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Catholic Family Vignettes

A collage of literary snapshots from the life of a large traditional Catholic family

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I am a Catholic parent…

The Holy Family...the model of perfection
The Holy Family…the model of perfection

Catholic parenting…how on earth does one do it, let alone define it?

In a perfect world one might say it’s “the loving and successful completion of child-rearing and instruction, put forth by two parents, to perfect one’s child in the areas of faith and morals as defined by the Catechism and Sacred Traditions of the Catholic Church.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t a perfect world, and at last check, there are no perfect parents or children residing upon it. Flawed humanity, with all its sins and vices, is raising the next generation, and that includes the next Catholic generation. Yet, in this country and others, amidst great challenges and persecutions, many Catholic parents are striving to impart a sense of the sacred, awake to the great beauty, majesty and richness of our Holy Faith and its spiritual and cultural significance.

Tertullian once said “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” thus giving rise to the notion that the Faith flourishes under seemingly impossible conditions. Today’s parents might be tempted to challenge that assertion, firm in the conviction that this crazy world and the people who live in it, put every possible obstacle in the way of the solemn charge to raise a holy people for the Kingdom of Heaven. It would seem that knowledge and desire, quite simply, aren’t enough.

Fear not! This task is not as formidable as it seems, for at the heart of it, is this promise from Sacred Scripture:

“Train up a child in the way he should go, And even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Proverbs 22:6

“…And even when he is old he will not depart from it.” The key word here is, of course, “old.” And old can seem so very far away at the beginning of this Catholic parenting journey. The “way” is often obscured by the noise and distractions of this mad world, which pushes and shoves its way into home and heart. How does one do this? Is it even possible?

Perhaps you’re looking at that sweet baby, nestled in your arms, wondering how you will ever show him the “way he should go,” particularly when the “way” seems so treacherous and fraught with every danger. Would it comfort you to know that parents have been doing this since time out of mind? That our own dear Savior, as an infant, had to flee the murderous wrath of a king and that His Mother and Father faced poverty, persecution and uncertainty with courage and resolve?

Perhaps you’re surrounded by the needs of many little ones, overwhelmed with exhaustion as the work of parenting seems to stretch onward to infinity. Would it benefit you to remember that the most beautiful images of our Blessed Mother show Him in her arms, pressed closed to her breast, a reminder that this busy time is yet a time of sweet joys, too?

Perhaps you’re reflecting upon the rebellious teenager asleep upstairs; the one who stayed up far too late playing video games and who is alternately sullen and good-humored, depending upon his mood and yours. Would it comfort you to imagine that our dear Lady understands? That her precious Son was often misunderstood and even in the eyes of His parents at least once engaged in behavior they found perplexing, as He was “about His Father’s business?”

Perhaps you’re worried about your adult child, the one that quit attending Mass some time ago…the one whose life seems a scandal and a trial in the eyes of the world. You wonder how you managed to give so very little of your faith to this wayward one and lament that you’ve failed in your duties as a Catholic parent. Would it help to reflect upon the twelve Apostles, who ate, slept and worked in the presence of the Messiah and yet, following the Crucifixion, engaged in behavior that was anything but faithful? Frightened by the sights, sounds and emotions of their salvation being accomplished, they fled in fear…

Perhaps you feel you never really imparted the “way” at all; that your own faith has been such an ongoing work that you believe you’ve missed your only opportunity to give this gift only recently opened or perhaps simply re-examined. Would it avail you to remember that God rewards the laborer, not so much for the time worked as for the intention behind the effort?

It can seem such daunting work, this Catholic parenting “thing,” and I’ve walked every single one of the paths described above. I am mother of nine children with more than 30 years in the field; I’ve paced the floor with the wee ones, overawed by the beauty of new life and the sweet burden of nurturing it. I’ve been through the exhaustion of those early days when children come much faster than the income to feed and provide for them all. I’ve lamented the distant teenager, walking the delicate balance between strength and compassion, failing at times to provide either. I’ve wept in sorrow for the adult child whom, though home educated, catechized and confirmed, still struggles with issues of faith. And I’ve begged God’s forgiveness for the first decade of my parenting years…years of pseudo-faith; years when being a “good person” seemed enough to identify myself as a Christian mother.

There have been so many starts and stops along the way, as I embrace my role as a Catholic parent. I’ve learned the best judges of hypocrisy are one’s children – they know, as no others, whether mom truly lives and believes what she teaches. I’ve had to humbly submit to the scrutiny of a growing band of Inquisitors, living with the daily realization that it is whom and not what is in the home that truly makes it a domestic Church.

As a Catholic parent, I’ve learned I simply must impart more than just a “view from the pew” version of my faith. When I live my faith out loud, in my everyday choices, and embrace a view of life that is not only faithful, but faith-filled, I demonstrate so much more than my words will ever convey. Faith becomes real and virtue is magnified, because the hard choices are the ones in opposition to those that often seem the least demanding.

