About heidihesssaxton

Heidi Hess Saxton is an acquisitions editor and founder of "A Writer's Life" and "Life on the Road Less Traveled," resources for Catholic writers, caregivers, and parents of adoptive, foster, and special needs children.

Thanks, Steubenville! We’ll be back!

Dorms like an Amazonian rainforest. Bad-boy priests. Horrible food. “Second-class citizens” with mobility issues forced to sit alone while their friends enjoyed the party. Worst of all, No Diet Coke.

I heard all these things ahead of time, and signed up as a chaperone with more than a little anxiety. Oh, and a fan, a cooler full of DC and enough Little Debbies to satisfy the juvenile cravings of a whole army of ravenous teens.

I’m returning with most of it, and the fan stayed in the van. Turns out St Thomas More Hall had both AC and a Coke machine. (And apparently most teens now eat Rice Kristy Treats. Who knew?)

To be sure, there are those whose FSU experience was memorable for the wrong reasons. You can’t have a light on a hill without evil trying to encroach, both from within and without, and social media gives that minority a powerful voice.

But there is often more to the story, and I found it here. Children with sensory issues offered earplugs and a quiet space outside to recover from sensory overload (and cots at first aid to lie down if needed). And about two dozen manly, fired-up priests and just as many beautiful women religious visibly present to the youth throughout the weekend.

Yes, the food was mass produced and … filling. Loads of carbs. But you could grab a sandwich or a latte at the food court. And interminable food lines were sweetened with snow cones.

Dorm rooms? Bathrooms clean, with separate rooms for chaperones and students. And next year leave the fan and cooler and bring a floor lamp, an extra battery pack, and a quilt.

Here is the most important thing. Anyone who doubts the future of the Church in America needs to sign up to chaperone next year. Yes, they were silly and loud. But they were also open to what the Spirit wanted to give them. Some of them must have been puzzled (or even unsettled) to see and hear the exuberant worship, and to witness the spectacle that is a FSU youth conference.

Was it a bit regimented? Absolutely…. you can’t host 2000+ teens plus chaperones for a weekend without some rules to keep kids where the action is, and to make sure everyone eats, sleeps, and gets the good seats at least once during the weekend. FSU has been hosting these things for 30+ years, I’m told. So when the rules pinched a bit, I rolled with it. Or tried.

And these kids surprised me. Offered a choice between a session on heaven, hell, and purgatory … outside in the heat; or Dating 101 in air conditioned comfort, all but 1 of our kids chose… purgatory. Wow!

Thanks, Steubenville. We will be back.

Notes for next year.

Bring a sweatshirt and hoodie for bed. Just in case.

Leave the snack bag.

Bring headphones. And a sense of humor.

Bring extra chargers. The kids never have one.

Don’t forget the bug spray.

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Unhand the Cheerios…

cereals in basket

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Both kids were scheduled to work this morning, so we went as a family to the five o’clock Mass at St. Pius. It was the first time we’d gone there together — gorgeous church, lovely organ music, and the homily was short, sweet, and … a little crunchy.

The priest observed that every parish in America sweeps up at least a pound of Cheerios each weekend — a kind of divine detritus (my words) left behind by parents of small children who just want to be able to pray for five minutes. Then one day as he was watching his two-year-old nephew grow frustrated over trying to play with a truck with two fistfuls of Cheerios, he said, it made him realize that Cheerios are the perfect metaphor for human desire. “God holds out the truck, and we won’t let go of the Cheerios long enough to take it. But that’s what God is asking … he wants you to let go of the Cheerios,” he explained.

I looked at my mother, sitting so intently next to me. It has been only about three weeks since our priest gave her the anointing of the sick while she was in the hospital with pneumonia — for her, it was a sacramental windfall that included first confession, first Eucharist, confirmation, and last rights. Thank God, she recovered … and has been eager to go forward to receive Jesus each week. Her eyes just light up with so much joy, you never would have guessed what a miracle it is that she was standing there at all.

