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After breathing paint fumes for a few weeks, I took a break to drive up to the IHM Homeschooling Conference for Friday and Saturday.  After a rather posh but difficult site last year, this year’s conference was moved to the Fredericksburg Conference Center, behind a massive swath of strip malls.  (This may sound less than ideal, but it offered plenty of eating options nearby, and I even got to go dress and shoe shopping during lunch break all by myself!  I don’t know when that last happened…)

This shall be merely the teaser post.

Coming this week:

Dr. Ray Guarendi

Prof. Joseph Pearce

Mr. Dale Ahlquist (President, American Chesterton Society)

… and several others!

As always, I’ll tell you that you should get to a conference in person, if at all possible.  Second-best would probably be to order the recordings of the talks from the conference coordinators.  Failing that, maybe I can at least whet your interest in attending next year by providing summaries and descriptions of the highly entertaining, informative, and uplifting talks I attended.

See you tomorrow!

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The Chinese Mural

Ok, the paint smells are finally clearing, and I am delivering on the promise to show what I’ve been up to.

Ok, so this was the cute handprint design that the girls deemed “too babyish.”  *sigh*  I thought it was cute…

First day of painting: green and a red garden wall.

Add trees…

That weird stripe pattern is the beginning of the railing.

The first animals appear: peacock, elephants, Victoria crowned pigeon, insects.

The red panda at the zoo is the kids’ favorite, and it likes to sit just like this on the branches over the path.

They’re not the best zebras ever, but this should give you an idea of their size (and thus lack of detail).

Trees, bushes, and the base color of the giraffe.  I was a bit worried I’d mess up the animals, so I avoided the ones I couldn’t use the art projector on.

Empress is a *little* exicted about this… she had to be asked to please not pet the animals until the paint had cured for a week or two!

The lotus pond, moon bears, two lions sleeping on the man-made mountain.

The little details help.  These are peach-faced lovebirds, a dragonfly copied from one in the backyard, and, in the upper left, a tiger and her cubs (who are unsuccessfully trying to hunt a golden pheasant).

Pandas playing and African crowned cranes courting (thanks to photos we took at the zoo).

Ta da!  The toddler bed was turned into a couch with a shelf, a dragonfly lantern, and a fake potted orchid.  They love to read over there.

The view from the desk under the bed.  The dragon-tiled ceiling and details are copied from photos I took in the Forbidden City.

I have a few details left to do on the bed, but it’s nearly done.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief foray into “what Kathy does when the obsessive instinct takes off”.  🙂

Paint Pain

My daughters informed me that the time was right to act on that discussion we’d had on what they might like to do if we repainted their room.  Four or more hours each day since last Friday, and I’m still not done, but they’re very impressed.  Heck, Oof is impressed, because one of the trees extends over part of the ceiling.

I’ll be back eventually with more photos.

Yes, that’s a peacock, against a traditional Chinese railing (how?  LOTS of blue painters’ tape!), under a cherry blossom tree, with a vast expanse of garden waiting to be filled between the railing and that wall in the distance.

This is how I “relax” from homeschooling, since they won’t leave me alone long enough to read if I actually sit down!

Threats against life and against the consciences of those who say “yes” to life must be met with timely and unwavering action, in our families and institutions, and, yes, in the public square.

– Cardinal DiNardo, vigil of the March for Life, 2012

On Friday, at noon, there will be coordinated, nation-wide rallies in support of religious freedom.  The list of cities participating is available at Stand Up For Religious Freedom.

This is not a “Catholic thing”.  If one group’s rights are trampled, nobody’s rights are safe.  Our founders argued for religious toleration for all faiths, even though many of them were certainly strongly anti-Catholic.  They were wise enough to know that if one group can be singled out for repression, then the list may be expanded to include others.  It had happened in England; first, the Catholics were arrested, fined, and harrassed into emigrating or giving up their faith.  Next, it was the other dissenters: the Quakers, Puritans, and others who disagreed with a state-run church.  You may notice that a lot of these people fled to the U.S. to find religious freedom.

The media has painted this as “those crazy papists, again!”  Yes, anti-Catholicism is alive and well in this country, and many will be persuaded by the coverage to believe this is just a “stupid Catholics being unreasonable” thing that can be safely ignored.  It isn’t “just a Catholic thing”, but don’t take my word for it.  Dr. James Dobson has written a strong statement against compliance with the HHS mandate.  Chuck Colson, may he rest in peace, adamantly opposed the HHS mandate.  Many other religious leaders, Christian and otherwise, have joined in saying that all Americans must stand up and oppose this, no matter what you believe about contraception.

“Freedom of religion” does not simply mean that I can worship however I please, as long as I don’t let anyone know about it in public by my words or actions.  My freedom of religion does not end as soon as I say or believe something that the government deems inappropriate.  My freedom of religion is not contingent on my ability to afford a fine when my beliefs run afoul of what the government has declared legal.

But if my freedom of religion can be circumscribed this way, so can yours.

It’s an hour.  Get out there.  This Friday, at noon.

