On Poverty

7/5/17


For the past eight days, we've had essentially no running water in our home.

It started a few weeks ago when our water pressure dropped drastically and it took several days of phone calls to our landlord to get someone out for repairs. When a plumber finally did come out, he turned the water off completely and said he couldn't fix the pipes. They were too corroded to touch. A second plumber came out the next day and concluded the same thing. Our family of five plus our housemate spent the better part of every day simply trying to survive: Cooking, flushing, washing dishes, cleaning up spills, and even brushing teeth and faces required exhausting levels of work. We hauled water from our friend's house down the street in a Rubbermaid bin and gallons of plastic bottles, lasting us two days at a time before doing it all over again. There was not a single gesture of help or accommodation from our landlord; not one sincere word of regret or condolence.

After five days another plumber came, patched up more than one hole and left, supplying a barely usable trickle of water- not enough to run a washing machine, shower thoroughly, or even flush the toilet. He said it was the city's valve that was faulty. Days after that someone from the city finally showed up, found the mysterious last leak, and patched it up.

Water had been spewing at four gallons a minute, he said. The landlord vaguely assured us we'd "work something out" when we got the water bill. He has yet to decide how much of a discount to give us from our rent this month, despite us demanding it be at least half the norm. The ball is in his court, and he knows it.

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Poverty is not always about money. Poverty is just as much about being denied basic human dignity.

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Maybe it's easy to hear this story and assume we're getting what we pay for. Unfortunately, that's not the case. We've never paid anything close to the rent we're paying on this house (you'd be appalled if I told you) and it's in the worst shape of anywhere we've ever lived. We had very few choices of rental properties that were in the area of town that is accessible to people without cars- the people we hope to open up hospitable arms to. The further you go out to the 'burbs, the cheaper (and nicer) the properties get. But no one in need can get to you. Which is maybe the point.

But our motives weren't completely altruistic- they were practical too. Our housemate doesn't own a car and needs to be within biking distance to work and other places. Our family only has one car so most days one of us must be able to walk or bike to where we need to go as well. There are two universities in this town and landlords know they can hike the price up if the location is right, because students can cram four or five friends in a house and split the rent. But this house we're in takes the cake. In addition to the water fiasco, the bathroom is old and gross, the backyard so overgrown with sticker burs that it's essentially unusable, and the so-touted "third bedroom" is an entryway that my baby sleeps in that does not have a vent or an outlet. We have to run an extension cord into his room to put a fan in so he can actually sleep through the night without waking in sweat. If we're in this house through the winter, I fear the consequences of putting a space heater in the room. I don't know what we'll do.

The truth is, we want out. But if we break the lease it will cost us money we don't really have and can go on our credit record, possibly keeping us from leasing or owning in the future. We- the three adults in the house- are talking constantly about what to do, and the conversation has been started with the landlord. But ultimately, the ball is in his court. Will he show mercy if we ask to leave amicably? Maybe. Maybe not.

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Poverty is not always about money. Poverty is just as much about who has the power and who doesn't.

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Because of the mental space the house has taken up in my brain the past week and a half, I missed the necessary window to book a doctor's appointment for Alyosha to get a new Ritalin prescription. I have one our doctor in Iowa sent with us with hope and a prayer, but pharmacies here won't fill it across state lines. So he's been on half meds for two days and runs out tomorrow. Life will get harder for all of us then, unless by some miracle I can get him seen today. I'm angry at myself for letting it sneak up on me, but when you're manually fetching pails of water to flush your children's feces with while they stand around to watch, you don't have time to stay on top of scheduling appointments.

I don't know what school they'll attend because I don't know where we'll be living on August 15th. I haven't registered them anywhere. It might not get done until August 14th. I might be that mom, the one that everyone wonders about. Why didn't she have her act together? Doesn't she care about her children? What is so hard about just filling out some school paperwork?

I'm not sure when the last time was that my oldest two ate a vegetable. Well, I guess it was the green beans at my mother-in-law's house this weekend, but other than that I have no recall. I feel guilty about their eating habits, but once again, when you're just trying to survive it's amazing how quickly things get overlooked.

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Poverty is not always about money. Poverty is just as much about keeping your head above water and everything that drowns as you tread, tread, tread.





