Monday, September 28, 2015

Halloween: We Don't Do That Here...right?

or, The Rest of the Story


(Before I begin, I want to make it clear that while I differ from my family-of-origin, I do appreciate my parents' take on Halloween, esp. in light of Lutheran theology on our deceased brethren.)

A couple years ago, it seemed every Catholic mommy blogger I followed was writing her own thesis on her DIY theology of Halloween: why it was really ok to not only participate, but revel in it. I read them out of curiosity, looking for some solid foundation, and ultimately rolled my eyes as I determined time and again that it was an eloquent way of excusing their desire to play dress-up and get candy.

I grew up without Halloween and somewhat intentionally, Mark and I have continued that, um, lack of tradition. You might assume it's because I found value in not participating in it myself. You would be wrong. I hated Halloween growing up, but it was a hatred stemming from intense jealousy of everyone who got to go trick-or-treating. All I wanted to do was play dress-up and get loads of candy. Wait, let me say that again in case you missed it:

1. Play dress-up
2. Get tons of free candy.

I wonder if there are any other things you could combine that a child would find more appealing. (Mark might disagree - Mr. I Hate Costumes)

Growing up, we had our own "safe" Harvest Festival parties, or the Lutheran version of the All Saints party... but I knew, or felt, these were some sort of appeasement to distract us. I probably would've been more on board if I came home with a pillowcase of loot, but that's not how they worked.

I had plenty of friends of all Christian denominations that did or didn't participate in trick-or-treating. But, this being prior to the internet, there was no weird DIY theology that I was aware of that supported this tradition. If they did, it was because it was fun. But if they didn't, they, like us, were probably well-read on the Druids and sacrifices to idols and satanic nature of this whole event.

So, if we weren't attending an alternative event, we sat in our house with all the visible lights off so as to not encourage doorbell-ringers. ...and snuck upstairs to peek through the bedroom curtains at the kids parading down the street with their costumes and growing stashes. In the earlier years, there were tears and lots of angry thoughts. As I got older, a resignation to the way things were, and a vague notion of our superiority for not embracing such evil, kept me quieter. I began to focus instead on the day-after-Halloween candy clearance. If I couldn't get loads for free, at least I could get it for pennies on the dollar. Then I became Catholic.

And nothing changed.

There are plenty of Catholics that celebrate Halloween, and plenty of Catholics that don't.

What did change was the following day: All Saint's Day. A Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics, who recognize in an intentional way that we are truly "surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses." (Heb 12:1)

Interestingly, after becoming Catholic, I began to love driving past cemeteries. I was struck, every time I saw one, that at least some of these people were beholding the face of God. It amazed me. Really. It awed me. Those people who are dead and buried are, in a very real way that I can not understand, more fully alive than I am.

I figured I would pass that along to our children. We'd just kind of ignore Halloween and celebrate All Saint's Day. I didn't feel bad about it. After all it wasn't a cop-out, it was the Real Deal. ...Until this weekend, when our son independently started drawing pictures of Jack-o-lanterns and is busily decorating his room for Halloween. Today, the fever has spread and now his sisters are in on it. Halloween is a month away and it's all I've heard about all morning from them.

I wasn't sure how to handle it. I thought I'd ignore it and it would fizzle out, but clearly that's not happening. It's definitely reaching a fever-pitch and needs to be addressed, but how does one sit down with very excited children and tell them we just don't do that here? Do I start in on the lecture on druids and idols and sacrifices? And do I really think that's where Halloween comes from, anyway?

So I had a good think about it - why we don't, or maybe we should? - and realized that I was starting to sound like a Catholic mommy blogger who was trying to excuse away her children't enthusiasm with some DIY theology.

...But then it struck me. It's not DIY theology to realize that Halloween isn't the whole story. It isn't even any of the real story. It's Easter's Easter Bunny, and Christmas's Santa Claus. I'm not hiding behind darkened doors from Santa Claus, and I'm not worried that the Easter bunny will co-opt my children's understanding of the resurrection. But our kids do know what Christmas and Easter really are, and that is what we celebrate! So, if they want to incorporate a few culturally-appropriate nods to their celebration of All Saint's Day, ok. After all, these are dead people we're talking about (and have you seen how the martyrs are depicted? - with the tools of their execution.) So put a few jack-o-lanterns in your room, decorate with spider webs, and eat a ton of candy while celebrating the life the Saints are who are alive and await their bodily resurrection. But the key is to make sure they know what it is that we are celebrating...and what is just the easter bunny.

And, for the record, we do attend a Catholic All Saint's party where they're free to dress up as a saint or one of God's creatures (like Superman, I guess, since that was Iain, last year.) and they get tons of free candy. ...and I get the good stuff because they're allergic.

With all this in mind, perhaps I'll have a chat with Mark about his take on all this and whether trick-or-treating could ever be in the cards for well-catechized kids. Maybe we'll be that house with the Sacred Heart jack-o-latern...

Friday, September 25, 2015

Riding Waves of Grace: Joey's Birth Story, Part IV - The Consolation

Part I, II, III

Having survived another Minnesota winter, May brought the promise of green plants, fresh air, flowers, and, at the end of the month, my birthday. Finding myself suddenly tucked away from it all for an indefinite amount of time, I was struck by a longing for Spring that even the darkness of February hadn't roused in me.