The hardest choice that I’ve ever made as a parent is to embrace the imperfections of my children and myself; to live with the realization that from all eternity God had chosen me to mother these particular children. I have to continually acknowledge my weakness so that He can be strong. I made a solemn vow, long ago, admitting my imperfection and inadequacies, but I promised that if He would just continue to point out the flaws within my children and me, I would faithfully work on those areas. I asked Him to remove my parental blind spot and to expose the spiritual, moral and physical dangers that I might overlook. I vowed that I would never shrink from my duties to address those areas, despite my fear, sorrow or embarrassment. He has always answered that prayer, and though I’ve not always been as faithful as I’d like to be, I’ve truly tried to hold up my end of the deal, persevering in the midst of sin and suffering, sure that each challenge and crisis has already been envisioned by He, who knows my strengths and weaknesses. He continues to prove Himself as faithful, as the perfect parent ever watchful over His child, always mindful of the end and the means.

It’s so easy to allow oneself to become weighed down with the awesome task of guarding the body and soul of one’s children. There is so much anxiety, when I contemplate the transitory and passing, I often miss the glorious moments and memories in the here and now. As I contemplate my 30 year journey as a Catholic parent, I don’t find myself wishing I had washed more dishes or folded more laundry; I lament the times I didn’t stop in the midst of the mundane to observe and participate in the wonder and beauty of life unfolding around me. I regret that brief period when I so narrowly defined my role that I nearly became a spectator, lost in the myriad activities and ideas that seem to reinforce what the world perceives to be “good enough” parenting.

“Good enough” parenting never really is. Catholic parenting, on the other hand, always strives to be. We may fall short a thousand times, but with the grace of Faith and the gift of the Sacraments, the remedy to all our failings is as close as one’s parish Church and as simple as the prayers uttered in faith and trust.

Blessings,

A merry band of carolers…

Who can outgive God?  Who among us can give gifts better than He, who gave the gift of salvation to us all, through the “fiat” of a humble Virgin, the cries of a wee babe, and the anguished suffering of a Son, well loved and sacrificed that we might live?

This Christmas, in the midst of fear and pain, our Lord gave…and gave…and gave…using the hands and hearts of friends and family, weaving a mantle of love that surrounded us so securely, so gently and lovingly, that we wondered at His generosity.  All things were attended to…the care of our children…the food on our table and in our cabinets and freezer…prayers and Masses…financial assistance and gifts…sweet, precious and personal gifts to each and everyone of us…but none so precious as the hearts of those who gave.

Yet, in the midst of this flood of Christian charity and friendship, the ultimate gift and sign of His blessing and benediction came in the simplest form:

Song.

carolers1

carolers2A merry band of carolers, on a snowy eve at sunset, came to us.  They sang of”Silent Night” and “Adeste Fidelis.”

carolers3Of “little towns” and mangers…of hope.

carolers4Of joy…

carolers5…and love.

carolers6We stood, tearfully, joyfully, bathed in the gift of song, awed and humbled at these tidings of great joy…

momdadcarolersHe will never be outdone in generosity…but it is His simplest and most beautiful gifts that are often overlooked.  It is the beauty of seeming ordinariness, exquisite in its simplicity, as the hands and hearts of His people come together to sing His praises…

You changed my sorrow into dancing,
You took away my clothes of sadness
and clothed me in happiness.
I will sing to You and not be silent.
Lord, my God, I will praise you forever.
Psalm 30:11-12

Blessings,

The cross before the Crib…

There’s a thin red line that tells a tale of a heart broken, now mended…of the God-given skill of a surgeon’s hands…of a long wait of nearly overwhelming proportion…of a second chance at life and health and family and friends grateful.

manger-crossThis Advent, we praise God for this cross…the cross that came before the Crib…the cross that gave Roger a heart that beats love of God and family…a cross that revealed the goodness and mercy of our Father as He attends to every suffering, every need.

Christmas came early to our home.  The gift of life, ever precious and ever new, is a gift we unwrapped eagerly…gratefully and joyfully…thankful to the Giver who is even greater than the gift.

Blessings,

Hearts and roses…

A few days ago, hubby and I took a little drive down the path to the woods.  One of the outdoor cats was missing and we were sure we’d find him hiding out in the beautiful park-like setting of our little private slice of paradise…

We walked…winding our way past downed limbs, hubby searching and calling for Tibby; I, pausing to snap photos of bare-branched trees, sunset and mushrooms…reaching out to find his strong hand, leaning upon him for assistance and enjoying the peace and intimacy of a winter’s eve walk…

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Contrast that lovely evening, with this:  Me, holding his hand, pierced and laden with plastic tubes, listening to the beep and hum of hospital equipment and the ominous words and tests that made up the balance of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception that ended with a diagnosis:  mild heart attack.