A note to end on: My family is going to be okay. We have affluent parents who can meet our basic needs in a crisis, we have higher education degrees that afford us opportunities, we have a lifetime of experience in white middle-class America in our pockets with which to work through options. It will be tempting for many of you to start brainstorming solutions for me, and although I deeply appreciate your care, I assure you we're spinning this over a million different ways in our brains every hour. I didn't write this post hoping you could solve my problems for me, or even for your sympathy or cries of injustice. I'm thankful for how you guys love me, but this post isn't really about me and I hope you see that. I have options. This post is to help us understand the plight of those who don't.




Are We Letting Consumerism Plan Our Families?

6/20/17

I push the massive red cart through the aisles, joking apologetically to passersby about my ineptitude at navigating a spaceship. My three-year-old and one-year-old sit happily enjoying their free ride, chatting it up with one another, with me, with anyone who will listen, really.

We need diapers, so I maneuver carefully through the numerous baby aisles, passing a veritable mass of inventions, each almost identical to the last. For a brief moment, the normalcy of these aisles gives way to reality and I see the absurdity for what it is. I have to count them, I decide. 11 activity mats. 6 excersaucers.

Tossing a few (of the dozen) plush animals at my boys to buy myself some time, I move to the bouncers. Only four, I’m surprised to find, but they all look almost exactly the same: sleek and white, seemingly better suited for the Apple store than the baby aisle of Target; four variations of a product with almost no discernable difference between them.

My three-year-old cannot contain the stimulation any longer. “I want to buy something!” he yells.

Bingo, I think.


Most Christians would probably agree that America has a consumerism problem. Yet if we’re honest, most of us are also unwilling to do anything about it ourselves. We will sit and bemoan the state of a society that values things over relationships, monetary exchanges over natural pleasures, but we subconsciously feed into the epidemic all the time. We convince ourselves that a “want” is really a “need”, we see lack where there is abundance, and we spend money because it physiologically makes us feel good, though we rarely recognize it.

But perhaps most damaging of all: We let consumerism plan our families.

It has become common for happy young couples to wait years before marrying because they are convinced they simply cannot afford family life yet. Certainly, this can be a harmless decision, but let’s face it: it does no favors for those attempting chastity before marriage. Waiting years in an intimate relationship to consummate the intimacy already in one’s heart is no easy task, and all too often becomes one tossed aside in frustration.

But a bigger problem, and one we’re seeing increasingly more frequently are couples in committed marriages postponing having children for years because they don’t feel financially prepared. And can we blame them? Articles like this one claim it costs $12,000 to see a baby through his first year of life, $230,000 to see Junior into adulthood. Who could help but balk at figures like that?

Yet all over the world parents are managing to raise happy, well-adjusted children at a fraction of those numbers, and almost all of our grandparents did as well. Ah, the argument might go, but in our time and place, cost of living is simply much higher. And to an extent that is certainly true: Childbirth itself costs much more than it did 60 years ago, and most American parents plan to save something for their children’s college education. These are valid expenses, absolutely.

But much more impactful may be the thousands of smaller choices between birth and college. With their first walk-through of a big box store’s baby section, parents-to-be may quickly become convinced they’ll need to renovate a new wing of the house to accommodate all the “necessary” gear. Get Chip and Joanna on the phone, stat! And it only continues as that baby grows under the roof of parents who feel they have no option but to keep up with the Joneses. They literally see no other way.


The goal of marketing is to make us feel a lack when in reality there is none. (If there were, we would know: Humans are incredibly attuned when it comes to identifying our vital material needs and seeking to meet them.) And we are never more terrified of lack than when it comes to our children; a noble instinct, but in our modern society, a sorely misdirected one.

If a young married couple believes that before they can bring a baby into the family they must be able to provide a closet full of stylish clothes, the newest playthings, a restaurant’s worth of feeding supplies, and every popular Mommy & Me class in town, they will struggle mightily to embrace a truly pro-life mentality.

And if that’s true of the young marrieds, how much truer is it of those unmarried and facing unplanned pregnancies? When bearing the weight of choice in a culture that tells them they have not “earned” the right to be parents yet, how many feel doomed before they even begin?

We need to support those in crisis pregnancies with programs like the Gabriel Project and local Christian pregnancy centers, to be sure. But have we underestimated the extent to which rejecting a culture of consumerism might change the trajectory of a baby’s life? If we as faithful Christians embraced lifestyles of radical simplicity, might it pave the way for young people to believe that relationships are not built on bank accounts?


