Can something ugly produce something beautiful?

Those of you who know me and my blog know that I'm passionate about the topic of human trafficking. Thanks be to God, I have a platform in my career that I can use to educate and bring light to this terrible scourge. And of course, to me it's not academic: it's personal. We believe our Dark-haired daughter escaped from a trafficking situation 2 1/2 years ago.

Can beauty come from something so ugly? Of course. We know that the grace of God can redeem any situation. That doesn't mean human trafficking is good; it's evil. But God can move and breath and change and bright light to those involved and those who've survived.

My friend Amanda Vernon recently told me about an artist who's released an EP album based on the topic of human trafficking. "Oh, boy! Fun songs about human slavery!" Yeah, I know, it's hard to imagine beauty coming from this.

Kelsey Rottiers and the Rising Tide have released "Bear Hope" and it's really beautiful. Listen.

After you've listened, download the EP. 50% of the proceeds go to help survivors of human trafficking. And you get beauty. God's grace in art and music. See, it really works.


Breathe

"Breathe" - artist Kathy Self
More and more, I find myself being drawn to art as a way to meditate and pray. (If you want a nearly perfect example of this, read Henri Nouwen's The Prodigal Son.)

In my office, I have some beautiful art. One is a small framed piece showing four places in Assisi that played a tremendous role in the life of St. Francis. Above that is an icon of the Nativity, and above that, a simple, small crucifix. I gaze at those frequently.

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Kathy Self, an artist whose work expresses this:



Color, light, and texture are the windows through which the mystery of God’s grace appears to me. The common grace of a fresh day, of quietly growing leaves that nourish every plant, and the healing prayers that reach the depths of my soul; each of these illumine my mind, bringing to remembrance the wonder and mystery of life.

It's one thing to own a piece of art; it's quite another to be able to speak with the artist who created it. This piece spoke to me, and after talking to Kathy, I knew it was meant for my home. 

Kathy told me it represents the breath of God that imbues all of us with His life. It's also a reminder for us to take time to breath: to meditate, relax, enjoy God's presence. As an artist, she also talked about negative and positive space in the painting, and how our lungs are negative space. In fact, when they get filled with something that's not supposed to be there (bacteria, liquid, etc.), they don't work. Our lives are like this. We need the negative space in our life in order for God to work.

Take a moment to look at her art. Enjoy.

Monday Morning Musings

I didn't abandon you, dear readers! Last week was Acton University, and I was a bit busy helping to host nearly 1,000 folks from around the world.

Fleur de li: symbol of Louisville, KY
1. The Feast of Corpus Christi. I know...it's supposed to be "The Body and Blood of Christ" but I'm just gonna keep calling it "Corpus Christi," mm-kay?
2. Discovered the hard way that vicious thunderstorms spark migraines.
3. Am loving Amanda Vernon's new CD. Do yourself a favor and listen. "I Shall Not Be Moved" is playing in my head!
4. I always try to find a word or phrase to cling to, mull over, meditate on during Mass and during my morning prayers. Today it's "obedience." This worries me a little.
5. Dark-haired Daughter made it through a week of camp, had an amazing time, was well-cared for and loved. What a tremendous step this was for her - praise God!
6. Some people have no sense of humor. What a dull way to live. Had to deal with a couple of trolls last week on the Acton social media accounts. Geez...get a life, folks!
7. Headed to Kentucky to visit a dear friend this week. Cannot wait!!

Monday Morning Musings

Curly-haired daughter created a new chalkboard for my laundry room re-do!
1. When you repaint a room, and you have a son who is 6'5", it goes so much more quickly when his help is enlisted!
2. Did you know Ozzy Osbourne can actually SING? Neither did I. Tallest Son and I were rocking out to Black Sabbath yesterday while painting. Son also pointed out that the bass lines in their songs were bluesy - and he was right. Who knew?
3. Dark-haired daughter went off to camp for this entire week! HUGE step for her! I'm so glad she decided to go; it was really brave of her. And I know this particular camp will not only envelop her in love, but enrich her faith as well.
4.It's here: Acton University! It's always enormous fun, and our staff gets the joy of meeting so many wonderful people who literally travel from all over the globe to join us. However, we're a small staff, and it's a very demanding week. A prayer or two for us would be so appreciated.
5. Enjoyed Father's Day yesterday with Dear Husband, but miss my dad so. Yesterday was also my dad's birthday, so it was bittersweet. I pray we'll be reunited in Heaven, and he's enjoying some great golf there!