I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say that I was brought up believing Catholics aren’t “really” Christians. So to see God work it out so that my mother goes forward to receive Jesus each week is a little … strange. I’d had two aunts (one on either side of the family) who had married Catholic boys, and it didn’t end well.  (Interestingly enough, one of them — my namesake — wound up tending to my grandmother in her later years. I so admire her.)

All I know is that, for the past two years, mom has been going to church with us each week … and remaining in the pew as the rest of us went up. She would say all the prayers, and sing along to all the hymns, and listen intently as our Nigerian priest would break open the Gospel. At night I would tuck mom in and read to her from some of the books I’m currently working on, and one day she pulled out one called Catholic and Christian by Dr. Alan Schreck … and we started reading THAT.

Next thing I know, she’s telling Fr. John that she wants to be a Catholic. I’m not sure exactly why. Maybe it’s because her Catholic daughter rescued her from memory care prison. Maybe it’s because I refused to give up praying with her for her marriage. Maybe it’s because … well, maybe it’s because we were both ready to let go of the Cheerios, and hold out our hands for whatever God wanted to give us.

And so we did. And you know what? It was even better than we thought.

If You Give a Mom a Cookie …

amazon-if-you-give-a-mouse-a-cookie(With a thankful nod to Laura Numeroff.)

If you give a mom a cookie, she will sit in a chair and try to eat it in peace.

As soon as she sits, she will look in the kitchen and see Ravenous Teen left the milk on the counter. Again. So she sets her cookie on the table and goes to the kitchen … Where for the next ten minutes she wipes counters, empties dishwasher, and puts dinner in the crock pot. And, yes, gets herself a glass of milk. With a shot of Bailey’s.

The scent of Bailey’s inexplicably reminds her that she left of load of laundry in the washer downstairs … yesterday. Hoping against hope that it has not turned, she goes downstairs to the laundry room and trips over eight piles of clothes that Messy Teen has transferred from the floor of his room to the floor of this one. Muttering darkly under her breath and rubbing her stubbed toe, she rotates the wash and calls Messy Teen to fold his own danged clothes and take them upstairs. Now it is his turn to mutter darkly under his breath. Mission accomplished.

Exiting the laundry room, her eye falls on her desk, the laptop hopefully poised for action. Sorry she left her cookie (and the Bailey’s milk) upstairs, she sits down and proceeds to grind out 27 email responses, 4 tip sheets, and a proposal review before her tummy rumbles so loudly it scares her. And she remembers she hasn’t had anything to eat today but a few cookie crumbs. And her granola bar stash was discovered by Ravenous Teen 2 last week, and she hasn’t had time to restock. So back upstairs she goes … in time to see her elderly mother’s daycare bus pull up to the drive. Rats. Rats. Rats.

Helping her mom inside, then to the bathroom and back to her chair for snack time, she narrowly escapes slugging her husband when he comes down and asks with great feeling, “What’s for lunch?” Desperately she looks around for a teen to take over sandwich making responsibilities, and sees that Sneaky Teens heard the sound of work and barricaded themselves in their rooms, playing music loud enough to shake the house and wake the dead. “Just a minute, dear.” And she spots a bit of reprieve on the table, which the dog appears to have nibbled around the edges. “Here … have a cookie.”

Thankfully, he did not get the Baileys.

The 25th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide: How to Forgive the Unforgiveable

Twenty-five years ago today, in the landlocked African country of Rwanda, over a million people — primarily Tutsi, including women and children — were slaughtered in just 100 days. In the “land of a thousand hills” the blood ran like rivers, as bodies piled up or were tossed into unmarked mass graves. In many cases, there was no one left to bury them. For Fr. Ubald, more than five years passed before he learned the fate of his mother and other extended family members — when the man who had given the order for their execution stepped forward to beg his forgiveness, then took him to the place they had been buried.

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Fr. Ubald at his family’s memorial

His family home was destroyed, obliterated by crops that his former neighbors had sown in an effort to eradicate the memory. “They could not look at us, could not speak to us,” remembers Fr. Ubald. “They had too much shame.” And yet, in time, they found peace. They discovered, as Fr. Ubald so often tells people, that Forgiveness Makes You Free.