One thing I’ve found by now, as I prepare to bring our fourth child into the family, is that babies need far less than our culture tries to convince us of. Quite frankly they are often most happy with less, as parents unable to rely on things are more free to engage in truly bonding activities that help their children thrive. This is a secret many parents of large families wise up to over the years, but it’s a tough sell to convince a first-timer that less is more.

If more of us lived out voluntary simplicity, spoke openly about our tight budgets, and joyfully invited young people into our homes rich in love anyway, perhaps our culture (even if only first within the Church) might become more pro-life. Maybe instead of communicating the message “you don’t have enough to do this”, we could instead communicate, “you are enough to do this”.

And maybe, just maybe we would see more young people made brave against the sneers of society, bolstered by our cheering them on to choose people over things. Every time.

Summer Book List 2017

6/9/17


Hey guys, remember when I promised to roll out a hefty new series on Catholic Social Teaching - while simultaneously moving halfway across the country to rejoin an intentional community, taking on a new part-time job, and welcoming a surprise pregnancy? How absolutely precious of me.

So, yeah. That series is running a bit behind. But I thought I'd hop on, wave hi, and throw some book recs your way for those long summer days ahead! We are due to arrive in Texas on Tuesday and are up to our ears in cardboard boxes as I type. Odds are you'll have a more productive reading season than I, so share your recs in the comments or on FB!

Amazon links are affiliates and help support our house of hospitality at no extra cost to you. And for those who don't know, anything you buy after clicking through my link goes to our credit- it doesn't even have to be the item I recommended. Thanks for thinking of us when you shop!

Just Finished Reading:




This is the kind of delicious novel that you devour in three days. It follows the stories of two women; one a white lawyer in modern-day New York, the other a black slave in 1850s Virginia. The long lasting impacts of slavery are explored here in an accessible way, bringing home again the shocking implications of the foundations of our country. Historical fiction at it's finest.



Currently Reading:




I'm a total sucker for classic literature with a child protagonist (think: To Kill a Mockingbird). This one is a rich coming-of-age story with excellent character development and descriptions. It's not exactly a page-turner, but if you're appreciative of thoughtful, exploratory writing I think you'll dig it. I am always refreshed by seeing the world through the eyes of a child.



Big Father Martin fan here, so my interest was piqued when I saw his spiritual memoir at the library. Coincidentally, it follows the same format that the book in my head does- one that maybe will see the light of day in the next five years. I'm always moved to witness how the faith of the saints and other spiritual mothers and fathers inform the way we live out our personal Christian devotion today. The Body of Christ is a powerful thing.




Sigh, Walter Brueggemann, why aren't you my friendly neighborhood surrogate uncle? If y'all are not familiar with Brueggemann remedy that quick. Most of his tutelage comes to me through husband osmosis, but I'm reading this one cover to cover myself. (And the other authors are great too! Wink.) This is a topic I'm passionate about and think many of you will love it too.



Will Be Reading:



Has everyone else on the planet read this one by now? I'm way behind here but have heard only good things and am determined to tackle it this summer. If you've read it already, was there anything that took you by surprise?



Eric's Reading:



A few chapters into this book and Eric was telling me it's a must-read for me as a mother of boys, so I definitely hope to get my hands on it one day, even if it's not this summer. Neither of us are huge fans of the Wild At Heart kind of men's books, not that there isn't good stuff in there, but because the model is really not inclusive of all types of males. Adam's Return, in contrast, examines the male initiation rites around the world that Rohr has spent half his life studying, and draws conclusions about the needs and desires of manhood and men's relationship to Creator and Creation in light of them. Eric highly recommends it.



Kids Are Reading:




My bigger boys are in stitches over the Pigeon series of books by Mo Willems these days. It's not necessarily impressive academics, but sometimes it's nice to just see your kiddos cracking up as they pore over a picture book. (And they're fun for parents to read too!)

Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit!

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It's about time for another monthly newsletter update, and thank you to those who took the time to fill out the quick survey last month- your feedback was so helpful! If you'd like to sign up for these more personal notes, you can do so here. I'm excited to tell you All The Things after our big move next week! See you then!

The Dignity of the Human Person

5/18/17

This is the second post in a series of eight exploring Catholic Social Teaching. Affiliate links are used for recommended resources in this post.

