A Beachy Christmas: Fun Friday

Fun FridaysAs you are reading this, Craig and I are skipping through the Magic Kingdom with the kids and our uberhappy nanny, whose life dream has been a trip to Disney World. Today, it’s much more low-key . . . still, it’s a beachy Christmas. No snow in sight — and that’s just fine.

beach walkersIt’s the happiest day of the year . . . for everyone but the lizards. We count 24 skinks between Mom’s trailer and the beach (a five minute walk). The kids respond very differently, Sarah shrieking and Christopher excitedly trying to scoop them into a coffee can, to take them home. (No luck. Rats!)

Tomorrow we’re going to watch the sun rise on the beach — I have visions of cupping a mug of hot tea and murmuring Christmas carols. Most likely the kids’ version will win out, pitching seashells at each other and shrieking until we relent and head back to the house to open gifts.

Christmas traditions, like all family traditions, look a bit different from the outside than the inside. The “keeper of the memories” (usually the mom) envisions beauty, sweetness, and solemn joy — which is a lot easier to pull off if no actual children are involved. But then, the whole point of making these memories is not the Kodak moments they create in the family album, but the sense of love and security they create in young hearts.

So . . . this year I’ll be setting aside my wonderful images of Norman Rockwell tableaus full of Christmas carolers in perfectly matched scarves. We’re going to go chase lizards. We’re pretty sure Baby Jesus likes those better, anyway.

FUN FRIDAY: Briny Breezes, Florida. We’re not going to be going many places this week — just hanging out at the beach. My mother-in-law says if you want a good place for fish, check out the “Prime Catch” — they make great sea bass!

Lessons Learned on Marriage: Celebrating Fifty Years of Love

John and Sandy Hess, December 8, 1962

John and Sandy Hess, December 8, 1962

This weekend my parents are celebrating fifty years of wedded bliss, and all their girls are descending from the four corners of the country (NH, PA, GA, and WA) to join the festivities.

Fifty years of marriage is an achievement by any standard, and what is even more remarkable is that they faced so much hardship within the immediate family circle during that lifetime. Military deployments, at least ten interstate moves (each of us was born in a different state), my sister’s childhood bout with cancer, my prolonged recovery from a car accident in 1983, financial setbacks, unwed pregnancies, countless hospital rooms, cancer, diabetes, stroke . . .  Then, as each daughter left home, they began to provide backup for the little emergencies that blew into our lives like so many dark clouds.

How did they do it? Here are some of the things I learned from my parents about marriage.

1.  Faith and family are inseparable. They go to church, together, at least once a week — and usually any other time the church doors open. What’s more, they always gave generously of their time and talents, whether singing in the choir, teaching Sunday school, running VBS, or making sandwiches for the after-school program. Their example stayed with us — each of us in turn found a place to serve; missionary projects, bell choir, domestic violence ministries, and other kinds of service.

2.  The best way to forget your troubles is to help someone else. The year my sister had her leg amputated, my parents invited an exchange student to live with us. And when the doctor bills piled up and money got tight, instead of sending Jaana away, my parents hosted her parents at our home — with the help of seven boxes of groceries that mysteriously materialized on our front porch one Sunday morning while we were at church.

3.  Don’t forget to have fun. Someone once told me that in the Church liturgical calendar, there are six feasts for every fast (such as Advent or Lent). My mother was especially good at finding inexpensive fun for us: cookie baking, road trips to local parks, camping at the lake, and knowing how to stretch the soup or whip up a pan of biscuits to accommodate an unexpected dinner guest.

This year, we’ve had ample opportunity to put these principles into practice, and I’ve discovered how important these things are in a good marriage — or even a struggling one. When times get hard, you can look for reasons to leave . . . or reasons to stay. With God’s help, my parents have amply demonstrated, a couple who is determined to persevere . . . will find the reason they need to make it work.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.