Despite my desire to breathe fresh air, I was very well-equipped in my spacious long-term-stay hospital room. There was a private bathroom with a tub/shower, a mini-fridge, a pull-out sofa, and a wall-to-wall bank of windows with a view of a gravel-covered roof beyond which I could see some of the buildings of downtown St Paul and the tips of two adolescent maples, bright green with the baby leaves of early Spring. I was so grateful for these two trees, and reminded myself that missing the entire month of May was an infinitely small price to pay for the life and health of my baby.

I made the choice to surrender May and make my room my own little cloister. As a mom of four young children, how many times had I wished for time to myself, for time to pray, for time simply to think... I was determined to squeeze the juice from this lemon and find its sweetness. But how could I when the life of my baby was in jeopardy? I was struggling with fear-filled questions that no one could answer. I turned again to prayer, this time settling in deeper.

As I often do in prayer, I pictured myself approaching Jesus seated on the edge of a stone well, up a small hill from a dusty path. We sit there together as I pour out my heart. It is always just him and me.

This time was different. As I approached, I saw that he was cradling something in his arms. I realized with a flood of terror that he was holding my baby. My baby. What did it mean? Did this mean that my baby was going to die? "You can't take my baby. That's my baby. That's my baby," I shouted at him over and over. He just looked at me, compassion in his eyes.

"No," he said, gently, "He's my baby."

Like a tantruming toddler, I refused to listen, sure that those words foretold the future and confirmed my worst fear. Angrily, I pictured Mark and each of our children, flinging them one by one into Jesus's lap, "Fine, take them all. If that's your baby, then take Mark, Iain, Lydia, Annie and Lucy. Take them all," I screamed at him, filled with fear and anger.

Still, he looked at me, his compassion deepening as my rage grew, his arms now cradling my whole family.

"And you," He said.

With that, the spell of fear was broken, and sobbing, I crawled into his arms and he held me. He held us all.

With no words of reassurance, no promises of health for my baby, or even of survival, Jesus had taken my fear and given me grace.


We were given this statue as a wedding present, it's the Holy Family, but it will always remind me of that moment in prayer, Jesus cradling me and my our baby in his arms.

Part V

Riding Waves of Grace: Joey's Birth Story Part III

Part I, II

Joey is nearing 5 months old and as I sit down to continue writing his birth story, I'm amazed at how long ago it all seems. I've moved on from the chaos of life during May and June and the memories are already fading. I need to write this down before it becomes a memory of, "He came early..."


The first item of business after confirming my rupture was to give me the first of 2 steroid injections, to help baby's lungs mature. I would get them 24 hours apart. 48 hours after the first shot, they would be fully effective. My prayer became, "Please keep him safe inside me at least until Tuesday morning."

Along with the steroid shot, they started me on an IV of Magnesium Sulfate [Mag]. This had a 2-fold purpose: to prevent labor and help protect the delicate preemie brain if I did go into labor.

In addition to the pokes and prods, I was informed that my beloved doctor, who had been giving  instructions over the phone, was passing my case on to the hospitalist OBs. Shots and IVs I can handle, but this news was hard to hear. She'd delivered all of my babies, and if nothing else, I was desperate to have her prayerful presence walk me through this. I felt like an emotional lifeline had been taken from me. I fought to assume the best while questions ran through my head: "Is this somehow my fault and she doesn't want to deal with me? Am I not worth the hassle? Is she just trying to protect herself in case something goes wrong?"...I knew those weren't true, but I didn't know the truth, and when that's lost, it's hard to fight the lies.

Following this news, one of the OBs walked in and gave us a brief overview of what might happen in the next hours, days or weeks. Here's what we were told:

- There was no way to know if I would go into labor, or when it might happen. 

- If I didn't go into labor on my own, I would be induced at 34 weeks. This is standard procedure for a pregnancy with ruptured membranes. 

- I would stay on the Mag until Tuesday morning (48 hours). If I went into labor before 32 weeks, it would be restarted as a neuro-protectant for the baby.

- No efforts would be made to stop labor after Tuesday morning, as it's believed that the body is giving birth for a reason.

Mark asked what was the likelihood of making it to 34 weeks. I think we would've been satisfied with any number that was thrown out - knowing that it meant nothing, but still giving us something to hope for, to try to beat the odds... The doctor shrugged and reluctantly said, "Maybe 40%?"  Hopefully that would get us past Tuesday morning.

34 weeks meant up to 4 weeks in the hospital. I was trying to wrap my head around counter-intuitively wanting to be in the hospital for 4 weeks. What on earth was this going to mean for our kids? For Mark? For my mom, who I knew we'd be leaning on, heavily? Reality began to settle around me. If everything went perfectly, we would still have a preemie younger than 35 week Iain, and I remembered that sleepless crucible all too well.

With our best-case-scenario sketched out for us, and unanswerable questions swirling through our hearts and minds, we began to settle in, contact family and friends, and pray.

Part IV