How can I begin to convey the heartrending moment when, as I was preparing a treat after Saturday morning’s Mass for a party we would attend that evening, my husband grabbed my arm and said, in deadly earnest:  “Please stop what your doing and take me to the hospital.  Now.”

There was no question, no quick “googling” of symptoms, no consultation.  The look on his face was such that I dropped an entire bag of pecans and the rolling pin into the utensil drawer, grabbed my coat, and mumbled a hurried/worried “I’ll be back in a little bit…” to my confused children.

No thoughts, just action.  Roger, mostly silent, sat in the passenger seat, a place he’s only sat but rarely in 31 years of marriage.  I sped, and was admonished to slow down more than once, towards the hospital, anxious and needy…praying an endless string of “Hail Marys” and “dear God help hims” all the way.  I could see his discomfort and tried to hide my own fears, asking all the while, “are you okay? What are you feeling now?”

We entered the hospital and in less than a minute I uttered those words that no wife ever wants nor should ever have to say:   “I think my husband is having a heart attack…”

And so he was.  But he had been so wise…listening to his body, gauging every nuance of the odd feelings he had felt at home following Mass and brunch.  He had been prompted by the admonition of another dear friend whose own wife had begged us to never, ever wait should either of us experience any of the symptoms her sweet husband underwent only two short months ago, having suffered for days before finally experiencing a nearly fatal massive heart attack.  Roger remembered Gary…and knew he had to seek help immediately.  Upon entering the hospital, his arm, jaw and chest pain intensified.  His original blood work and EKGs were relatively normal…it was only after arriving that the real crisis began.  Five separate “events,” each lasting just a few minutes, and increasing in intensity, set in motion a flurry of activity from medical staff.  Ultrasounds and chest xrays and admittance to the Cardiac Care Unit.  Medicated, he settled down and awaited a visit from our priest.  It seemed he’d dodged a full blown heart attack…

Father came…entertained and blessed, leaving a wake of peace as he exited the hospital with our oldest son.  We both settled down for the night…I, on the hard bench beside his bed…he, medicated and hooked up to a portable EKG.  Twenty minutes later, like breakers crashing upon the beach, the first “wave” arrived.  One agonizing, painful, crushing attack after another, until the tidal wave struck…a full-blown heart attack.  I watched him, our eyes locked…his, filled with agony and fear, mine frightened too…I couldn’t help him, only pray, pray, pray.  A team of nurses worked feverishly to get the IV drip to administer a rapid dose of nitro to stop the attack…it seemed it would never end.  As horrific as this experience was, the blessing of being in the hospital, surrounded by the best cardiac team imaginable, was and still is “as good as it gets…”

And then the bad news:  following his heart catheterization, we learned that Roger has extensive blockage and will require a quadruple bypass surgery on Thursday, the Feast of St. Lucy.  We beg your prayers and know that “God is in His Heaven and all is right with the world.”  He has so beautifully ordered every aspect of this crisis…the support that we’ve received from friends, family…all of Roger’s KMI coworkers is astounding.

Roger’s hospital room remains a place of joyful visits and a few private, tearful moments as we contemplate the work ahead.  To quote my precious husband:  “They’re going to crack open my chest…and take out my heart…”

And fix it.  Fix what is broken and make it whole, as God means for it to be.

There was a brief moment after hearing the news, that I begged God for mercy…for comfort…for some sense that this is right, that we’re where we need to be…that it will all be okay.

Tearfully looking out the window, I heard a small noise and saw a very tiny, lovely Vietnamese woman enter the room.  She smiled and said:  “I cleaned your room…you like?”

“Oh yes,”  I said, wiping a tear, “you did a lovely job.”

“I clean the windows for you?”  she smiled, approaching with a rag, and looked at my husband, sleeping off the sedation from his latest procedure.

“No…thank you…these fingerprints are from the children…I don’t mind seeing them…”  the words trailed as I thought about telling the children what was about to transpire.

She looked at Roger again…”He be alright.  You see.  He be out of here soon!”  She smiled the loveliest and truest smile…

Sadly and gravely I replied, “He’s having open heart surgery on Thursday…”

She left the room…and quickly returned, holding a long-stemmed wooden rose, that filled the room with perfume.  “This for you…not him.  He be alright…you look at this rose.  You be alright.  This for you…”

A rose.  Had it dropped from the sky, I couldn’t have possibly been less shocked, surprised and delighted by the confirmation.  She quickly twisted its stem into the shape of a heart…a heart that looks a lot like a human heart…and placed it on the table.

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She came back yesterday, with a hug and another rose…this time, placing one in the hands of my daughters, as well.  Yesterday evening I placed that second rose in the hands of my dear friend, Sandra…who has so lovingly and beautifully cared for my children (and her five!) for the past few days…she, too, is a gift straight from Heaven…

Hearts and roses two weeks before Christmas…another unexpected gift from the Lord, He who knows exactly what we need at every moment…

If you can spare a prayer tomorrow, we would be so very grateful…it’s going to be a long day…and a long road to recovery.  May God bless and reward you for your kindness.