25 Father meets neighbors 2016 PG3A3670

What is most remarkable about Fr. Ubald is not only the fact that survived, or that he was able to forgive and show mercy to those who had committed such unspeakable crimes. What is most remarkable is the spiritual legacy that he has built since then — a beautiful retreat center called the Center for the Secret of Peace.

51 Center of Peace Lake Kivu IMG_4486.jpg

Since 2009, Fr. Ubald has expanded his ministry to the United States at the invitation of his friend Immaculée Imibagiza, author of the NYT bestseller Left to Tell. He travels all over the world, inviting people to open their hearts to Jesus, to let go of old burdens, and to receive the healing Jesus wants to give them. If you would like to experience this for yourself, you can find his speaking schedule here. Or you can get a copy of his new book here.

God bless you!

Day 28: Sacrifice

beautiful womanBegin with the Prayer of Abandonment

While Lent is a penitential season, the Christian life is an ongoing cycle of feasting and fasting, of letting loose and offering up. And so, we imitate most perfectly the love of God when the sacrifices we make willingly and joyfully, not reluctantly or resentfully. Even when the other person isn’t the least bit grateful, the little rat. Perhaps especially when he doesn’t even notice.

Does this sound unrealistic, even inhuman? Isn’t it only natural to want to be appreciated and thanked for the things we do? What about those times when your spouse sidles up to you after a L-O-N-G day of wrangling children, chores, and chow, and hints that he’s up for an extra helping of dessert? How does love respond?

Yes, you could ask HIM to make the sacrifice. There are two of you in the marriage, and you both need to make sacrifices for each other. Yes, you need your rest. Yes, his pitching in more would help the “frisk” level go up, perhaps.

Then again, you’re the one who signed up for the challenge, to “abandon yourself to love.” So . . . what about tonight? (If for some reason sex is off the table, what other little sacrificial gesture could you make to let him know how much you love him?)

Just be sure he knows it’s not an “April Fools.”

 

 

Day 27: Respect

Start with the Prayer of Abandonment.

Thought for the day:  One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”  Bryant McGill

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. … some would say it’s the currency of family life, shaping the daily encounters between parent and child, and between spouses and siblings.

Some days the “love banks” can get a bit depleted. My husband and I are raising two teenagers with emotional special needs, and it can be hard not to react strongly and forcefully when one of the kids express a point of view that, on the face of it, seems rude or disrespectful.

The thing is, I’ve noticed that I tend to be most reactive when my own inner resources are running dry due to insomnia or hunger or stress. Like the person onboard an airplane needs to put their own oxygen mask on first before assisting others, maintaining respect within the family often involves tending to our own needs as diligently as we care for the rest of the family unit.

Although the Scriptures tell us to submit to God (James 4:7) and to honor each other within the family order (1 Peter 3:1-7), the respect we offer a spouse not only honors the other person, but elevates our own dignity as well. Like Mother Teresa, when we feel least loving we can look into the eyes of our life’s partner and see “Jesus in distressing disguise.” Each time we do this, we shine with “imperishable beauty of a gentle and calm disposition, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:4).

“Oh, Jesus, you know how hard it is to hear the hard words of those we love. Help me, just for today, to practice gentleness, kindness, and respect. Help me to meet today’s challenges with grace. Jesus, help me to see you in the eyes of my family today.”

Day 26: Quiet

sleeping-dogsBegin with the Prayer of Abandonment

Having grown up in a home without television, it isn’t difficult for me to imagine the benefits of a home without incessant media exposure. As a child I read all the time, and my grades were top-notch. On the other hand, it was harder for me to connect with my peers — and as an adult I watch far more television than is good for me. And so, I’m a fan of moderation. Perhaps especially within marriage.

Do you get enough quiet in your day? (“Enough” being the amount that leaves you able to hear yourself think, or to have uninterrupted conversations each day.) How do you like to spend that quiet time?

Just for today, turn off the television. Read a book together. Pull out a board game. Find something to keep you entertained (ahem) that doesn’t require electricity. Have fun!