death, you can march up the hill and then slide down on your rear end (or whatever else you’ve got, but that’s what we brought).  This is yet another level of excitement for people who are not from snow:


As far as we were concerned, the day could not get any better.

Now if you look in the butt-sledding picture, you see a dark blob at the top of the fence line. While we were hanging out in the sunshine doing experiments with gravity, busy workers were extending a cable from the ski lift building down to that blob.  Because we saw mountaineers assembling and starting their trek from that point, we thought to ourselves, “They have made a convenient way for mountaineers to get all their gear to the start of their climb.  How nice.”

But then, as we were marching up the hill and sliding back down again, an exceptionally chipper fellow in his is 70’s or so, not a mountaineer by any stretch (and I have known mountaineers that age — he was not one), came tottering down the fenced hill looking all exhilarated.  “That was amazing!” he said.

Since we are not from snow, and also we hadn’t been paying close attention, we didn’t realize what was happening.

The busy snow workers had put up a zipline for humans.  Not just mountaineering-humans, but ordinary tourist-humans.

Furthermore, it was free.  (If you’d already somehow gotten yourself up this high, which is not free.)


You hike up the stairs back to the lift station, report to the top of the zipline, and they give you a harness and you climb onto a jerry-rigged platform and off you go.  No waiver.  No safety talk.  No discouragement of any kind.

The mother was sort of hoping that her children were too young, but the friendly worker assured me they were not.  So I settled for obsessively checking their harnesses and giving lots of instructions on how not to fall to your death on a zipline, assuming your equipment doesn’t fail.

Here is someone who is not my child on the zipline:


I couldn’t take photos of my own children, because I had to watch every moment with my bare eyes.  As you can see, it’s pretty much going through an expanse of nothing so vast that it is difficult for a person not-from-the-mountains to even appreciate how terrifying it is for a mother to trust that the busy workers have done their job properly.

But they did.

Also, I was very glad the fog had rolled in, because then you couldn’t see just how much air was between you and the ground.  In think in this situation, a partial view has its advantages.

We survived, but not unchanged.  Now, whenever people tell us their exciting zipline stories, we are very happy for our friends, but also in the awkward of position of wondering, “Would it be too obnoxious to share my zipline story?”

10 Best Alternatives to the Easter Bunny

J-P Mauro at Aleteia writes “Let’s stop with the Easter Bunny.”  Around here we treat the Easter Bunny the same way we treat Santa Claus, for exactly the reasons Mauro explains.  But what if that solution wasn’t enough for your family?  What if you really truly needed to ditch the Easter Bunny?  For example, say you had a weird disease that caused you not to love rabbits?

Luckily as an Easter People, we can rise above!  Here are the top ten alternatives to the Easter Bunny, loved by Christians around the world:

1. The Easter Beagle Take the ringing of the bells at the Gloria and multiply it by 10,000.  That’s the sound of Easter Beagles joyously proclaiming the Resurrection.  You won’t, of course, want to give your children real beagles for Easter, unless you want the Good News proclaimed every time the doorbell rings, the neighbor’s cat walks by, or a stray leaf blows through your yard.  PETA’s job would be a lot easier if we switched to the Easter Beagle.

2. The Easter Lion  And it symbolizes the Lion of Judah and no children have ever come back alive to report that the Easter Lion at the mall is actually just same lion whose day job is sleeping all afternoon at the zoo.  Ideal for families on the Paleo diet, because instead of bringing baskets of sugary candy, the Easter Lion brings home hunks of raw meat for the young cubs.

3. The Easter Chicken Perfect for people who always felt the Easter Bunny was appropriating avian culture.

4. The Easter Platypus If you want to solve the egg problem without giving up on the cute furry mammal thing.  Always good for a quick laugh when you are really straining for material in your comedy routine.

5. The Easter Polar Bear What can we say about the polar bear?  It’s adorable from a distance?  It’s an endangered species? It’s a deadly predator?  Sounds exactly like the way the media describes Christians!  You won’t find a more accurate symbol of Easter for the new millenium.

6. The Easter Cardinal These bright red birds with their cheerful disposition and playful habits symbolize everything a Christian is looking for in an Easter mascot: A bad pun on something to do with the Church, and also it’s the only bird at the feeder you know how to identify.  Caveats: Leaves sunflower seed shells everywhere, and may be objectionable to certain sports fans.

7. The Easter Ferret  Where some people see a creepy, dodgy predator, others see a loveable pet.  Ferrets are a perfect symbol of the Resurrection, because just when you think you’ve lost your little darling for good, he finally turns up again.  This is the perfect Easter mascot for those whose vision of the Heavenly Banquet comes with a soundtrack from WOW’s Top Hits of 1999.