“A sound heart is life to the body…”  Proverbs 14:30

We are pro-life…

Just seventeen…

Cheerleader, gymnast and aspiring writer. Contestant in an upcoming national teen beauty pageant. Honor student, blue ribbon artist and art director for the school yearbook. Scholarship applicant to a prestigious women’s college. Nursing home volunteer and much-loved only daughter…

Pregnant.

As she looked in the full-length mirror, she tried to imagine how this would all play out. Her parents would be furious, disappointed…would they even want her anymore? Her friends, incredulous…her reputation had been above reproach, now she was the ultimate hypocrite. How could she even do this? She looked at her thin, small frame and tried to imagine how she would be able to conceal a pregnancy, or at least wondered how long she could.

And so she did. For four months she said nothing to no one. Her boyfriend had begun to suspect, and questioned her continually, swearing that he would stand by her…that he truly loved her and would love their child. She just couldn’t process the information…his love wasn’t enough to penetrate the dark fog that had begun to gather around her.

She contemplated abortion. She knew other girls who had done it. Was it really all that bad? Just a quick trip to the local clinic and good as new. Yet, somehow, in the depths of her heart she knew there would never be a “good as new” with such a decision. She knew there was a tiny life growing within her and she must protect it. So she waited as long as she possibly could before she told.

The reactions were as expected. Her boyfriend was supportive and insisted that they marry as soon as possible. Her parents were devastated and prophesied the end of all her hopes and dreams. Her friends laughed and said “right…good joke…you, pregnant? I don’t believe it…” Her tearful insistence soon demonstrated just how serious the situation was. In her small high school, teachers with hurtful/helpful suggestions visited her daily. She was mortified. Her head was filled with a chorus of “abort it!” “give it up!” “keep it!” She knew this nameless “it” was her child, yet she felt like such a child herself…

Her mother, who had always been so very proud of her good girl, was in total crisis. She left home for a week to visit her own mother, looking for solace during the emotional storm that was raging within the household. When she returned, she asked her daughter if she wanted an abortion. The poor, beleaguered child said, “no…I can’t…please don’t make me.” Her mother, weeping as though her heart would break said “I just don’t know what to do…but I won’t make you if you don’t want it. Years ago, I was forced into a decision like this, told that it was medically necessary to terminate my pregnancy. You were twelve…you never knew and I’ve never gotten over it. We’ll figure this out…” This sad teenager looked into her mother’s sorrowful eyes, heartbroken at having never known the burden and loss that she had carried for so many years for the child that had been taken  and mourned ever since. Now there was another child, unborn and waiting…its fate resting in the hands of this mother and her child.

The poor, worried mother of this pregnant teenager looked in the phonebook for help. Planned Parenthood seemed the most obvious choice…the ad said they offer pregnancy counseling and this poor family needed help. So, on a cold, windy-rainy April day, mother and daughter went to Planned Parenthood for advice. Oh, the irony of such a name for such an organization! There was never any talk of parenthood, planned or otherwise. This frightened girl and her mother were barraged with effective and compassionate insistence that the pregnancy be terminated; there was no other choice that could possibly be considered. How would this young woman with such a promising future ever manage a child? How could her frail body even accommodate a full-term pregnancy? These fear tactics were powerfully persuasive and for a brief moment both mother and daughter wavered. The mother said “I thought this was Planned Parenthood…that you helped girls who were going to be parents. Don’t you have any literature or at least the name of an obstetrician that my daughter could see? We aren’t looking for an abortion.” How hard it must have been for her to say those words! Yet she did, and the embarrassed “counselor” rifled through the bottom drawer of her desk and pulled out a couple pamphlets on fetal development. The young girl rifled through the first one, and quickly turned to the incredibly detailed photograph of a fetus, four months gestation, just the age of the little one that was growing inside her. She was shocked as she looked at two hands…ten fingers and ten toes…large eyes and delicate features…she looked back at the woman sitting at the desk, who was now looking in the phonebook for an obstetrician’s phone number and realized, with horror, that this woman had only ever considered the death and never the life of her child. She looked at the little one in the photo and placed her hand on her swollen abdomen…she had been feeling the slightest little fluttering for several days now, wondering what they were, but that picture seemed to confirm that her baby was moving inside her and not only was this child alive, it was…

…a life. A life separate and yet dependent upon her, even now in all her fear and uncertainty. There was only one direction from here…

With the love, encouragement and support of two families, this young girl…this young couple…succeeded in spite of every obstacle. A beautiful little girl with bright red hair and enormous blue eyes was born to them, and became the light of their lives, a joy they had never planned but praised God for. This young couple learned how to be husband and wife, mother and father, and welcomed another eight planned and unplanned miracles into their lives, never ceasing to marvel at the beauty of each new life. Grandchildren followed, a gift from that first little one saved from the horrors of abortion, and now mother to four precious little girls of her own.