From your grateful daughter,



When a Pet Dies: Letter from Heaven

My mother-in-law passed this on to me today. I warn you … it’s a tear-jerker. So go grab a tissue and a cup of tea, and settle in. This information might come in handy one day! (If anyone can help me with the original source, I’d be happy to post it.)
Our 14 year old dog, Abbey, died last month.The day after she died, my 4 year old daughter Meredith was crying and talking about how much she missed Abbey. She asked if we could write a letter to God so that when Abbey got to heaven, God would recognize her. I told her that I thought we could so she dictated these words:

Dear God,
Will you please take care of my dog? She died yesterday and is with you in heaven. I miss her very much. I am happy that you let me have her as my dog even though she got sick. I hope you will play with her. She likes to play with balls and to swim. I am sending a picture of her so when you see her. You will know that she is my dog. I really miss her. Love, Meredith.

We put the letter in an envelope with a picture of Abbey and Meredith and addressed it to God/Heaven. We put our return address on it. Then Meredith pasted several stamps on the front of the envelope because she said it would take lots of stamps to get the letter all the way to heaven.
That afternoon she dropped it into the letter box at the post office. A few days later, she asked if God had gotten the letter yet. I told her that I thought He had.
Yesterday, there was a package wrapped in gold paper on our front porch addressed, ‘To Meredith , ‘in an unfamiliar hand. Meredith opened it. Inside was a book by Mr. Rogers called, ‘When a Pet Dies.’ Taped to the inside front cover was the letter we had w ritten to God in its opened envelope. On the opposite page was the picture of Abbey & Meredith and this note:

Dear Meredith,

Abbey arrived safely in heaven. Having the picture was a big help. I recognized Abbey right away.

Abbey isn’t sick anymore. Her spirit is here with me just like it stays in your heart. Abbey loved being your dog. Since we don’t need our bodies in heaven, I don’t have any pockets to keep your picture in, so I am sending it back to you in this little book for you to keep and have something to remember Abbey by.

Thank you for the beautiful letter and thank your mother for helping you write it and sending it to me. What a wonderful mother you have. I picked her especially for you. I send my blessings every day and remember that I love you very much.

By the way, I’m easy to find, I am wherever there is love. Love,God

Save Our Children!

A wise man once said, “The greatness of any civilization is measured by the treatment of its weakest members.” America has always been a great nation. We enjoy unrivaled personal and civil liberties. And yet, we are now a nation in undeniable decline. How did we get here?

To put it simply, we have forgotten ourselves, where we came from and where we’re going.

* We have abandoned spiritual principles that brought us greatness, turning “freedom of religion” into “freedom from religion,” poisoning decency and sacrificing the common good in the name of “tolerance” and “individualism.”

* We have robbed our children of their right to take their place as vital members of society, having abandoned and neglected them on one hand, and and overindulged and under-disciplined them on the other.

* We have wasted our natural abundance and vast resources, allowing those less fortunate — both around the world and in our own backyard — to die of poverty.

* Above all, we have sacrificed millions of young lives — both born and not-yet born — in the name of freedom.
Today my friend Sarah posted this YouTube video that is a must-see for any woman — especially any African American woman — who has ever considered abortion. It is profoundly ironic how the abortion industry has waged “Black Genocide,” legally, by swathing itself in red-white-and-blue bunting and calling it a “choice” rather than a “child.”

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Our two Democratic presidential contenders have the blood of thousands and thousands of preborn children on their hands. Senator Obama has gone so far as to argue in favor of actually denying medical care to children who survive abortion. (For more information about “Democrats for Life,” click here.)

Five hundred thousand children across our nation are being herded together into group homes, or are kept in permanent “limbo” without a family to call their own. (Here is information about how to become a foster or adoptive parent.)

Four hundred thousand children are in a state of embryonic suspended animation, abandoned by the very people who were willing to go to any lengths to have a child — even if that meant sacrificing their own flesh-and-blood. (If you would like to rescue one of these little ones, click here for more information on the “Snowflakes” program.)