Genesis 1:27 
 God created humankind in His own image 

You might see the idea talked about in its Latin form, "imago Dei". I love that we have a succinct way of expressing a reality so complex and mysterious.

In the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, the "imago Dei" is explained like this: “the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons. (108)"

Simply put, God our Creator took some of the most beautiful parts of Himself and placed them within each one of us. Every human being has dignity because every human being has been made in the image of God. Dignity is not a right that can be earned or lost by our life choices.

By the way, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church was released by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 2004 under the authority of Pope John Paul II. If you're unfamiliar with the workings of the Catholic Church, this basically means that the Compendium is official and universal Catholic teaching. It's not just a fringe group that blows their social justice trumpet to the annoyance of everyone else. This is for and representative of all Catholics.

(I simply cannot move forward without begging you to buy a copy of the Compendium. If you are Catholic, this needs to be right up there on your bookshelf beside your Catechism. If you are a non-Catholic Christian, you will be encouraged and equipped with extensive language to articulate your Gospel-shaped social convictions to others. The Compendium is not just a feel-good religious book; it holds up in academic settings. Get your hands on this thing, guys.)


"A just society can become a reality only when it is based on the respect of the transcendent dignity of the human person... It is necessary to 'consider every neighbor without exception as another self, taking into account first of all his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity.' Every political, economic, social, scientific and cultural programme must be inspired by the awareness of the primacy of each human being over society."  (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 132, emphasis mine)

I think it's fair to say a just society is what we all want. Maybe we could all even agree that the foundation of such a society would have to be the inherent dignity of the human person. But the idea of considering every neighbor WITHOUT EXCEPTION as another self- that's where it starts getting uncomfortable, isn't it?

I mean sure, in Mark 12:31 Jesus said the most important commandment- after loving God- was to love your neighbor as yourself. But we all know what He meant. He meant the neighbors who have earned their dignity, earned their respect. The ones who act in a way that makes middle-class Americans feel comfortable. Surely Jesus doesn't expect us to consider the undocumented immigrant taking our jobs as another self. Surely He doesn't think we'll be able to see ourselves in the black teenage boy who shouldn't have mouthed off to the authority figure in the first place. Surely Jesus meant that I love the neighbor who reminds me most of myself.

What if maybe, maybe, Jesus meant exactly what He said? What if, like the Compendium articulates, I am called to consider every single one of my "neighbors" (i.e. people I share the earth with) as another self? Not called to be nice to them, not called to make donations to them, but called to truly believe that they belong to me, and I to them?


Going back to the above quote, what could it mean to take into account not just the worth of my neighbor's life, but equally important, "the means necessary for living it with dignity"? That's the part that will get us.

Let me paint you a picture.

I was born to parents who were not wealthy, and whose own families had their share of financial struggles through the years. But both of their families of origin were white in Mississippi, so even without a cushioned bank account, they enjoyed a basic level of respect and privilege within their communities that their neighbors of color did not receive. My parents were both first generation college graduates, but while not college educated, my grandparents all worked stable jobs and owned their homes (this was made astronomically easier by the fact that the generations before them had legal right to own property. In their state, as you know, this was not a historical given.)

By the time I went to college, my nuclear family was upper middle class. Both of my parents worked at a Christian university so I got free tuition. I was given a brand new car the Christmas before I graduated- the exact make and model I had asked for. I can tell you right now I did NOT live out my first few college years "with dignity", but there was no systematic injustice to blame. I was just an immature idiot.

I had been through a high performing public school and knew how to succeed, so I grabbed my Bachelor's degree with hardly breaking a sweat. I married right after college graduation, to a man also from a stable two-parent, financially cushioned family, and we began our life together.


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“With due respect for the autonomy and culture of every nation, we must never forget that the planet belongs to all mankind and is meant for all mankind; the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity.”  (Pope Francis, Evangeli Gaudium)

Everything about the background of my life set me up to be treated with dignity by our society.

But had my parents, growing up in the deep South in the 1960s, happened to have been born with a different color skin, do you think my own story would have unfolded the same way? We both know the answer to that.

Had my parents been born Mexican citizens, grew terrified for my safety in a city riddled with drug cartel and violence, took the risk of moving to a new country without the finances, education, or language to succeed in it, and tried to piece together a life for me here, would I be in a respected position in our society?

I could go on and on but I'll stop because you get the point.