Things people without children do not understand

  1.  How a normal, intelligent woman can be brought to tears over a child removing his diaper three times in a row. So he can play with it. And watch himself pee.
  2. How having all the kids asleep by 8 p.m. can constitute a "date night."
  3. The difference between a trip to Target with children (nightmarish, eternal) vs. a trip to Target without children (joyful, delicious)
  4. I am dressed.
  5. These aren't pajama pants. They're yoga pants.
  6. Yoga means, "I am playing on the floor with Barbie, Legos and Elmo trying to please all children simultaneously."
  7. Teens are incredible. They can hold conversations, be actually helpful with chores, and are developing interests and hobbies. They will do none of this with their own parent.
  8. Parent-teacher conferences cannot be attended while drunk and should not be attended while sober. Conundrum.
  9. That degree you got? Yeah. Shoulda gotten a taxi license instead. And a barber license. 
  10. At least one of your children will be unhappy at any given time. If you're in public, it will be at least two of the children.
  11. People will compliment you regarding your children, and you'll smile and say "thank you" while secretly wondering if they are talking about the right kid.
  12. You don't know stress. Or grief. Or joy. 
  13. Children have virtually limitless imaginations. Especially when it comes to what can be put in the toilet. You'll get to know a plumber well.
  14. The weather on the first day of summer vacation will be terrible. Just expect it.
  15. A vacation with children is about as relaxing as waiting to be taken into surgery. Without the drugs.
  16. Kids will surprise you. Over and over. The trick is to ponder the good surprises and not the bad ones.
  17. There is not such thing as a bad kid. Just a hurting kid. And sometimes, you can't take away the hurt. That hurts.
  18. Every family should know at least one sane psychologist. And speak to him/her frequently. I'm not kidding.
  19. Chores done imperfectly are still chores done. Martha Stewart doesn't live here. And if she did, my kids would drive her screaming into the street with their intentional clutter.
  20. You say you won't let the kids watch that much TV. Until you realize you can't make dinner without yet another round of Disney Sing-a-Long. And then that slowly grows into, "Sure turn on cartoons and eat cereal out of the box. Just let us sleep in." Eventually, the TV is on 24/7 and you are seriously thinking of deducting it on your income tax as one of your kids.

Monday Morning Musings

1. Left to my own devices, I'd probably never leave the house on the weekends. I enjoy the downtime. However, after my recent stint in the psych. hospital, I know this isn't good for me. As one of our counselors said, "We shrink our world and we get depressed. When we get depressed, our world shrinks. And the cycle continues." I knew Dear Husband was going to be busy with open houses for his soccer players, so I decided to call up my sister and have an impromptu day out. Nothing big - just ran some errands and had lunch. Turned out to be a very lovely day.

2. When I got to Mass yesterday, I noticed that all the pews now have prayer cards in them for "prayer after receiving Communion." Have I mentioned how much I love and appreciate our priest?

3. If you hear a long and pronounced scream from this direction, it's just work: getting ready for Acton University next week - about 1,000 people for 75+ countries here in Grand Rapids, MI. Yeah, we're getting ready for that. A staff of about 40 plus interns. Just warning you...

4. Took a walk around downtown last week to enjoy the spring air. My people watching racked up some big scores: a guy walking around with armfuls of handcuffs, belly chains and shackles (I do work a blog from the police station...), a very nicely dressed business-type guy....with his shirt unbuttoned to his navel, and one man carrying around his catheter bag. Ah, sweet spring!

Have an amazing week, and remember: everything you control stops at the end of your fingertips!

Talking Someone Off The Ledge

Usually, I go home, shed my professional attire, put on the comfy clothes, try and get in a workout and then relax for the evening.

Not last night.

First, I had to run all over the city after work, picking up two kids from two different places and do some errands.

Next, I had to drive home in rush hour traffic with two teenagers in the car.

Got home, was "hangry" (hungry/angry), sat down next to Dear Husband, and...the house exploded.

Well, not really. It was really Youngest Son who exploded. Why? Who the #$^@ knows...Partially, he was upset about a gaming system that wasn't working. Partially, he was mad because he wanted our "permission" to leave and not come home. Partially, he's depressed and scared out of his mind.

It took me two hours to "talk him down." He was raging, screaming, sweating. Begging to leave, but not making any move to go. Telling us how much we had failed him, yet crying out for help from us. Telling us he'd shoot himself in the head if he had a gun, then finally asking for something to eat.

What is it like to be 17 and be this scared, angry, depressed? To look at your future and see...nothing? A void. To feel so much disconnect between yourself and the people who love you most?

I don't know. I do know what it's like to be the mother of this child. And it is so painful.

While I was talking to him, I was whispering the Memorare, over and over. Saying the name of Jesus. Praying without words for this child who is standing on the ledge. Hoping that those prayers were enough to pull him from that ledge just one more time. Give us one more chance to help him.

He wants the help, and can't see how any of this will do any good. God, depression is such an evil monster. It puts people on that ledge and makes the leap look so enticing. I hate this disease, but I won't stop fighting for my child.

