Friday, June 29, 2012

7 Quick Takes

Never done this before, but I'm feeling random.

~~ 1 ~~

K, B, R, G, and A are coming to visit for the 4th of July and following weekend. We have planned fun activities like fireworks, swimming, bonfires, and swing dancing. I think I might explode if time doesn't speed up a little!

~~ 2 ~~

I wish someone would adopt Kurt. His special need is so mild. And he's so cute. And I know so many people who want him but can't go get him for some reason. Like me, for instance. Sigh.

~~ 3 ~~

My friend just got a new cousin. I wish I had a baby. Biological clocks are frustrating when you aren't married and are in no condition to get married soon. (The problem with long-distance college relationships. Sigh.)

~~ 4 ~~

I went grocery shopping tonight with J. I haven't been grocery shopping in a while. They reorganized the whole store. All the aisles are in a different order. I was rather confused.

~~ 5 ~~

Am I doing this right? I feel like other people have more interesting randomness. Why did I start a blog? Oh yeah, self centeredness. Well, ok, specimen #45922: this post.

~~ 6 ~~

I'm so hopelessly confused by this SCOTUS ruling. Every time I turn around I hear something different. This was obviously planned from the start. The dissent was clearly written to be the majority and only flipped at the last minute. Conservatives should cry. Conservatives should rejoice. This is good. This is bad. This is neutral and we have to see what happens. And I'm just like....uh so did they make the Cliff's Notes yet?

~~ 7 ~~

I swear I'm not stupid, I just don't follow politics enough. Ignorant, uninformed, and irresponsible, sure. But not stupid.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Orphanage 9 needs your help!

Some people from the orphan advocate community are doing a blog blitz (when several people post about the same thing) for Orphanage 9 today. There are seven children listed on Reece's Rainbow from Orphanage 9. (Due to privacy laws, I can't publicly post what country this orphanage is in. Let me know if you would like more information about eligibility.)

These children have varied medical needs: from FAS (fetal alcohol syndrome) to HIV to hydrocephaly. I believe that pictures speak louder than words, and that these children's faces are more important than their diagnoses, so without further ado, I present to you the children from Orphanage 9. Click on the name below each picture to find out more.




As always, three requests: Consider adoption. Consider donating. Pray.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


I went swimming today for the first time in, uh, let's just say a while. I swam 1000m in 21 minutes, which is much faster than I had expected to swim. I wish I were better at working out regularly. For one semester, I swam two or three times a week, and I felt great. But now all those benefits have been lost due to not working out and too much junk food. Sigh.

Side advertisement, I use a site called Fitocracy to track my workouts. It's a fun site because working out gives you points towards "leveling up". Leveling up doesn't really do anything, but it's an ego boost and a way to see progress happening even when you don't feel like your body's making progress. It's free, or you can sign up for a paid version. I use the free version; I think the paid one just has some more bells and whistles. If you're interested in joining, click here! (That's my referral link. I don't get money if you sign up through it, but if enough people use it I get a brief period of free access to the paid portion of the site.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Religious education

This article (link to Google cache, as the original seems to have been deleted) on Fr. Simon's blog has gotten me thinking about religious education. I have taught CCD for two years in local parishes, and I mentioned briefly a while back that I have some issues with the curriculum I used last year, and would post about catechesis later. It's officially later. So here goes.

I think there's something terribly wrong with our current religious education system. Some anecdotes: I was confirmed with eighth graders who went to Mass every Sunday (and still do, as far as I know), but did not know what day Jesus died on. (Was it Ash Wednesday?--No, of course not, it was Easter.) I have seen children in white dresses and suits raise their hands to answer during the homily and announce clearly that it's not really Jesus, it's just bread--and then be admitted to First Communion!

Clearly, this is a problem. It saddens me to say this, but I suspect that religious education, for many children, simply does not make a difference. I know that for some kids, religion class is the only exposure they had to religion, and that for some kids, that is enough to make the difference. I'm not suggesting cutting out religion class.

But I will say that I have had 13 years of religion class, using different books from different publishers, including some very highly recommended ones, and not one moment of any of it has ever made me want to be Catholic. I have had college classes that made me want to be Catholic, and conversations with people I love that made me want to be Catholic, and experiences of God that made me want to be Catholic. But if it all came down to religion class? I think I'd be an atheist. Religion textbooks were saccharine and shallow, filled with tacky pictures and lame essay prompts. ("Look at this picture of a bird flying across a sunset. Write a prayer to the Holy Spirit.") If this is the best the Catholic Church can come up with, what does that say about her?