If creating a just society means working towards a system where every human being has the means necessary for living their life with dignity, how do we move towards that? It's a complicated topic to be sure, but I believe there is an easy place to start.

We love our neighbors as ourself.

That means we consider our neighbor when we make decisions for our own lives. We seek to understand systematic injustices that keep certain people down and boost other people up. We befriend those who make us uncomfortable. We offer our money if it helps, sure, but mostly we offer our butts in chairs.

We sit and we listen. We sit and we become the learners, not the instructors. We sit and we become the weak, not the mighty. We sit and simply be with people. We get to learn that we aren't the saviors. There may be a time for action that comes, but for a good long while we sit down and shut up. We listen to the marginalized, we listen to our neighbors. We have our butts in chairs.

And while we listen, we honor the image of God in our neighbor.



Peter Maurin is one of the most radical and lovely Catholics that I've had the honor of becoming familiar with post-humously. Dorothy Day often credited (or some say, blamed) him for starting the Catholic Worker movement, but as he was more of an odd duck and less of a charismatic leader than Dorothy, his place in history has been rather muted. I feel pretty certain he's a saint.

In her autobiography The Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day describes Peter in a way that I believe epitomizes Jesus' desire for how we would relate to the other. Living up to this description would be a worthy life goal for all of us; imagine how differently the world would see Christians then.

“{Peter} did not begin by tearing down, or by painting so intense a picture of misery and injustice that you burned to change the world. Instead, he aroused in you a sense of your own capacities for work, for accomplishment. He made you feel that you and all men had great and generous hearts with which to love God. If you once recognized this fact in yourself you would expect and find it in others. It was seeing Christ in others, loving the Christ you saw in others. Greater than this, it was having faith in the Christ in others without being able to see Him. Blessed is he that believes without seeing.”
(If you've been around long enough you may remember I've quoted part of that before. It moves me like nothing else can.) 

Peter's contribution to Catholic Social Thought remains largely through Dorothy's extensive writings about him in her books and journals, as he wasn't the prolific writer that she was. She even wrote a book entirely about him that I haven't read yet but still feel confident in recommending to you.

His own writings were short and sweet and came to be known as "easy essays". They are compiled on the Catholic Worker website, and here is an example:

1. To give and not to take
    that is what makes man human.
 2. To serve and not to rule
    that is what makes man human.
 3. To help and not to crush
    that is what makes man human.
 4. To nourish and not to devour
    that is what makes man human.
 5. And if need be
    to die and not to live
    that is what makes man human.
 6. Ideals and not deals
    that is what makes man human.
 7. Creed and not greed
    that is what makes man human.

To nourish and not devour.

May we live our lives in such a way towards all.

May we be willing to be corrected, able to be changed, and open to being wrong.

May we honor the dignity of the human person in every neighbor we encounter.


Thanks for joining me for this series. You can read the post before this one here and stay tuned for the next one, the call to family, community, and participation, in the next two weeks.





Discovering the Power of Catholic Social Teaching (even if you're not Catholic... and even if you are)

5/3/17

this post contains affiliate links as recommended resources on the topic at hand

One thing that drew me to the Catholic Church four years ago was the firmly established social teaching. From papal encyclicals (that’s a fancy word for formal writings of a pope to the universal Church) to bishops’ letters, and culminating in the massive Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, I was enamored with how steeped this tradition is in a deeply intellectual pursuit of an understanding and embodiment of God’s intent for the human person.

There has been so much written (over the past 130 years in particular) that seven defined principles have emerged in Catholic Social Teaching. They are:
  1. dignity of the human person
  2. call to family, community, and participation
  3. rights and responsibilities
  4. a preferential option for and with people who are poor
  5. the dignity of work and the rights of workers
  6. solidarity
  7. care for God’s creation
But Catholicism, as they say, is a big tent and although I have found many Catholics to be informed and passionate on these issues, it’s fair to say that most I encounter are somewhat oblivious to the crucial implications of them. There is still so much work to be done in educating our own baptized on these principles.


Jesus Christ came with a social Gospel. Whether or not we are comfortable with that frankly doesn’t matter. One simply cannot read the accounts of His life on earth and come to any other conclusion. He did speak of life after death, certainly, and of spiritual disciplines, an intimate relationship with God, and the importance of sharing the faith with others – but his concern for the systematic treatment of human beings and the social structures that we function in can’t be overstated.