And then another test. One cold November day, a frightened twenty-two year old called home and with sorrow and many tears, told her mother she was pregnant. Her boyfriend, who had become involved with another woman, had told her to abort the child, and for a brief moment, this young mother thought perhaps she should. Oh, the heartbreak! But the “choice” was really no choice at all…it was life, presenting itself under the most difficult and challenging circumstances and yet waiting to be affirmed. This sweet girl, with the help of her mother, father and extended family chose that LIFE. The pregnancy became complicated and both mother and child were in danger, yet after an emergency delivery and an extended stay in the NICU, a sweet little boy was welcomed into the family. He lights up his mother’s life and every room as soon as he enters…

This is my story.

I was that frightened seventeen year old girl who knew so very little of life, yet in choosing it for my unborn child, was given so much more than I ever dreamed. Nine children. Five grandchildren. An adoring husband of thirty one years and the most amazing and supportive parents on both sides. I could never have predicted the life of love and grace that came from that difficult choice, but I’ve since learned that God presents the best gifts under the most trying circumstances. We’ve tried hard to show appropriate thanks for all He’s given us and have never wavered in our understanding that God Himself is the ultimate giver and advocate for life.

“Pro-life.” It’s more than just a slogan on a banner or bumper sticker. It is what we do and how we choose to live. It is the way we vote, the way we worship and the way we think. There will always be difficulties to overcome, but it is in the overcoming that we show the depth of our love and trust in the goodness of God and in the beauty of living.

Blessings,

***This is a post I’ve promised my Father in Heaven for many years…it took awhile to find the words but the time seemed so right and I humbly thank the lovely women in my family for allowing me to share their part in this story.  It has been posted exactly 31 years and 2 days after the birth of my first child…to the minute…published at 12:18 a.m., the time of her birth.   Thank you for reading…***

Lest we forget…

So…

I’ve so much I want to say, so much on my heart at this moment…

I considered writing about my shame as an Ohioan…watching my fellow citizens do the unconscionable…

I considered writing about the children’s reaction as they watched the polls close and the initial tallies…watching their excitement fade as the evening wore on, sending them to bed with promises that “all will be well, sleep and don’t worry…”

I considered writing about the impotence of anger, how the “enemy” uses it to control us…

But I went to sleep instead.  I slept well and having slept well my thoughts are a bit clearer, hope rushing in, crushing the feelings of despair and defeat.

The cause of my hope, my joy?  I have a God and Saviour and He has heard the prayers of His people.  I didn’t have to elect Him.  He will not be suppressed or manipulated.  He is not impotent, but Omnipotent.

Friends, let us not be guilty of the same mistake that the others have made.  They wanted to elect a savior.  They are looking for someone to fix the things that are broken, not counting the cost that we will all incur by the choice they’ve made.

What did we pray for?  This family prayed for the protection of life, from conception until its natural end.  We prayed for the preservation of the family and the traditional definition of marriage as affirmed by centuries of tradition.  We prayed that our country would continue to be “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all…”

God doesn’t need John McCain to work His plan.  We want a bandaid, an aspirin, in other words, a quick fix for a problem that needs the skill of a Divine Surgeon.  It’s going to be painful and it’s going to leave a scar, but it’s the only way we can be healed.  We must believe that our prayers have been heard.  That the cries of the slaughtered innocent have been and will continue to be heard.  We must be willing to continue bravely on…not in mourning, not wearing sackcloth and ash, but moving forward with determination and good cheer as the martyrs of old did.

Onward, christian soldiers!  Wipe your tears, dust of your clothes and head back into the battle.  Continue the fight, never ceasing to pray for the conversion of our country’s leaders.  Your prayers have been heard and the scalpel of the Divine Surgeon is poised…

Are you ready?

Fear, dread, hope and joy…conclusion

Pt. I

Pt. II

Pt. III

Can a mother be too protective, when it comes to her child? For the entire week prior to the meeting with the Social Services case worker, I wouldn’t let Emily out of my sight. Not for a second. Fearful that “they” would take her if I dropped my guard for a moment. It seems so irrational, as I write of it now. An unwelcome presence had insinuated itself into my home; fear, dread and interior chaos pervaded.

The past week had been fraught with such anxiety, uncertainty…I prayed that our Lord would give me peace and presence of mind to make it through the morning meeting. Despite all the negative emotions, I had real confidence that our Lord would work something great in this suffering. That’s one of the truly frightening aspects of trust in God: sometimes He allows the seemingly incomprehensible to happen, to work some greater good in our lives. The good, the bad and the ugly…all work to His greater glory!