So I see two big problems with the current state of religious education. It doesn't effectively convey the factual information it is intended to teach, and it doesn't effectively convey the beauty of the Church. What can be done about this? I don't know. I wish I did. I would be a better CCD teacher if I did. Here are some ideas. I'd love comments on them.
  • Go back to catechism-based instruction. I do not remember anything from first grade religion class except for the following: Who made us?--God made us.--How did God make us?--In His own image and likeness.--Why did God make us?--To know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in the next. I'm not saying we should turn religion class into children memorizing by rote phrases that they do not understand, but I believe we underestimate the importance of simply being able to state definitions. (What is a sacrament?--It's uh like this special thing that happens like at church? And uh you need a priest? Surely this is not our goal, but this is what we achieve when we water things down too much.)
  • Get rid of the link between sacraments and age. If four-year-olds and eight-year-olds are both common at First Communions, the pressure to "pass" unprepared children will be lower.
  • Involve parents. What if CCD classes involved family homework? "CCD is supposed to be fun, so we don't give homework." No offense, but that's garbage. Religion is not supposed to be easy. If you have to read a Bible story with your mother and talk about it with her, it's not going to kill you. Or her. Obviously it is better to evangelize children through their parents than parents through their children. But I think something like this actually does both. (How to get parents to actually do this is another question entirely. At the church I last taught at, the parents were invited in to join the class for prayer at the last five minutes of class. I usually had two or maybe three parents, out of a class of ten, bother to come five minutes early.)
  • Focus on beauty. (Please don't tell me this contradicts my first suggestion. I will cry if you do.) Teach the kids to sing chant. Introduce them to old prayers. Show them paintings. As a commenter said at a post on Little Catholic Bubble, "Start by seeking the Beautiful. This will lead you to the Good. Eventually you'll end up at the Truth. Then you can dive into all the rules you want."
So those are my initial thoughts on what the problems are and some ways to move towards fixing them. Please tell me what you think, even if you totally disagree. In your experience, what works? What doesn't?

(Side note: In the interests of avoiding self-plagiarism, I feel obliged to state that some of this post, content-wise, has been on my Facebook page, and some of the text is actually just a copy-and-paste.)

Teamwork Tuesday: Alexander

Today's Teamwork Tuesday child is Alexander. Alexander desperately needs a family, because he is suffering from a brain tumor. His brain tumor has affected his vision. If he stays where he is, HE WILL DIE. Moving to the US may be the only way to save his life.
A missionary who visited Alexander's orphanage said that he was "happy, cheerful and sociable...a very lovable kid and very smart." (There's a much longer description if you click through the link to his Reece's Rainbow page.)
Look at this child. You can see that his eyes are damaged in this picture. I'm sure he knows he's dying. But he's still smiling, and his failing eyes are still full of hope.
Someone please go get Alexander! Don't let the spark in his eyes go out. Don't let his tumor destroy his sight. Don't let him die.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Burden to Society? (On Friendship and Love)

Ellen at Love That Max recently wrote a post called My child with special needs is not a burden to society. In this post she (very rightly) combats the idea that only people who are "productive" members of society are valuable to it.
Should you argue that these [famous people] are men who contribute more to the world than my son ever will, well then I say that's an incredibly narrow-minded way of looking at life.
(I encourage you to go read the whole post. It's very good, as is the blog as a whole.)

I am now playing the what-if-I-had-written-this-post game, and I must say that I think I would have written a very different post than Ellen did. Before I continue, I want to add a few disclaimers. Firstly, I am not a parent of children with special needs, or even a parent at all. So, although I don't intend to speak about parenting per se, or to say anything that's super controversial, I will, just in case, quote Clare Coffey on another subject and say "if anything I say seems presumptuous, unrealistic, or stupid, just chuckle." Disclaimer number two is that while it's going to look like I disagree with Ellen, I actually don't think I do. I think what looks like a disagreement is a semantic question, in that she and I mean different things when we say "burden". Ellen says:
Burden? My child? Expensive, yes. Demanding, yes. Emotionally draining at times, yes. "Deadweight/encumbrance/misfortune" (all synonyms for "burden"): NO.
In this sense, I 100% agree, children with special needs are not burdens. But here's why I would have written a different post: when I hear someone say, "So-and-so is a burden," my gut response is not "No, he's not," but "Yeah, so what? So are you."

When I say that something is a burden, I don't mean that the trouble it causes outweighs its benefits (I think this is Ellen's idea of what it means to be a burden). I mean simply that the thing in question causes a lot of trouble. This is roughly the sense that Merriam-Webster online gives. And in this sense, yes, beautiful, amazing Max is a burden. Every child with special needs is a burden. Every child on Reece's Rainbow is a burden. But so is every typical child. So are you. And so am I.

No one is perfect. Even those of us who are physically and cognitively "perfect" (I put the term in scare quotes because I know there's a lot of controversy surrounding the use of terms like perfect or normal and I do not intend offense; I use the word because it conveys my point) are not morally perfect. And our moral imperfections are burdens to others.

When I lose my temper and yell at my friends, it's burdensome. When I forgot my driver's license and couldn't help drive on our road trip, it was burdensome. When I have a day bad enough that my friend cancels his plans because he doesn't think leaving me alone is a good idea (yes, I know that the rain wasn't the real reason you spent the evening with me), it's burdensome.