The Good News isn’t just spiritual, far from it. The Good News carries radical and often uncomfortable social implications that challenge us Americans to our very individualistic cores. Your salvation is not just between you and God. Your salvation involves your fellow man. It was always meant to be this way.

For many of us, it can be hard to begin putting abstract concepts into practice in our daily lives. There are so many needs in the world and so many complexities that muddy the waters of important social issues. We can be duped into thinking the justice stuff is just not our “calling” or our particular brand of Christianity. We are sorely, tragically mistaken; but we’re not without hope.


Over the next couple of months, I’m going to be undertaking a study of Catholic Social Teaching here at the blog, taking it principle by principle, citing noteworthy sources, digging up Scripture, recommending modern resources, and bringing it all home to a practical application that will affect our daily lives. (And yes, I say “our” intentionally, because this is just as much for my benefit as for yours.)

But maybe you’re not Catholic. (If I’m proud of anything about this blog, it’s that it is a wide-open space. All people of goodwill are welcome here, Catholic or Protestant, Christian or non, and I love how united we find ourselves on the things that matter most.)

If you’re not Catholic, you might be thinking what the heck do I care about papal encyclicals and letters from bishops? Well as with so many things, the Catholic Church does a fantastic job of preserving universally traditional Christian teaching here. All of my life my dad (a Baptist theologian) always said, “all truth is God’s truth”, meaning we can extract Divine instruction from even unlikely sources. If Catholic Social Teaching is an unlikely source for you, I encourage you to stick with this series and see if you don’t find something beautiful in it.


I’m excited to explore these topics with you guys and wish I could promise to faithfully deliver a post in this series once a week for seven weeks, but life isn’t quite as predictable as that. If you’re new here (hi, welcome!), my family of five is preparing to move back to Texas in June to rejoin a Catholic Worker- a decision that you can read about here. So while I’d much rather be hacking at these keys and poring over the Compendium, life is demanding cardboard boxes and insurance changes.

So no promises about when in the next two weeks it will be published, but the first principle we’ll tackle will be the dignity of the human person. Such a good one. I’m thinking Jean Vanier and Peter Maurin will be making appearances.

And in the meantime, I’m sending out a monthly newsletter this weekend so sign up if you’d like! These typically include a little more personal writing, recommendations for things to be reading or listening to that pique the social consciousness, and sometimes we do really awesome book giveaways. When you sign up you get a heart-stealing printable of a Dorothy Day quote made by Erica at Be a Heart Design. So that in and of itself is reason enough to join us.

I’m thankful you’re here and honored to get to walk through these seven principles with you. Thanks for being my people.

Why My Son's Autism Is Exactly What I Needed (plus a fundraiser for a local ChildServe!)

4/29/17

If you had told me ten years ago that I would have a son with Autism Spectrum Disorder, pre-mom me would have given you a blank stare and maybe a furrowed brow. But this once vague and intimidating neurological condition has, in fact, become a familiar part of my daily life: my oldest of three sons has autism. There is a lot of fearful rhetoric around Autism but the truth is much less scary and much more beautiful than we’re told. Do my 7 year old’s neurological differences make life harder sometimes? Sure. But do they also make it better? Absolutely.

Here are seven ways that having a child with autism turned out to be exactly what I needed.
   


  1. His need for predictability forces me to be organized.
      
      I’m a notoriously disorganized person. I’ve never been good at sticking to schedules, I’m always late, and I generally have no idea what the day will hold when I start it. But having a kid with autism means I have to suck it up and adult. He needs high structure, predictability, and a definite plan- and if I want some semblance of peace I have to deliver!

2. He exposes me to things I’d never seek to learn on my own.
      
      My son’s mind is highly literal and factual. He enjoys stories here and there but if you really want to get him excited, give him a book about tornadoes. I, on the other hand, am a fiction girl through and through. I would never gravitate toward scientific books for fun! But thanks to my kid, I learn more about the earth every day.

    3. His meltdowns often sum up the way I feel inside.
      
      Does any parent enjoy managing meltdowns? Nah. And doing it multiple times every single day is no walk in the park. But sometimes there is something oddly gratifying about seeing someone express feelings in a way I’m not socially allowed to. If I can’t kick and scream over the ice cream shop being closed when we get there, someone should.