Emily was thrilled to have a few private moments with mommy. Buckled into her car seat, she chattered happily in the backseat unaware of the concerns that had absorbed her parents for the past week. Both mommy and Emily were as “fashionably attired” as possible. It is a sad fact that the poor are treated differently in circumstances such as these. Were I to approach the Social Services case worker, unkempt with my child and I attired in torn and/or dirty clothes, many negative assumptions could and most likely would be made.

Elevator. Emily happily pushed the buttons. I took a deep breath, said a “Hail Mary” and approached the receptionist’s desk. Within moments a young woman nearly half my age, ushered us into her office. She introduced herself as Amy* and immediately began to apologize for the confusion of the past week.

“I’m so very sorry that you’ve had to go through this. I just received the police report this morning and the officer’s statements clearly indicate that no neglect was implied nor charged. I just wish we’d had this information sooner…”

“I thank you for your apology. This has been one of the worst weeks of my life. Hopefully, you’ll never have to experience such a degradation. To parent children for nearly a quarter of a century and then have a government agency begin to question your ability to parent. It’s been too much. I don’t understand why the police report wasn’t ordered from the beginning. I offered to bring you one…”

“We have procedures we must follow. Yes, you could have brought me a police report. But I would’ve had to order another one, just to make sure the one you brought had not been falsified. As it stands, I’m processing your case for dismissal. May I have Emily’s social security number?”

“No…I’m sorry. I can’t allow that. If you have no grounds for even having a case, I’m not going to give you a number to tie to a case that doesn’t exist. I’m not trying to be hostile, just protecting my child’s privacy…that’s my right as a parent.”

“I’ll note this in the file. This will take a couple of weeks to clear the system, but after that the only record on file will be one of “case dismissed.”

“So, there will be a record? I’m really not willing to have a file maintained on my family in this office, whether it reads “dismissed” or not. Is this information that follows us from place to place? Do I need legal counsel? We are moving next week…I don’t want any loose ends in this community.”

“You’re moving? May I have your new address to forward the dismissal form? There’s not much I can do about the file we already have. It doesn’t follow you from place to place, though it does remain on record.”

“I’d prefer not to give you my new address. Our mail will be forwarded, you can send the dismissal form to the address on record. Amy…I’m really not trying to be difficult. You have no idea how this has impacted my family. To have lost a child, safely recovered her and then have to deal with your office, as though we had committed a criminal act is wrong. I’m sure you work very hard at what you do…I see a picture of a baby boy on your desk, I’m assuming that he’s your son. Imagine that someone questioned your ability to parent. Now imagine you’ve been parenting for 25 years. Children are taken from parents by Social Services. Everyone knows that. You guys are the “big, bad wolf” that the rest of us are afraid of. Do you understand my hesitance to give you anything more than the barest minimum of information? Do you see why I don’t want to be in a database in your office?”

“Mam, I completely understand and, yes, I’m well aware of what people think of our office. We do good things, though, too. We help families adopt. We remove children from potentially life threatening situations. I’m sorry that this experience has been traumatic for your family. Your little girl is adorable and obviously well cared for. I have a couple papers for you to sign. Acknowledging the dismissal of the case…you can read them.”

“I’m sorry if I’ve said anything hurtful to you. I wish I had the same confidence in your office’s ability to help families, that you have. I don’t. What happens to children that enter “the system” is so horrifying…You see this file? This is everything that I looked up all week, how to protect the rights of my family, I even have a copy of the manual that you used to train with. This is how frightened our family has been. Guilty until proven innocent. I had to wait all week to have you tell me that we are not guilty of neglect, when I had a police report that said that all along.”

I signed the papers. Emily skipped all the way to the elevator. Once inside, I scooped her up in my arms and cried such tears of joy and relief. It was over! Truly!

The tense faces of my daughter and friend greeted to me. It didn’t take long to tell them, breathlessly and through many tears that it was finally over, Emily was safe, the children were safe.

The rest of the week was spent packing and moving.

Two weeks later, sitting on the porch listening to the birds sing and feeling the cool spring breeze, I heard the mail truck. Opening the mailbox, I grabbed the stack a mail, noting with panic that a letter from our previous county’s Child and Family Services office was on top. Standing by the road, I ripped open the envelope and read the following words:

Case dismissed. Three or four lines and an apology. I had forgotten. I looked over at Emily playing in the enormous sandbox under the tree in the front yard. Smiling, thanking God for the day, thanking Him even for that awful experience…you can’t know how much you appreciate peace until you’ve lived in chaos.

