Dancing with a Porcupine: Essential Reading for Foster and Adoptive Parents

dancing with a porcupineIf you are even thinking of becoming a foster parent, you need to read this book.

Like many people who decide to become foster parents, Jennie Owens and her husband, Lynn, were confident that love would conquer all. The trauma. The anger. The pain and loss experienced by every member of the family.

And like many such couples, they never knew what hit them. The isolation. The bone-chilling fatigue. The mental strain. Most of all, the unrelenting inner refraing that keeps on and on: Am-I-going-crazy?

I wish I had had this book fifteen years ago, when I needed to have someone explain to me why self-care is good for the whole family. Why “bonding” can be a subtle trap that prevents kids from becoming as strong and self-reliant as they need to be. Why getting a dog might be the one thing you really do need most. Most of all, why the hardest stuff really is the best.

But better late then never. Thank you, Jennie, for sharing your beautiful heart.

“A Walk in the Woods” with Mom

Every night before she goes to sleep, I read to Mom. Sometimes it’s a devotional like Jesus Calling or a chapter from her Bible. Sometimes I give her a “sneak preview” of one of the books I’m editing. (She particularly liked Forgiveness Makes You Free, by Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga.

If you liked the movie, read the book … Heck, even if you DIDN’T, read it anyway!

This weeks’ book du jour is from my favorites shelf, A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. For those who haven’t yet stumbled on this one (and who missed the movie), it’s a delightful romp about two middle-aged men who set put one spring to walk the two-thousand something miles of the Appalachian Trail.

Now, my mother and I have some history with this particular trail. When I was a Junior in Girl Scouts, and my mom was the troop leader, she and her friend decided to take a group of us to High Point State Park to practice our trail marking skills. She divided us into three groups: The first group was to mark the trail, second to follow the marks, and the third (also presumably following) would clean up as they went. We would all meet back at the car for Smores before heading back to the school parking lot to our parents.

Our third group fared best. When the second group managed to erase the trail marks in their eagerness to read the signs, the third group merely followed the path back to the car. An hour later, when the other two groups didn’t show up, the leader decided to take her group back to the school so their parents wouldn’t worry. Meanwhile, the first group had missed the park’s markings, and took a “shortcut” that put us on the Appalachian Trail. Two hours later, my mother was standing on the side of the road with eight middle-schoolers (group two had caught up with her), miles away from where we should have been.

This was long before cell phones (or Amber Alerts). As dusk fell, we emerged from the woods and found ourselves on the side of a (relatively) busy highway. And so, when a bearded gentlemen in a Volkswagen bus pulled up and offered us a lift back to the park … I guess some angels do wear flannel.

I don’t remember what happened after that, other than (a) we arrived back in the school parking lot three hours after we said we’d be there and (b) it was the last troop outing I remember my mother leading. Apart from missing the smores (the greedy guts in the first group ate them all), we were none the worse for wear. It had been an adventure, and one of the few clear memories I still have of my scouting experiences. Not all bad, right?

So … this week as Mom and I read this Appalachian Trail adventure,  and laugh over the antics of Bill and Katz, I’m happy to find that Mom is alert and seems to be enjoying it more than some of the other books I’ve tried. “I just love the Appalachian Trail,” she murmurs.

So do I, Mom. So do I.

Labor Pains in the Church

This morning the top story on my Facebook newsfeed was a post about the sudden resignation of one of my former profs at Sacred Heart Major Seminary — one of the few female professors, who had taught there for decades. God alone knows the full story, and the point of sharing even this much is to acknowledge my own grief and dismay over just how broken the Body of Christ has become. Color me naïve, but never in a million years would I have suspected just how widespread this sickness had grown.

go bravelyThen, mercifully, a bit of light came in the form of another post, this one by Ave author Emily Wilson. Like me, she has grown weary of the brokenness that has surfaced in the Church. In her post, “Labor, Delivery, and Our Sick and Sorry Church” she compares what is going on in the Church today with the painful realities of childbirth, particularly C-section:

There are evil men in my Church who have abused their power at the expense of thousands of innocent people whose lives are forever altered by such abuse, and  … spineless cowards … who have covered for these monsters and done absolutely nothing to protect the vulnerable except turn a blind eye and pretend to be exhibiting “leadership.” Any person with a brain would wonder why anyone would stay when the continued cover-ups of abuse and corruption go so deep and wide it is unfathomable.

But on that Sunday in the hospital, as I sat on my bed with my baby in a clear box on wheels next to me, and this woman held up the Eucharist, I received “His body, given up” for me. Those words I had spoken to my baby so many times the day before this Eucharist…they are the reason I stay.  