4. He works incredibly hard to make and keep friends.
     
      While I’m prone to make friends effortlessly and even take my dearest relationships for granted, social reciprocity doesn’t come easily for my boy. He puts in extra work to interact with other kids, and it inspires me to go the extra mile to appreciate the friendships in my own life.

5. He provides me with the perfect excuse to bow out early.
      
      Social settings are very stressful for my son, so short appearances are usually best. For an introvert like me who would rather be in yoga pants on the couch anyway, his anxiety is the perfect built-in reason to head home and get comfy!

6. His curiosity reveals my laziness.
     
      The constant barrage of questions about how things work- from water towers to windmills– makes me realize how content I am to not discover anything! His urgent need to know the engineering details of a machine might sometimes frustrate me, but it’s also an amazing gift to be reminded to pay attention to the opportunities to learn and grow all around me.

7. His idiosyncrasies make me more accepting of other people.
      
      Knowing my son intimately and appreciating all of his quirks has stretched me out of my comfort zone of people who all think and act like I do. Thanks to my 7 year old, I can understand better the range of neurodiversity in the world; I am much less judgmental and much more openhearted than I was before him. And if he keeps working on me, maybe I’ll be a halfway decent person by the time he graduates high school. We can hope.

FUNDRAISER TIME!

Many of you know that our family only recently received this Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis, though we had our antennae up for a long time prior. Our local branch of ChildServe has been an incredible resource for our journey, and we are so thankful for the support they offer families like ours in Iowa by providing evaluation, diagnosis, and therapies.

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, I'm teaming up with my friend Marla at Usborne Books & More to donate as many books as possible to our local ChildServe's autism department.

How you can help: 

- Use this link to buy some books for the kids in your life, and up to 50% of the proceeds go towards books that ChildServe will receive for free through May 5th!

- Donate books directly to our Ames branch. They've even made a wishlist of Usborne books they think will most benefit their ASD kids in therapy!

- Spread the word! Whether or not you're able to purchase, please consider sharing this fundraiser on social media or even in an email to friends and family. The more ears that hear about it, the more we can shower these kiddos with new books!

*UPDATED TO ADD: My friend Marla is graciously offering to personally match a $50 purchase made from ChildServe's wishlist by midnight tonight (May 1) - that's in addition to the 50% Usborne will donate! Someone jump??  :)


Ch- Ch- Ch- Changes

4/18/17

Hey friends,

I'm committing the cardinal sin of Blogdom and popping in for a short and sweet, uninspiring update. But I wanted to let y'all know that I finally made myself a big-girl website! Woot Woot!


I wanted to make it just right before the unveiling, meaning I wanted to completely move my blog and all it's contents over there- but alas, it was not to be, and that part is going to have to wait. So for now I'll have to link between the two of them which, yes, is a pain in the arse but also means I get to sleep more than two hours a night before we move in June.

(JUNE IS SO SOON!!!)

Anyway. I hope you love it as much as I do. The Upside Down podcast schtuff is there, my freelance work is there, info on the Catholic Worker is there, and best of all...

:::drumroll:::

a huge list of my favorite book recommendations is there, categorized by Justice Issues, Spirituality, Novels/Memoirs, and Children's.  It might be my favorite part of the site.

So head over to ShannonKEvans.com and tell me what ya think? (and pssst if the links don't work, let a sista know)

Happy Easter!
Shannon

Easter at the Catholic Worker

4/11/17

Image: America Magazine

We sat side by side on a hay bale, knees under a makeshift picnic table and bellies full of homemade bread. Samantha lived in a tent by the river. I could sometimes make out the tip of it when I drove by the woods in our SUV on the way home from running errands with my kids. I had heard that she and her boyfriend were troublemakers, a reputation no doubt fueled by their respective addictions, neither of which do any favors for one’s interpersonal skills.

But there at the table, I saw no signs of all that. I saw only a woman who cooed over the baby in my arms. We made small talk, or at least attempted it, until her curiosity could contain itself no longer: “Why are you here?” she asked. She could not keep the skepticism out of her voice, and I did not blame her. I was married and clearly middle class, despite my best attempts to play it down. Why on earth was I hanging out at the Day House, a place frequented mostly by people experiencing homelessness? I chuckled low and got honest: “Because we need friends.”