Here's hoping for a better night tonight. Just one day at a time. One evening. One night. Then one more day tomorrow. Breathe. Pray.

He let me hug him. I told him he didn't have to hug me back, and he didn't, but he let me hold him. I got him off that ledge one more time.

"That Family"

You know "that family," don't you? They are the ones whose kids excel at everything, bring home the best grades and the best dates, maybe scratch the car backing out of a mall parking lot. They camp together, post about their great family vacations out West and their awesome family reunion. The parents constantly compliment the kids, and the kids (even the teens) publicly acknowledge how awesome their family is. Oh, sure, they have an occasional bump in the road, but for the most part, they are living the good life - the life they prayed and wished for. They are extraordinarily blessed and they recognize that.You know them, right?

And then there's "that family." That's the family who has psychiatric care on speed dial, who spend endless hours driving to therapy of one sort or another. Vacations don't happen a lot for them, as the bank account gets drained due to all their kids' needs. They may have a wheelchair, a nurse, a basket of meds they have to keep straight for each kid, and the parents think a dinner out by themselves with no phone calls from home counts as a vacation. The only time someone compliments their kids is when no when gets dragged out of church screaming. That family is living "la vida loca" and not always in a good way. You know them too.

"That family." My family belongs firmly in the second group. But the funny thing is that we're extraordinarily blessed as well. I can't begin to count how many times people have stepped up to help, to pray, to console, to laugh and commiserate. I have to wholly rely on God. My kids' achievements, no matter how small or how big, are always a celebration. We live the Prodigal Son parable over and over, playing different roles: sometimes the youngest and foolish son, sometimes the patient and prayerful father, sometimes the resentful yet dutiful older son. It is a place of stupidity, questioning, prayer, wistfulness, hunger, poverty, riches, and joy. We are "that family."

It is hard to know why God has made us the families we are. But make no mistake: one family is not better or worse than the other. We are all given what we are given by God for a reason, although that reason won't be entirely clear to us until we sit down with Almighty God himself for a long chat (and I'm hoping a few chocolate martinis.) We all carry burdens, but we also know that God doesn't give us equal burdens - who knows why? Again, I'm hoping that will come out at the Heavenly Martini Lounge.

Until then, remember we are all part of "that family" for a reason. We should not be jealous nor should we judge. We should hold each other in prayer for whatever needs we have, and trust that God - the Great I Am - loves "that family" and "that family" with the same great, eternal, creative and merciful love.

He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”

Infertile by "choice?" Papa Francis has a few words for you

From his address to married couples at St. Martha's House:

In a marriage this fertility can sometimes be put to the test when the children do not arrive, or are sick. Faced with these tests, the Pope said, there are couples who "look to Jesus for the power of fertility that He has with His Church". “While on the other hand,” Francis reflected, “there are things that Jesus does not like", or marriages that are sterile by choice.” "These marriages that do not want children, that want to remain without fecundity. This culture of well-being of ten years ago convinced us, 'It's better not to have children! It's better! So you can go out and discover the world , on holiday , you can have a villa in the countryside, you have no worries ' ... But it is perhaps better - more comfortable - to have a dog, two cats , and your love goes to two cats and the dog. This is true, is it not? Have you seen this? And in the end this marriage arrives at an old age of solitude, with the bitterness of ugly solitude. It is not fertile, it does not do what Jesus does with his Church: He makes it fertile. [emphasis added]

Monday Morning Musings

1. Took a little trip with Dear Husband this weekend "Up North." (If you're a Michigander, this makes sense to you.) Ate a lot of good food, walked on the beach (Dear Husband found me two! Petoskey stones!), and just had a great time walking around and holding hands.
2. Been struggling to figure out what to do with Youngest Son, who is in a heap of trouble. Came to the realization at Mass yesterday that ultimately it didn't matter what we (his parents) did - it matters what he does. We can give him all the support in the world, but the decisions are in his hands. We can only pray that he makes the right decisions and choices.
3. I'm gonna be a godmother! I've got three godsons in my very large family, but never a goddaughter! My oldest niece and her hubby are adopting two little girls (adding to three girls they already have) and Francesca Elise will be my goddaughter! Cannot wait to spoil her silly!
4. I don't care if my allergies are in an uproar: Spring is finally here in West MI!! The weekend was gorgeous, lilacs were in full bloom, trees have actual leaves on them - glorious!
5. Always great visiting new churches. Heard a great sermon and enjoyed a very reverent Mass from a young priest while we were Up North.
6. Yay, Michigan!! You're one beautiful state.

Going "All In" With Jesus

One of the joys of being Catholic is that there is always new stuff to learn. And if you do run out of new stuff, there are plenty of new ...