To be Catholic is to understand that pain and suffering is not without purpose when it becomes a purifying force, joined to the sufferings of Christ. In his March 2002 homily that was later picked up by the Los Angeles Times,  my friend Monsignor Clem Connelly observed, “What’s happening is good for the church,” he told parishioners. “Bad for its image, maybe, but good for the church. In some miraculous way . . . through the growing of the Holy Spirit in the church, we will find our way to a new day in which there is more honesty, courage, faith and accountability.”

That was more than fifteen years ago. So much has happened since that time, and yet his words continue to hold true. The pain and suffering of the faithful — innocent laity and clergy alike — are like the labor pains of the mother whose body has betrayed her, and must be splayed open in order to give that child life. “This is my body, given up for you.”

Give us strength, dear Jesus, not to waiver. And give us sustaining faith that we might never turn away from the scalpel of the Great Physician.

Fighting Scandals and Spirits

BlaiLike so many, I’ve been watching the unfolding of events surrounding the release of the PA grand jury report, and the subsequent response of laity and clergy alike. One aspect of the scandal that has been particularly tough to stomach is the revelation (to me at least) is the prevalence of sexually active clergy (both gay and straight) that has short-circuited the spiritual authority of the Church, reducing men who should have been warriors and spiritual fathers to weak and ineffectual CEOs fluent in empty assurances who would rather meet than lead. What are we to do? So far, even the Vatican has been distressingly silent on the matter. How are we to separate the sheep from the goats, and restore the moral authority of our leaders?

In the seventh chapter of Judges, the Lord gives Gideon the blueprint for raising the army that would conquer their feared enemies, the Midianites. “The LORD said to Gideon: You have too many soldiers with you for me to deliver Midian into their power, lest Israel vaunt itself against me and say, ‘My own power saved me.’” (Judges 7:2). After reducing the company of 22,000 soldiers to 300 stalwart, brave men, the Lord delivered into the hands of the Israelites not just the two princes of Midian, but all their troops as well. Reading this story, it seemed to me that a similar winnowing process is in store for the Church. The Lord needs not thousands of “career soldiers” who will let down their guard and seek to their own comfort, but a handful of faithful, vigilant warriors in order to take back the ground the enemy has occupied.

But how? It wasn’t until I picked up and began reading this book by Adam Blai that both the reason for this standoff and its path of resolution began to take shape. His book  Hauntings, Possessions, and Exorcisms (Emmaus) offers insights into the spirit world and articulates the rules that govern demons, malevolent spirits that roam the earth as fallen angels. Reading between the lines (he does not directly reference the scandals), Blai provides sobering insights about how we got to where we are today … and what needs to happen for our leaders to become instruments in the hands of God that will purify his Bride.

Reading this book, I was reminded of two spiritual principles that go to the heart of the current crisis: First, that darkness and hiddenness — including self-deception and rationalization — are among the devil’s most powerful tools. Second, it is those who are most ardently pursuing God who are most likely to draw the devil’s fire. Blai reminds us in his reflection on the book of Job.

The Book of Job has two clear lessons: God is all-powerful and cannot be hindered, and the Devil has to ask permission from God for everything he does. We see that both temptation and trials come from Satan, but it is God’s protection and decrees which are important, not the Devil… People, particularly people the most committed to God, are targeted by the Devil and God allows them to be tested. We see this play out in the life of Job and in the lives of many of the saints, who are often tested fiercely by the Devil as they draw closer to God. The end reward of this struggle is the restoration of all that Satan was allowed to wound, and abundant graces beyond that in the form of an eternal life in heaven with God. (p.112-113, emphasis mine).

So … what is the pathway to healing? Ultimately, lasting justice will not be found through our legal system (though this may be the means by which the full extent of the problem must come to light). The Bride of Christ, deeply wounded by the sins of her representatives, can never be healed through a temporal legal process, by compensating victims, or by placating the public. It will come only through the winnowing of the army of the Lord so that, purified and disciplined, they are ready to serve the Bride with humility and devotion, even unto death. They must seek out the wounded, and show them the mercy of God until they open their hearts to God for healing and to find the peace they seek through the grace of forgiveness.

Healing will come when those called to be on the front lines of this great spiritual war stand up and fight to take back the ground that has been occupied by the enemy. These warriors must embrace the principles of discipline and authentic love, and refuse to give the devil the tiniest foothold through moral compromise. Only then can they make themselves battle ready, and move forward to resist the enemy at the prompting of God himself, as we read in Ephesians 6.

Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all [the] flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph 6:13-17).

Come, Lord Jesus, pour forth your spirit, and renew the face of the earth. Give us courage to persevere, even to the shedding of blood, to bring your light to the darkest places of the world, and to restore the glory of your Kingdom. Jesus, we trust in you.