Three years prior, my husband and I had returned to the United States after two years of serving as Protestant evangelical missionaries in Indonesia. When we came home, it was as first-time parents to a newly adopted son. Between reverse culture shock and the tangled web of adapting to the complications of our son’s early childhood trauma, our lifelong faith suddenly came up lacking. We prayed fervently for healing for our little boy, that his brain would be rewired to send signals of safety instead of fear, but nothing ever changed. And we began to break under the weight of our own inadequacies as our best parenting efforts failed day after day, until we barely resembled the healthy, competent people we once knew ourselves to be. I had never imagined there could be such darkness within me. But then I had never needed to.

Read the rest at America Magazine!

The Song That Autism Sings (Autism Awareness Month)

4/4/17


I figured it out by watching Parenthood.

Little Max Braverman exhibited many of my son's own behaviors except, well, more mildly. My husband and I were saucer-eyed from the pilot episode; I filed mental notes away as if all our lives depended on it because in a way, they did.

It would be two years later, just this past January, that a psychologist would officially confirm what I'd known in my gut for two trips around the sun: my boy has Autism Spectrum Disorder.

He was about to celebrate his seventh birthday. Had he been a toddler, it likely would have hit me like a ton of bricks: I would have grieved, I would have cried, I would have been afraid. But when you're loving and living with a brain that spins in an entirely different pattern than your own for years, you've already known that fear of a life you can't imagine and don't understand- you've looked that fear in the eye and felt sure it would bury you. But it didn't.

Eventually, parents of children with Autism find a way to counter fear with joy, whether it comes before the diagnosis or after. Not because we are superhuman creatures, but because our children are. We see them make their way through a world that wasn't built for them, and we determine to change it. We see them overcome their debilitating anxiety to participate in mundane events, and we're inspired to be more heroic ourselves. We see them crumble when it all feels too much, and the deep groan of love propels us to fight when they can't. In laughter and in tears, in failure and in occasional success, we learn to find a way beyond our own doubts and limitations.

Our understanding of the world and our place within it shatters. It has to, for there to be room for our child in it. But as we rebuild a life out of the shards (occasionally bloodying our hands on the pieces and bandaging them up for each other) it becomes apparent that the window through which we view everything is now stained glass, fit for the most glorious cathedral and - wouldn't you know it? - the presence of God.

This is the gift that Autism offers the world; this is the song that Autism sings. It is in breaking open that we are made whole, and it is in embracing each other in all our imperfections that we can finally recognize the image of God that was right in front of us the whole time.

Today we are surrounded by demand for "perfection" on every side. Efforts are being made to systematically eradicate genetic conditions such as Down Syndrome, reeking heavily of a Hitlerian disdain for the differently abled. Well that's the "depraved world", a Christian might say. But within some streams of Christianity, the singular emphasis on God's healing power unintentionally sends the same message: an atypical life is somehow not as valuable. Maybe we don't believe weakness, dependence, and suffering can glorify God. Maybe we think He secretly only likes the impressively-abled ones. Maybe deep down, we think God is just like us.

My son is a phenomenal human being. The label of Autism helps us understand him but it does not define him and indeed, he often blatantly defies it. We have found strategies and medication that have been life-changing for him and much to our happy bewilderment his teachers report he is a model student. And yet still, life is harder for him than for many other kids. Life is harder for us than for many other parents. But a hard life does not mean a less valuable life. On the contrary, I would challenge us to question whether individuals with special needs don't invite the rest of us in to a life more abundant, one that transforms us from the inside out. It's Good News. It's Gospel.

If it's good news for some of us, it's good news for all of us, or it's not good news at all. And the Good News for people like you and me - the neurotypical, the "strong" - is that our weaknesses, our fatal flaws, don't disqualify us from bearing the image of a Loving God or of bringing good and dignified gifts into a world that needs them. We are enough, every single one of us. We have dignity and glory and beauty and complexity and we are so much more than enough.

Just as we are.


In my journey, I have been inspired by the words of other special needs mothers. Most are softened souls that speak into my literal ear and will never be known as internet famous, but there are also women like MaryMicha, and Kelly, who write online for the rest of us to draw from their wells. If you don't know their stories, I invite you to sit under their wisdom for as long as your coffee stays warm.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:
Blink (for the parents of the different kind of kid)
What It Means to Say Yes to Adoption
In Defense of ADHD
When You're Still Looking for the Kingdom of God

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Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)

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