So friends…that’s the tale. Why did I tell it? For the sake of entertainment? No…there’s a caveat here. A warning. Be careful, be very careful when you seek the authorities for help. We teach our children that the police are the good guys. They are our “knights.” We don’t often think about what happens when a family seeks help from the police or other officials. Sometimes the actions of a parent can come under question during a routine visit to a physician or a much needed trip to the ER. I’m a bit more guarded now. I have to admit, when I had to call 911 after my grandmother fell in my living room, I was nervous, but it was necessary. Thank God we live in a country where these services are available when we need them! I don’t regret for one moment calling 911 to help recover Emily. The police brought back our little girl…that is a priceless gift. Social Services, on the other hand, is a whole other kettle of fish. Know your rights! No one has the right to enter your home without a warrant. No one. No one has the right to question your children without your permission. No one. Don’t live in fear, live informed. I’m working on that one, right now. As I said…I’m still a bit cautious, but I’m working on it. Trust in God is the key. He daily shows me my weakness and I’m thankful. Were I strong, I’d see no need for Him. Trust in God…make everyone else show you some identification!

Fear, dread, hope and joy…Pt. III

Pt. I

Pt. II

That Sunday evening after Emily’s safe return home and the ensuing confusion with the police department and Social Services, I didn’t sleep well. I spent the night in the land of “What if…” A dreadful place, I’m sure you’ve visited once or twice. “What if” lies in the same region as “If only.” Both are damaging, peace disturbing places that paralyze and confuse the inhabitants who reside there. I’d say, don’t go there…but if you must, don’t stay for long. One night was more than long enough for me:

“What if Social Services calls tomorrow, Roger?”

“What if they want to interview our children?”

“What if they accuse us of neglecting Emily?”

“If only I’d called her in earlier!”

“If only I’d done a head count after I called them all in!”

“If only I’d been outside with her!”

See what I mean? A terrible, terrible place to visit…

Nevertheless, the next morning dawned bright and beautiful and with the sunlight, the fears of the previous night’s events began to recede, just as nightmares do at the break of day. I said goodbye to my husband that morning, sat down for a quiet cup of coffee and basked in the peace of the new day.

Until the phone rang.

Social Services. Once again, icy dread filled my veins. This caller was far from polite. Identifying herself as an office supervisor, she made it abundantly clear that a file now existed in their database and that questions needed to be answered. When would I like to set up a home visit? I immediately tensed and was now on the defensive. I did my best to remember all the caveats I had received from an attorney friend who cautioned me in the past, should our family ever have a run in with Social Services. Under no circumstances do you allow them into your home! Once they’re in, they’re in and you have relinquished your rights. Make them get a warrant, but hold firm. Your home is your castle.

I took a deep breath and asked the social worker to outline the legal necessity of this interview:

“Mam…whenever we receive an allegation of neglect an investigation must be conducted. We need to set up a home interview.”

“Excuse me, the police officers told us they had mistakenly made the call to Social Services. That this was clearly not a case of neglect. This makes no sense. Why would you need to conduct a home interview when there are no allegations?”

“We have a file and that file will need to be closed. The only way to close the file is through investigation. We will, of course, need to interview all of the children…”

“I’m sorry…I can’t agree to that! We were told that this issue was closed. The police assured us that no further investigation was necessary. We are fine, the children are fine, I don’t understand why you would have a file that calls for an investigation of a non-issue. This makes no sense…”

“It doesn’t matter what the police told you. They have their procedures and we have ours. This is the procedure. When can I set up a home appointment?”

“I’m not comfortable with inviting strangers into my home…I’m sure you understand. We are in the process of moving, the entire living room is full of boxes. Whatever investigation you’re conducting will have to be concluded quickly and at an alternate location. We’re moving…”

“Moving? Is this a recent decision?” (Did she think we were going to “cut and run?!”)

“We’ve been in the process of securing a new home since December, so no, this is not a recent decision.” ‘

“I’ll have the worker assigned to this case give you a call to set up an appointment as soon as possible. You’ll need to bring all the children…”

The phone call concluded, I immediately called my husband. Shock and disbelief. These people were not going to let go. It appeared that a “fishing expedition” was being organized and that I had very little time to prepare for the “trip.” My dear friend and neighbor was also horrified by the turn of events. As a home educator, she too feared how this investigation could impact her own family. She made a few calls to HSLDA, who had very little to offer in the way of advice, as this was not specifically a home schooling legal battle. We feared it could soon become one; this is a tactic that has been exercised in more than one occasion by Social Services. Without money, the law hasn’t much to offer. Despite all efforts on our part, it eventually became quite clear that our family was in this alone. Buoyed by the prayers, calls and support of our friends and parish priest, we plunged headlong into the onslaught.

The following day, another case worker called to set up an appointment. She once again insisted upon a home interview. I politely declined. She asked if she could interview the other children. Once again, I politely declined, terrified the entire time that I would be seen as hostile, all the while trying to maintain cheerful composure. I had begun keeping very careful records of all conversations:

“We really need statements from the other children in the household…”

“May I ask why? The other children were not missing, nor were they party to Emily’s actions. She wandered off on her own. Her father and I are the ones that can give you any other information you require. What possible insight could the other children provide? There is no police report naming the other children nor are we legally required to subject them to questioning.”