8. The Easter Retriever  This winsome, loveable pal doesn’t hide your eggs, he finds them — over, and over, and over again.  You’ll have no trouble enjoying all eight weeks of the Easter season, though admittedly those plastic eggs are gonna be a little slobber-worn by the time Pentecost rolls around.

9. The Easter Dolphin Imagine you were the kind of Catholic who habitually prays for the repose of the soul of Douglas Adams. If that’s you, the dolphin symbolizes hope for a better world, the great questions of human existence, and the number 42.  An Easter Dolphin magnet on the back of your car adds depth and meaning to that faded Christian Fish you almost peeled off and then didn’t.

10. The Easter Groundhog  If the Easter Groundhog comes out and sees its shadow on Good Friday, that’s 36 more hours before you can legit break out the Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs.

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Illustration courtesy of Wikimedia, Public Domain.

 

Holy Week & Easter Indulgences – Do Something Useful for a Change!

Up the Register is a list of indulgences available to you this Holy Week & Easter.   You were probably going to do some of these things anyway.  Now with just a tiny bit of tweaking, your sorry self can get someone out of purgatory.

 

If the idea of indulgences makes you want to nail something to a door, Catholic Answers has all kinds of info here on why you don’t need to panic.

***

In other news, the Babylon Bee wins the Easter Myth-a-thon with “Confirmed: Resurrection Was Complex April Fool’s Day Joke That Got Disciples Tortured, Killed.”  Everyone’s just upside-down with laughter over that crazy where’s-the-body prank the disciples pulled.

Image by Caravaggio, Public Domain.

The Patron Saint of Fat-Shaming Victims

The man you want on your side Blessed Isnardo of Chiampo, feast day March 22nd. From Butler’s Lives:

Isnardo, we are told, in spite of the fact that he led an extremely ascetic life, was very stout, and physical exertion of any kind was a matter of much difficulty for him. . . . On one occasion a scoffer ridiculing the speaker’s corpulence shouted out, “I could no more believe in the holiness of an old porpoise like Brother Isnardo than I could believe that that barrel there would jump of itself and break my leg.”  Whereupon, we are told, the barrel did fall upon his leg and crush it.

He wrought other miracles as well, but that’s the one that everyone remembers.

 

File:09 Isnardo da Chiampo.jpg

Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia, CC 3.0

When You’re Failing at Lent

Here’s an actual thing I prayed Sunday morning at Mass: “Jesus, please help me stop failing at Lent.”

I wouldn’t say I’m a pro at Lent any year, but this year is hitting new lows in the spectacular failure department.  One of the particularly depressing features is that things I used to be good at in previous years — this prayer routine, that bit of self-denial, those important tasks — I’m not hitting them like the imaginary composite “perfect Jennifer” does in my head.  Pick the best Jennifer features selected over 30 years of Lents, feasts, and ordinary times, mash her together into a collage called “You Should Be Able To Do This No Sweat,” and then stand back and despair.

That’s not the point of Lent.

For those of us on the Lent Failure Track, this is the point: Discover again how much you need God.

Hidden Years in the Spiritual Life

Over the last week I’ve been proofing the paperback version of the new book.  For those who aren’t familiar with it, the book walks you through an examination of your life with respect to the four ways of loving God — heart, soul, mind, and strength. (There’s a review here — thanks Patrice!)  So here it is Lent and I’ve written this great retreat that is ideal for use during Lent, and I’m thinking to myself: If there is one thing Jennifer does not need to be doing right now, it is this retreat.

I have been thinking because my life is already very full, and I don’t need to think up new things.

But I’ve been proofreading the paperback version, and as a result I sort of ended up doing an abridged version of the retreat in my brain.  The abridged version consisted of me noticing select passages that scream JENNIFER LISTEN TO THIS!!!! and then me getting an extremely clear idea, after reading all the words in the book, of exactly what it is I need to be working on in my relationship with God right now.

What I need to be working on is not glamorous.  God asks us to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and some corners of those four parts of ourselves are not impressive.  I don’t think, “Wow, I would be SO HOLY if only I worked on _[thing that needs attention]_.”  Foundational issues don’t amaze.  It’s like a building.  The bulk of the technical genius is hidden from sight.

The Things You’ll Miss If You Don’t Have Them

Yesterday was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon around here, perfect for getting out for a bike ride or a walk in the woods or doing something fun with the kids.  Instead, the Superhusband spent his few hours of time off work replacing the toilet in the kids’ bathroom.

He could have gone out and done some Dad-activity that was easy for everyone to appreciate.  If you’re the dad playing soccer at the park or pitching balls, everyone’s like, “Wow! What a great dad!”  Replacing the toilet is like, “Wow!  Look where the toilet used to be!  It’s another toilet!”  You do all that work and there isn’t much to show, because that work is an investment in nothing happening in the future.  You’ll know the new toilet was worth it because: Nothing.  There’ll be a lack of toilet-related drama and that’s it.

