Signs and Sacraments: When a Dress (or a Heart) Is Something More…

Parachute Wedding DressThe other day I came across this heart-warming story about a young Jewish couple, interred in one of the work camps during World War II. She wanted to be married in a white dress, and he wanted to make her dreams come true. Sixty years and dozens of brides later, the dress was showcased in the Holocaust Museum. Made from a parachute, the well-worn dress became a symbol of love and hope in a time when hatred and despair prevailed.

Like many of the signs and symbols of our lives, the worth of this sacramental of love far exceeded its monetary value. I recently broke down and replaced my three medallions — tiny silver likenesses of St. Teresa of Avila, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and St. Scholastica (Benedict’s twin sister). One was actually irreplaceable — I had purchased the original in Avila when my husband and I were in Spain eight years ago. I lost them in the move a year ago, and only now have reconciled myself with the idea that they are never going to materialize . . . So I got a new set when I decided to start blogging again. This time, I added a tiny St. Christopher medal. Somehow, he is never far from my thoughts these days.

The sacramental worldview — informed by the belief that God gives us extraordinary graces through the tangible universe — is an intrinsically “Catholic” one. The God who reached through time and space to relate to us through the Incarnation, by enfleshing himself as one of us forever altered the way the physical universe interacted with the metaphysical one — including the communion of the saints.

One of the most important ways we can lead our children to God is by making the family of God  more “touchable” — engaging all the senses in order to better understand who God is, and what he wants from us. These points of connection, like my faith medals and the heirloom wedding dress, are important signs of life and faith, pointing us not only to where we have been but to our ultimate destiny.

So, moms, what are you going to do this week to make signs of God’s presence come alive in your children’s lives?

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Advent Blessing for Extraordinary Moms

Last Sunday was our annual Advent Tea, and at my table was a woman who had adopted two children. She had heard me speak on Al Kresta’s program about the Extraordinary Moms Network, and said she’d hoped I was still helping adoptive parents. It seems she was looking for a little support involving some changes her daughters were going through right now.

To be honest, I’ve become a bit gun-shy, and haven’t been writing as extensively about the subject of adoption for a while. For one thing, I recently resigned from the board of the foster/adoption agency because I didn’t agree with their recruiting practices, and was wondering God might be pointing me in another direction.

Over the years I’ve sometimes been denounced or outright attacked by others in adoption circles who disagreed with my position on reunification. (I believe that the adoptive bond should remain protected even in adulthood between parent and child, and that biological parents should be able to prevent the release of identifying information if they do not wish to be contacted by their grown children. I have no objection, however, to releasing this information if the biological parents ARE willing to be contacted, and agree that adoptees of all ages should have mediated access to medical information.)

Judging from comments I’ve received on this, and from the prevalence of open adoption, mine is not the popular opinion. I can live with that. What grew tiresome was the necessity of arguing endlessly with highly vocal and often disrespectful individuals who believe passionately that adopted children have the RIGHT to know their birth families. Always. Without exception. Even in cases of rape and incest, as this “Faith and Family” story shows.

And so, for a time I backed off on writing on the subject of adoption, to collect my thoughts a bit more systematically on the subject. To that end, my Master’s thesis is going to be about adoption as a metaphor for conversion — how the fact that the Scriptures speak of God adopting us as His children (Romans 8:14-15), giving us an inheritance we cannot lose (Galatians 4:4-6). The relationship is a permanent one. Here … read it yourself.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, 4 God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Just as biological families reflects in a unique way the life-giving love of the Trinity, so adoptive families uniquely reflect the redemptive love of God. Working together, parents and children, we help one another to grow in the perfection God first created in us, the perfection that was distorted by the sinful influence of our first parents.

So today, Rose Sunday, I wanted to share with any adoptive parents out there who are feeling a bit overwhelmed (the extended family time associated with the holidays can bring out other issues in our children, can’t they?), a bit of encouragement. This is my Advent Blessing to you.

You are doing God’s work. Right now, right where you are. Whether that means drying a tear or baking a cookie, creating memories that will always be a part of your child’s story.

Being an adoptive parent doesn’t mean being a perfect parent. If that were true, none of us would be qualified to take any child into our homes.

Being an adoptive parent also doesn’t mean being a second-best parent. You have no reason to apologize for your decision to adopt. Not now, not ever. Your child may never thank you for the sacrifices you’ve made — and in the years to come, their drive to find their birth parents may make you wonder if you’d done everything you could to give them a secure sense of love and identity.

Don’t worry. You have done your very best, and your children have reaped the benefits. Your reward in heaven will be great, for Jesus says, “Whosoever welcomes a child in my name, welcomes me.”

Just as the Blessed Mother had to relinquish her precious Son when he became a man, so the time will come when we have to let go, too. Sooner or later, our children — all children — must make their way in the world, guided by the things we have taught them.

But for now, yours is the unmistakeable privilege of forming your child. Forming him not in your own image, but in the image of the Father who loves us all. One day, sometimes one minute, at a time.

May all the blessings of this holy season fall upon you and your home, today and every day.

Don’t forget … You are an Extraordinary Mom!

School Daze: What’s Best for Your Child?

apple schoolToday at F&F I posted a short reflection about how to handle the pressure from friends and family to choose a particular educational model — public schooling, private schooling, or home schooling — for our kids. As I observe there, today we celebrate the feast of St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine (who was always at the top of his class!). She never forgot that a mother’s most important job is not in front of a chalkboard, but on her knees.

Today CatholicExchange ran my article on charter school education. This is a hot topic, especially among Catholic educators who regard these public “alternative schools” with suspicion and concern about what their increasing popularity means for the future of parochial education. However, as our children’s first and primary educators, we need to consider ALL our options, knowing that sometimes the unpopular choice is, indeed, the best one.

What do you think?