“You are correct. There is no legal requirement, but it would be helpful.”

“And there are no allegations of neglect, so there is no need to interview the children.”

“Will the child in question be allowed to attend the meeting?”

“I’ll have to confer with my husband. You see Mrs. X…we are good parents, and do everything within our power at all times to choose very carefully the people whom we allow to talk to our children. I still do not understand what on earth is going on. Put yourself in my place…does this seem reasonable? We are told there are no allegations of neglect, Social Services will not be called and now I have your office insisting upon interviewing my entire family. This makes no sense whatsoever! Hasn’t anyone even read the police report?”

“I don’t have a copy of the police report, though I have requested one. Much depends upon the police report…once I have a copy with the officer’s statement, perhaps our interview will take a different tone.”

“Wait a minute…you don’t have a copy of the police report? I do!! Shall I read it to you?”

“No, mam. I’ll be picking up a copy later today. We’ll discuss the report at our meeting.”

That was it. Guilty until proven innocent, everything hinging upon a police report that my husband was able to pick up the following day, but a government office wasn’t able to locate. It seemed odd they were more than able to get the “wheels of justice” turning–without a statement, without a complaint and without any witnesses.

The next few days were spent in research. I pulled copies of the Constitution of the United States and Amendments, the Ohio Child Protective Services Manual outlining protocol, and statistics on illegal practices and death rates of children removed from homes by Social Services.

The stories that I read online were heartrending and terrifying and many had begun much as our encounter had. Mistaken identity, anonymous callers and sometimes no traceable source for an investigation and subsequent seizure of a child. This government office has practically no oversight and is given immunity in nearly every case in which they have violated the constitutional rights of individuals and families. I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule, but I feared that we were being sucked into a whirlpool, one in which the rights of the family are always secondary to the rights of the State.

My husband and I talked about whether Emily would be allowed to attend the meeting. He felt that she should not, that she wouldn’t understand the procedure and didn’t want strangers questioning his child. I took a look at my sweet little girl…

“What if I simply take her with me, dressed up like the little doll she is, but don’t allow them to talk to her? After all, they say they simply want to make sure she’s okay. Let’s show them. Let them look, but not touch…if we keep her home, perhaps they’ll think we have something to hide, or that we harmed her after the events of that Sunday evening. I think we should quell their fears. I’ll do the talking. I’m going in loaded for bear! May God have mercy on them, they have a much bigger fight than they realize…”

Brave words, hmmm? Nearly verbatim, I’m sure. I felt like a mother tiger whose cubs were being threatened. All the days and nights of praying, worrying, preparing and finally trusting that God would protect us, that He would give me the words I needed to defend our family, were invaluable in tempering us for the potential backlash that could occur. My dear friend, Krislynne, came to offer her support. I feared leaving the children alone. Clementine was with them, but as a minor child, I feared that while I was in the meeting with the case worker, these evil people could make their way into my home and take my children. Krislynne agreed to stand guard. I begged them to keep the blinds closed and not to answer the door until they heard from me.

Armed with a file full of papers, notes and research, and little Emily by my side I strode as confidently as possible into the office of the case worker.

What happened next took me completely by surprise…

To be continued…

Sorrow and faith…

Sorrow and faith…

One felt, the other clung to. How else does one survive the loss of a much wanted, much loved child?

Our dear friends, Jim and Lisa Ross, know only too well the full meaning of the words above. This past Monday, Jimmy and Lisa, pregnant with their sixth child, heard the words that no parent ever wants to hear: no heartbeat…the baby is dead. Three and half weeks before little Gabriel was to arrive…

On Tuesday August 12, 2008, Gabriel Alexander Ross was delivered into the waiting arms of his sweet mother. Much as our Lady received into her own arms the body of her Son, Lisa held little Gabriel for the first and last time. A lovely little boy, a cherub’s cheeks and a curly halo of dark brown hair…the image of his brother, James. Sleeping peacefully beneath the heart of his mother, he knew only love and comfort. He was loved and is now mourned by five siblings; Ben, Jack, John, Lucy and James.

Tomorrow, Fr. Lutz will offer a Requiem Mass of the Angels for baby Gabriel. We will celebrate his life, thankful to God that we were able to love him for a little while. His parents are amazing, seeing God’s hand in this loss, just as they have in the many blessings they’ve received. Lisa has asked that a picture be posted of her sweet baby. Such a beautiful boy, missed by his family and friends, watching and praying, waiting for the day that he can embrace us all.  Please keep the Ross family in prayer, as they continue to mourn their precious child; living in faith, hope and trust in God’s merciful love.

Having become perfect in a short while, he reached the fullness of a long career;
for his soul was pleasing to the LORD, therefore he sped him out of the midst of wickedness.

Wisdom 4:14

Gabriel Alexander Ross
August 12, 2008
Requiescat in pace

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