Lent-Lite

That’s what it’s like in Remedial Lent.  Lent is falling apart because you need to make some adjustments.  A good penance will bore and annoy you, but it works.  You suffer a little, but mostly you just suck it up and do fine.  When you’re failing at Lent, something needs to change.  Probably something you don’t really feel like working on, because if you felt like working on it, you would have dealt with it from the outset.

So God is good, and He lets you try your thing.  And then you start failing at Lent, and when you finally break down and beg for help, God reminds you of the other thing.  The more important thing.   You can’t believe it’s the more important thing, because surely something as small as that, or as ugly as that, or as intrusive as that, isn’t what Lent is all about, right?  But you were failing at Lent.  It’s because God needs you to work on loving Him in this other area you’d rather not.

When you decide to give your whole self to God, you have to give the not-so-shiny parts too.

 

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Artwork: Christ in the Garden, Jeremias de Decker, 1656.  Via Wikimedia [Public Domain].

 

The Disconnect After You Realize Abuse is Happening

There are two extra torments after you realize you’ve been party to an abusive relationship:

  • You wonder why it took you so long to realize what was happening.
  • You wonder why other people can’t see what is now so obvious to you.

When you realize that you’d been duped for so long, you can end up blaming yourself.  Surely you should have seen the warning signs. Surely you should have been smarter than to get pulled along with all this.

When you experience the frustration of seeing so clearly what others are still denying, all sorts of other, complicated dynamics ensue.

You might second guess yourself: Are you the crazy one?  Are you blowing this out of proportion?  You’ll no doubt hear from others that yes, you’re just “being dramatic” or “making a mountain out of a molehill.”

You might feel betrayed by friends or family members who should be supporting you, but instead are loyal to the abuser and are denying anything significantly wrong has happened.

Unless your friends on the other side of the divide are truly magnanimous, you will probably lose friendships.  Even if you are still civil to each other, it won’t be the same as before.

It is quite likely that you who have called out the abuse, or who have merely refused to cooperate with it, are suddenly under attack.

***

All these things are the fallout of the nature of abusive relationships.

By definition, the abuser has sought to normalize his or her behavior.  The only way abuse gets perpetrated in the first place is by the abuser somehow convincing people the behavior is acceptable.  One of the reasons we don’t recognize abuse when it happens is that the abuser has done his or her best to make sure we don’t recognize it.

Another reason is that abusive behavior falls on a continuum.  Just how far over the line someone has strayed is not always easy to discern.  It can be hard to judge where on the continuum you’re sitting.  We all sin. We all have our weaknesses.  We have to live with one another, and it’s normal to show mercy and give the benefit of the doubt.

And finally, false accusations do happen.  We who are honest rightly want to avoid jumping to conclusions and criminalizing imperfect but not predatory behavior.  Those who are dishonest will in turn exploit every weak spot to cultivate doubt about the seriousness of the abusive behavior, and to cast the critics in the worst possible light.

Oh and then there’s the fact that those who have recognized the abusive behavior are themselves flawed persons who don’t necessarily know the best way to handle the situation.

***

So all this stuff happens.

It is horrible.

But it’s not something you can blame yourself for.  It’s just part of wrestling with the beast.

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Artwork via Wikimedia, Public Domain

Have I Got a Lent Book for You!

You might be thinking to yourself right now, “What I need is a very thorough self-examination of my spiritual life and my relationship with God, and I really, really, want one that’s available on Kindle.  With a Caravaggio on the cover if you could, please.”

In which case I’ve got just what you need.

Lord, You Know I Love You!: A Discernment Retreat Using the Great Commandment by [Fitz, Jennifer]

Lord You Know I Love You: A Discernment Retreat Using the Great Commandment is the kindle version of the retreat I wrote back in 2013 for the Pee Dee Council of Catholic Women.  It goes through the four ways of loving God as outlined in the Great Commandment, and allows you to evaluate yourself, your ministry, or your faith formation class and see how things are going.  The goal is to help you choose one thing that needs your attention most.

As I was going back through editing it for publication, two things impressed me:

  1. It’s a really good book.  My goodness who wrote this thing??
  2. I still need the stuff that is written here.

This was for me, yesterday, when I was totally failing at Lent:

It’s tempting to try to tackle every one of our weaknesses at once.  We want to be fixed, and we want to be fixed now!

And yet God gives us a life to be lived out in time. We are meant to grow and change bit by bit. We’ll have times when we grow very quickly, and other times when we seem to be in a holding pattern.

Sometimes it seems like we aren’t getting anywhere in the spiritual life.  In those times, the very act of battling against ourselves – however unsuccessfully – can be building up an invisible strength that will bear fruit later.

When we try to take on too many battles at once, we end up spread too thin. We’re unable to fight well.

And a whole lot of other stuff, too.

The Kindle version is out now, and a paperback edition is coming soon.