In the first four centuries of Christianity — when the Catholic faith was considered a dangerous Jewish sect, and our leaders were routinely rounded up and executed by the Roman State — history records that thousands of Roman citizens nevertheless converted because of the witness of the lives of these ordinary Christians. In particular, they were admired for tending to those in prisons and hospitals … and because of their efforts to rescue and raise as their own countless abandoned Roman infants (infanticide was legal in the Roman Empire up to eight days of age).

There is a lesson for us here … The question is, how will you respond?

Addiction in Children: A review of “Beautiful Boy” by David Sheff

Standing in line at StarBucks for my weekly vanilla steamer, I was preparing to fortify myself for the “parent guidance” meeting when I spotted beside the cash register a shelf display of David Sheff’s Beautiful Boy. Something made me pick up a copy.

Like many adoptive parents, I frequently think about the whole “nurture vs. nature” conundrum. When all is said and done, how much will we be able to influence our children and the choices they make … and how much is genetically predetermined? Will they be forced to pay with their own lives the tab for the choices their first parents made?

According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, children raised by parents with substance abuse issues are in the “highest risk group” of those who will themselves become addicted. Even if these children are placed in other families through adoption or foster care, they are between two and nine times more likely to become addicted than their peers.

I asked the counselor if this means we should clear out any and all alcohol from our shelves, to which she replied, “Well … that is one approach. However, it is also possible that it could be a good thing for them to see a model of responsible alcohol use.”

Beautiful Boy gave me some insights about addiction that parents of adopted children (perhaps especially those from the foster care system) do well to keep in mind. While it comes from a unabashedly secular POV (the author equates God with conscience on p.154), he also recognizes the futility of trying to control the uncontrollable, whether the toxic impulses are our own or our children’s.

Parents of the addicted must come to terms with their own relative powerlessness, with the sheer irrationality of the disease … and with the reality that, in the end, the only person they may be able to save is themselves. Not a comforting thought, even when you do believe in God. And yet, even faith offers no temporal guarantee. We can trust God for the outcome … but in the end, to paraphrase the great C.S. Lewis, “I don’t pray to change God’s mind. I pray so that change may come in me.”

This inability to prevent one’s children from destroying themselves is a sobering thought, one that is absolutely counter-intuitive for most parents. Nor is it exclusively the realm of substance addiction. There is a sickness of spirit, a woundedness of the will, that can take hold of a child in any number of forms. The daughter caught in the violent cycle of domestic abuse, the son addicted to porn, the teenager who struggles with bulimia or anorexia. In some cases, even religion can become an addiction when the ritual becomes a compulsion devoid of relationship. Sheff writes:

“More than anything, parents want to know at what point a child is no longer experimenting, no longer a typical teenager, no longer going through a phase or a rite of passage. Since it’s unanswerable, I have concluded that I would err on the side of caution and intervene earlier rather than later — not waiting until a child is wantonly endangering himself or others. Looking back, I wish I had forced [son] Nic — when he was young enough so that legally I could have forced him — into a long-term program of rehabilitation. Sending a child — or adult, for that matter — to rehab before he is ready and able to understand the principles of recovery may not prevent relapse, but from what I’ve seen it cannot hurt and may help. In addition, a period of forced abstinence during the formative teenage years is better than that same time spent on drugs. Forced treatment in a good program accomplishes at least one immediate goal: It keeps a child off drugs for the time he is in treatment. Since the less someone uses, the easier it is to stop, the longer he is in treatment the better” (p.312).

In the end, however, we can control only so much. In the end, each person must choose the path he or she will follow, the kind of life he or she wants to live. Recovery — the healing of the will — must come from within. And so, at some point parental intervention involves the deliberate release of a loved one to work out his or her own destiny, to reclaim life under his or her own terms. This kind of relinquishment is the ultimate leap of faith: to entrust that person into the hands of God, come what may. This is the end result of every kind of parenting, of course … but in this case, the stakes are so much higher, and the outcome far less certain.

As for me, right now, my job is to love my children, model integrity and consistency, and pray that God will give us all the “serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”