Mother Mary, embolden your children for battle, that we might imitate you by resisting evil and crushing the serpent’s head. Take every priest to your Immaculate Heart, and enkindle in each of them the courage of a lion and the humility of a dove. Cover them with your mantle, and protect them from evil. Give them hearts of purest love, the most powerful and irresistible force in the universe.

The Book Whisperer: On Parenting a Grieving Child and Inside Out

Book Whisperer

Grief takes many forms at different stages of a child’s life. I was reminded of this recently when Sarah and I went to the recent Pixar release, Inside Out, which gave us a memorable glimpse into the mind of such a child, and reminds us that grief doesn’t always involve visible tears.

[Inside Out: SPOILER ALERT] In one scene near the end of the movie, ten-year-old Riley has this exchange with her parents after her foiled attempt to run away back to Minnesota.

Riley: I… I know you don’t want me to, but I miss home. I miss Minnesota. You need me to be happy, but I want my old friend, and my hockey team. I wanna go home. Please don’t be mad.

[Riley’s mother and father stare sadly at their daughter]

Mom: Oh, sweetie…

Dad: Were not mad. You know what? I miss Minnesota too. I miss the woods where we took hikes.

Mom: And the backyard where we used to play.

Dad: Spring Lake, where you used to skate.

[Riley breaks down in tears]

Dad: Come here.

[Riley, her mother, and her father all embrace in a group hug, consoling Riley]

With adoption, this grief (a component of trauma) is not something the child can often process so neatly or definitively. In Parenting a Grieving Child (Revised Edition), Mary DeTurris Poust reminds parents that the intruding and often overwhelming feelings of grief and loss affect children differently at each stage of development. From tuning out to hyperactivity to snarking to fear of separation to self-harming, each sign of grief needs a different kind of gentle parental intervention and understanding.  Parenting a Grieving Child Revised

Gregory Flloyd’s daughter Rose, who was four when her brother John Paul died, came down to breakfast the day after his funeral and asked, “Where’s Johnny?”

“That just threw us across the room mentally. You wonder, How could she not get this? We weren’t mad at her, but it was simply amazing,” Gregory says. “She watched his coffin go into the ground yesterday, and she’s wondering where he is. I think that this is the mercy of God because I think the Lord draws a veil and lifts that veil a bit at a time according to what the children are intellectually and emotionally capable of dealing with.” (Parenting the Grieving Child, Revised Edition, by Mary DeTurris Poust, p.53-54).

This severe mercy of grief’s internal “pressure valve” is something foster and adoptive parents frequently encounter. If you are experiencing it right now, this Catholic guide to childhood grief offers simple, practical steps to help you navigate this valley of the shadow.

Lord Jesus, you grew up without ever laying eyes on your Father. Though Mary and Joseph were a constant loving presence, still that longing must have burned in your heart at times. Please pour out your grace upon my struggling child. Give me patience and gentleness, and the wisdom to “weep with those who weep.” Even when that weeping looks a lot like snark. Amen.

Lunch with Fiat #GraceofYes

When I picked up an advance copy of Lisa Hendey’s new book The Grace of Yes, the goldfish (“Fiat,” or “Yes”) whispered to me … “Say, I’ve never been on a walking tour of Notre Dame before. How about it?”

And so, to celebrate with the rest of Lisa’s MANY fans in and out of cyberspace, Fiat and I hit the Grotto, where we introduced Fiat to Bernadette, lit a candle, and took a selfie with OLoL (who had already gotten her advance copy, and enjoyed it very much.)

Fiat and Bernadette Fight lights a candle Heidi and Fiat

Congratulations, Lisa! Looking forward to your launch on the 18th!

Book Whisperer: Favorite Books on Prayer

Book WhispererThis week in Confirmation class we talked about the Rosary, and about how prayer is an important part of Christian life.

Here are some of my favorite books on prayer and the saints….

33 Days to Morning Glory by Michael Gaitley. This “do-it-yourself” retreat is a wonderful introduction to Marian devotion (including the Rosary) and Christian contemplative prayer. We used this little book last year at Ascension, and it was a wonderful experience.

groeschelI Am With You Always: A Study of the History and Meaning of Personal Devotion to Jesus Christ by Father Benedict Groeschel. This massive work is surprisingly accessible, and represents a decade in the life of one of the most beloved and respected Catholic teachers alive today. I am grateful to Ignatius Press for publishing it, and keep it on my “fire shelf” of important books for easy reference.

The New Rosary in Scripture: Biblical Insights for Praying the 20 Mysteries by Edward Sri. Dr. Ted Sri is a popular speaker and theology professor at the Augustine Institute. This book, published by Servant Press, is an especially thoughtful gift for Christians who are curious about this classic Catholic prayer tradition.

What are YOUR favorites?