HHS mandate, part 2

I have an irrate commenter who is very good at verbosely rattling off President Obama’s talking points.  In short:

  • nobody is forcing religious employers to pay for contraceptives; the insurance companies will pay for them
  • it isn’t true that anybody is forcing anyone to buy contraceptives at all: you could just pay the fine/assessment/tax/whatever Obama is calling it this week
  • you people need to stop believing everything the bishops tell you

Hmmm.  I could make snarky comments about him, but I’ll just make a lazy post by copying my reply.

Ok, so here’s the HHS statement on its final ruling.  Yeah, that’s what I said it said, thanks.

You may note that it clearly states that all health insurance plans that do not qualify for an exemption must provide contraceptive services.  Even those who qualify for an examption and don’t provide contraceptives will probably be required, the statement says, to inform their employees about where to get contraceptives for free.

So, every Catholic school, hospital and charity will be required to provide contraception (because they don’t fit under the new, narrow definition of a “religious” entity).  Even parishes and convents that fit under the definition should be aware that HHS is already contemplating how to force them to promote contraception to their employees.  The so-called compromise only means that these institutions will be forced to buy insurance that, for “free”, provides contraceptives.  NEWS FLASH: when the hotel says the wi-fi and breakfast are “free”, they aren’t; you’re paying for it, they just add it to the room price.  When the insurance company says, “Sure, we provide contraceptives for free,” um, no, YOU’RE PAYING FOR THAT.

(And you’re happy that dioceses will be forced to buy insurance from someone else?  Why?  Adding the bureaucracy of an insurance company won’t make health insurance cheaper for the employees.  Is it because the government can bully the insurance companies more easily?  Or are you just anti-Catholic and want Catholics to please keep their unauthorized opinions to themselves, unless they’re standing in a church?)

And, holy crap!  how generous!, HHS has allowed that those institutions that do not fit under the definition but have objections can have an extra year to, as Cardinal Dolan put it, “Figure out how to violate our consciences,” as long as they prove that they even qualify for the extension.

The last time I checked, in this country, we do not generally give out rights only to those who can PAY THE FINES FOR THEM.  If you have to pay a fine for it, it ISN’T RELIGIOUS FREEDOM.  I am not interested in being a dhimmi in my own country, thank you very much.

Yes, I’m yelling.  Here’s my short version:

The federal government has a definition of what constituted a religious institution; this administration chose to use a definition that excludes most religious institutions.  Why?  Are they trying to drive religious institutions out of the public square?

If I pay for insurance that provides contraceptives, I am directly complicit in something I hold to be sinful, no matter how the accounting is done (this has nothing to do with paying taxes; that is a much more remote connection between my money and behavior I may hold to be immoral).  So, no, the latest “compromise” isn’t worth anything.

If I have to pay a fine to exercise my religious freedom, then my “right” has been reduced to a calculation of how much money the government can get out of me, money that the government will directly use to fund something I object strongly to.  And once I’m out of money, my right to religious freedom is gone.  Somehow, I seem to remember from high school government class that that is not how our Bill of Rights is supposed to work.  (But Obama was a Constitutional law prof; I’m sure he’ll tell us that, since he sees the Constitution as a living document, “bill” must be reinterpreted in the modern way, so it now means, “You get rights, and the government will send you a bill.”)

And if you think, “Well, I don’t care about contraception; I want it covered,” then please consider what else is legal that you or your church might object to funding: abortion, sex-change operations, and euthanasia.  If they force the Catholics to bow (and we are the largest single denomination in this country and our hospitals care for 1/6 of American patients), do you think they are going to stop here?

Memorial Day

I have obviously been cleaning out my “draft posts” folder, stayed up too late, and just generally written too much (again).

Happy Memorial Day.  Remember to thank our military for your freedoms today.  The Founders wrote the words about the freedoms, but the military had to win them, and then defend them again in 1812.

Which, of course, gave us our National Anthem, written after the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor in 1814.  (Here are the first and fourth verses, the most commonly sung.)

O say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Suffering

We don’t like suffering.  Therefore, we try to avoid it, quit literally, at all costs.

Which is the wrong thing to do, frankly.  Even if we could actually avoid all suffering (which we can’t), it would be the wrong thing to do.

I got started on this line of thinking while reading a book a friend lent me on learning to be more thankful.  (I’ll write about the book eventually; it’s good.)  The problem was, the book started with a lot of dramatic stuff about the very traumatic death of her little sister when the author was young.  Her sister was hit by a delivery truck in her farmyard, in front of the whole family.

Yes, this was truly horrible.  And, yes, nearly everyone’s first reaction at that point would be to do a lot of crying and yelling at God.

So many people, however, forget to quit yelling at God and let Him comfort us.  An acquaintance in college lost her mother to cancer, so she quit going to church.  In the book I read, the author’s family accused God of, essentially, not paying attention and letting their daughter be killed, so they quit going to church.  Plenty of other people I know or have read have said things in this pattern, “(Horrible thing A) happened, therefore I quit going to church.”

We usually accept that as a normal reaction (at least in this country, in this time), but should we?  (I shall refrain from commenting on the sad, sorry state of catechesis in this country, at least in this post.)