Of course not everything I do is burdensome. I have also cancelled plans to help friends. I make pretty things. I write papers that make my professors happy. I am not a 100% burden, but a mixed bag of burdens and joys. Sometimes the balance tips one way, and sometimes the other. This is true of everyone, including children with special needs, who bring more challenges than typical children, but most of the same joys, as well as joys unique to them.

But my friends have not run an analysis and decided that, on balance, the joy I cause outweighs the burdens I cause. They are not my friends halfheartedly, putting up with the bad for the sake of the good. My friends know that I am a burden, and they accept that burden itself; gladly, even joyfully, accept it. "I love talking to you," A once said, right after he had spent about half an hour chiseling away at a black pit of my despair while I sat on his futon and cried. "Even if what you have to say might hurt me, tell me anyway because I need to know in order to love you more," K said to me early in our relationship. My friends, in short, know that I can be a burden to them, and choose to make me their burden.

Isn't that love? When you take someone who is a burden to you and choose to make him your burden? If I am a burden to you, you try to get rid of me, try to minimize the damage that I cause to you. Sure, you might be okay with having me around later, when I'm not being such a pain in the neck, but right now, I'm an obstacle to your happiness. If I am your burden, you accept me and care for me, and thereby truly love me (in the Thomistic "willing the good of another" sense of the word). (Conversely, allowing yourself to be loved means allowing yourself to become someone else's burden--admitting that you impose on others, and you need them to let you do so.)

So are children with special needs burdens to society? In the sense in which I've been using the word, sure. They make noise in places where it would be better if they were quiet. They have tantrums in stores. They are unable to do things their parents wish they could do. Typical children do these things too, and adults, while most of us outgrow throwing tantrums in stores, have their own problematic behaviors: We talk when it would be better to listen, we are short with cashiers, and now we fail to live up to our own expectations as well as our parents'. Yes, they are burdens to society, but not worse burdens than we are. And maybe we'd all be better off if we were willing to let them, and us, become society's burdens instead.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Knitting update

Here's a photo of my Siesta top. I'm going to wear it in the winter, over a long-sleeved crewneck. Please pardon the unmatching shirt I currently have on underneath. I just didn't feel like changing.
See how the edges are curled? That's why I need more yarn. All the edges are supposed to be finished with applied i-cord to stop that. I was considering skipping this step, and then I tried it on. Boy is it ugly like this. I guess it's off to the craft store for me! Unfortunately I don't think I'll be able to go for another week or two. So this project is officially on hold.

Luckily I still have....Kurt's blanket! This is nowhere near done, and I'll be honest, it's getting very slightly boring because the pattern is so very simple. It would be a great pattern to do while watching a movie, but I don't watch movies much. I do have a course-on-tape that I need to listen to, though, so perhaps I'll use Kurt's blanket as the impetus to finish that. This is a photo of the pattern, stretched out. It's much nicer stretched out than the way it lies normally. This may be the first project I block!

Teamwork Tuesday: Benji

It's Tuesday, and that means Teamwork Tuesday! Today's little boy is Benji, who is almost seven. His special need is listed as "ABITaiPan–Premature, Speech Delay". I have no idea what ABITaiPan means. But here's what Reece's Rainbow has to say about his present condition:
Benji was born prematurely at 30 weeks gestation. His birth mother is an AIDS carrier and a drug abuser. Tests have shown that Benji does not have HIV/AIDS, even though his birth mother does. He suffered from Staphylococcus aureus infection and Retinal Detachment. He received laser treatment and a follow-up examination showed normal results. Benji was diagnosed with speech developmental delay when he moved to the third foster family. As of August 2007, he began receiving speech therapy and cognitive therapy weekly. After two years, his developmental assessment revealed that he could attend kindergarten and did not need extra training since.
Okay, so let's look at this: He does not have HIV/AIDS. He had a staph infection and an eye problem, both of which have been cured/corrected. He had speech therapy in preschool, but he was in a normal kindergarten setting by the time he was four. Maybe I'm missing something, but this child doesn't strike me as the type to merit being in a special needs category! He's probably a good choice for someone who is not equipped to handle serious medical needs. Plus, he's so cute!

So here's what he needs: One family to adopt him. Lots of people to contribute to his grant fund. And everybody to pray for him. Ready, set, go!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Watch a video and help special needs orphans

Brady Murray, at One Step Closer to Home, has entered a video competition. Winners are selected based on number of votes. Please take less than two minutes of your time to watch Brady's video, which is about Reece's Rainbow and children with Down Syndrome, and vote for him. I'll let him tell you why:

Winners receive a spot to race in the Ironman World Championship in October, but most importantly, they will race as a media athlete and have the opportunity to share their story on NBC's nationally televised broadcast of the championship this year! THIS COULD BE OUR OPPORTUNITY TO SHARE THESE PRECIOUS CHILDREN'S STORY WITH THE WORLD!!!

You can read Brady's post, which is where the quote is from, here.

Click here to watch the video and vote for it. It's less than 90 seconds long and contains cute children. Vote for it in the bottom left corner. (The play button sends you to Facebook, but you don't have to let the app access any data. I'm not sure if you can see it without an account--someone tell me?)