I once commented to a friend in a Bible study that angrily walking away from God when suffering enters our lives is like throwing away your life preserver for letting you get wet when you had to jump off the sinking ship.  Of course you got wet!  The life preserver keeps you from dying; there is no promise that you won’t get wet.  And if you throw the life preserver away when you need it most, you’re still going to be wet, but now you’re also going to drown!

So it is with God: He has promised to save us if we trust in Him.  He has NOT promised us that our lives will be pain-free.  Jesus died horribly on the cross, the only totally innocent man there ever was.  Mary stood there and watched her son be tortured horribly and die.  Who do you think you are to think God is going to only send you health and wealth, if He didn’t spare His own Son and the special woman He chose to be His mother?  I won’t even get started on the thousands of martyrs; they took suffering for Christ’s sake as a blessing and went to their deaths not just content, but joyfully and often singing.  Suffering didn’t drive them away from God, but closer to Him.

And yet, so often, we flee from suffering.  Our lives are generally very comfortable here in the U.S.  We sit in some of the most well-endowed houses the world has ever seen and make excuses for why we couldn’t possibly give more to the poor or sacrifice a job to stay home with our kids, because we can’t “afford” it.  Even our parish choir can’t be bothered to sing any “negative” psalms; frequently, the psalm for the day was supposed to be about God protecting us in adversity and our need to trust Him and praise Him anyways… and we get, yet again, “This is the day the Lord has made, we will be glad and rejoice.”  Nothing wrong with the second psalm, of course, except that the psalms about pain and trouble are scheduled to be sung in the normal rotation of things because we need to hear them.

What do you do when suffering hits, when you thought God always gives His children only good things?  When you skip the “Be near me Lord, when I am in trouble” psalms, where is your blueprint for what comes after the suffering?  Do you panic, wondering if maybe you aren’t saved, maybe you didn’t mean it enough when you came to Jesus?  Do you suspect you’re being punished by God?  Do you get mad at God and leave, because you think He broke His end of the deal?

In The Brothers Karamazov, there is a chapter called “The Grand Inquisitor”, which is about a story by the atheist brother that he tells to his younger brother, the novice monk.  After the story, the atheist demands of the monk how he could believe in a good God when nobles have their dogs tear children apart in front of their mothers for some minor infraction.  How, he demands, could the noble repent and get to heaven after that?  How could the mother embrace the noble in heaven and say she understands that God brought good out of her child being mauled to death by dogs?  How or why could a good God allow any of this?!?

The monk, distraught to the point of tears over the story, insists that we have to believe it is so.  God brings good out of the evil, always, even when we don’t see it or understand it.

The atheist replies angrily that he won’t believe it, because he can’t understand it.  (He’s a rather tormented character.)

When we were struggling through infertility, there was a lot of yelling at God.  “Why us?  Everyone else can have kids, even people who will just abort them, so why not us?!?”  Eventually, we decided we’d gone as far as was moral and available to us, and we adopted.  It took some time, but I can now say, “It wasn’t our Plan A, but it was God’s Plan A,” and I don’t have to grit my teeth so much when I say it anymore, either.  The pain fades, and I can see a little bit of what my suffering led me to.

I have four beautiful children so far.  If we hadn’t been adopting, they might have not found homes.

I can argue the Church’s position on IVF (in short: NO), and nobody can say (although, illogically, they still do), “Your opinion doesn’t count, because you don’t understand what it’s like!”  No, I understand exactly what it’s like; it sucks.  It hurts.  It’s hard.  Painfully.  Freaking.  Hard.  People won’t understand why you adopt instead of trying to force God to give you “one of your own,” and they will say stupid, hurtful things about adoption, even people you trusted.  But I now understand the beauty of the Church’s teachings on life, and I am in a position to be an unusual witness to them.

Being adoptive parents made us much, much more aware of the pro-life movement.  We’d always been pro-life, but not particularly involved.  We realized that our children were all being stalked by the culture of death before they came to us.  Whether it’s Planned Parenthood here or the One Child Policy in China, they all beat the odds just to be born and make it into the adoption system.  It is the most horrendous evil of our day that so many children in the womb should have to fear for their life.  And, like so many others, we were sort of ignoring it, until we looked into our children’s faces and realized that they could have just as easily been among the dead and discarded.

When we encounter suffering, we are forced to lean on God.  Often, this turns us in new, surprising directions.  The point is not the suffering itself, it is what comes of it.  Instead, we tend to focus on the suffering, endlessly rehashing it or claiming victim labels.  What we should be doing, rather, is taking what God gives us and asking Him humbly, “Ok, so what the heck was I supposed to do with this?  I am trying to believe You will bring good out of this; Lord, help my unbelief!”  Then we have to wait for the answer.  Even if we don’t see it this side of Heaven, the answer is in God’s hand.

Job rails against God for all his misfortunes, losses, and pain, but, ultimately gets through it to, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord!”  We can’t offend God by admitting we’re mad about the situation; He knows it already.  We can’t shock God with our howling sorrow; He’s borne that, too.  But we have to end the suffering with Job, all the suffering Psalms, and the martyrs: by praising God, whether or not we think we understand the suffering and whether or not things get better by earthly standards.

And there’s our blueprint.