Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Happy Birthday Oldest Son!

He allowed his 14th birthday to be co-opted for his sister's journey to Remuda ranch. We WILL make it up to him. He is a great kidlet (ahem) I mean young-man-who-is-taller-than-me.


Relax. I am home after an 18 hour day- got up early to drive Zoe to Remuda Ranch. Emotionally, it was like ripping my heart out. I KNOW she needs love from me! But when I show her love, she freaks out and wants to purge. One of the (very sweet, dear, Christian) counselors there said some girls just need that separation to realize that they need to be parented. I've been feeling that for awhile, but it hurts to say it. "Dear, you need to go away so we can gain a little perspective on this, and start to refocus energy on EATING so you have the strength to work through your emotional issues with me."

We met with her therapist, and I think they will be a good fit. I was encouraged when the therapist took seriously that Zoe had PRAYED to be anorexic, and that has let some dark spirit of oppression in.

I believe our family dynamic will be stronger, healthier, and even more Christ-centered now. God has our attention and won't let us rest on our laurels. (Laurels feeling very much like a crown of thorns right now!)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

I'll take an order of Christian joy, a side order of worldly scorn- oh, and hold the martydom!

For years we made large, loud Catholic homeschooling family life look easy. To those who wanted that kind of thing. And to those who looked down their noses at us- driving an airport van to hold all the kids, educating them IN THE CLASSICS at home, cooking large batches of everything and still finding the time for long road trips disguised as field trips to follow the events of the Revolutiopnary War or Louis and Clark's Journey. ... well, to the uninitiated, we were just WEIRD! All those kids. And never getting a break away from them! EW! Gaining and Losing 50 pounds (or more) with every pregnancy. This "open to life" stuff is celebrated in the Catholic culture I am blessed to inhabit, but so scorned in the world at large. AND we built our own house. Come on! Out of STRAWBALES! Now, the lefty, environmentalist types thought THAT was cool, and the conservative, individualistic types thought we were awesome.

And, I admit, my skills as an organizer and director were an easy way to forgoe begging God to help me in this ever-so-serious endeavor. It didn't help that the first six children seemed reasonably happy and fairy easy to manage. And my husband was an on-fire convert to the Catholic faith, and we had the unity we always prayed for. Oh, yes, we prayed. Oh yes, we gave God the glory. But I didn't depend on Him for my daily bread. When I considered all the blessings in my life, it seemed as if I just KNEW God's plan for us was to be the poster family for "Casti Connubii" (faithful, joyful Catholic family life). He would never let us down- we were supposed to be a light to the unbelievers. The naysayers.... they would look at our lifestyle, our family, and be unable to ignore how following Christ in this world just made it all so EASY and JOYFUL. Conversions would follow in our wake.

The snide remarks in check-out lines. The pitying looks. If that was the extent of my martyrdom, bring it on! I had JOY, dammit. Life was GOOD! My kids were nice. My husband was loving.

Then came child #7. We call him lovable Liam, now. Back when he was a year old, it was lemony Liam- el Diablo! A fussy, tantrum-throwing, loud child. Child #3 took him on as her special project and loved the beegeebies out of him. It was harder for me. He was making my life complicated. A lot of my time was spent parenting Liam. Not a lot of time for the more fun stuff we used to do. And now I was homeschooling FOUR, and still caring for three little ones, one of whom was incorrigible. I found a whole new respect for the gentle, loving, joyful gifts of child #3. And, suddenly, dh's job became much more demanding. We saw less of him. I was still recuperating from a nasty bout of infighting in our homeschool group. I had been used for target practice by a group of embittered moms. It was emotionally difficult, but I functioned alright for my family. I thought. I prayed. Maybe this was just a little dose of humility. I had prayed that dang "Prayer of Humility" that Cardinal del Val wrote. (I don't recommend it. It's more efficacious than a Saint Therese Novena!) So, a rowdy child marring the look of our happy family to outsiders; I'd get a few more stares and tsk-tsks from strangers. So husband was having a successful period in his work and being wined and dined all over the world. We'd manage.

Maybe if I'd let that drive me to my knees, this wouldn't have happened. Maybe since I sidestepped a lot of the cross at that time, I thought it would be the worst that could happen. I didn't learn the lesson. I didn't embrace the suffering.

Now, my daughter's anorexia comes along. Nothing unsettles a parent more in their child than a mental disorder. A mental disorder that the child prayed for, because they felt unloved and fat all their life. A massive failure of parenting: a child feeling unattached and lost, a child wanting to starve and die. Lord, how did I let it come to this?

Lack of intimacy. Thats it. Without intimacy, there is no REAL joy. Christian joy has only two ingredients: intimacy and meaningful purpose. Both of those ingredients have a healthy dose of suffering attached, but the joy truly makes up for that. I had the meaningful purpose. I believed serving my family was the best thing I could do on this earth. But I lacked the affinity for intimacy. Now, with small children, thats not a problem- they don't want to know about your inner life- they just want food and fun, on schedule. I can do that. Or at least, if I'm not attending to Lemony Liam's needs, I can try to serve everyone else. But when children hit puberty, they want a sure guide, a loving hand to help them through this unknown journey. They test to see if they are still lovable to you, the parent. They stand straddling two worlds, without a foot in either, and they fear they will be swallowed up by the chasm below them. They want to be affirmed, and known, and smiled at.

And I didn't give that. I directed. I provided opportunities for fun. But I didn't share myself. Intimacy is difficult for me. Partly because I take after my stoic father, who is fairly emotionless, and whose affection I never was able to capture as a child or teen. Partly because intimacy might show people my vulnerability. Yes, it had made my early married life, in some aspects difficult. But Matt and I were learning to work through that. But I hadn't even begun to start working on intimacy with my children.

I had prayed, since I realized what was lacking in me and so abundant in my husband, for the desire to love as Matt loved.... as God loved. Lord, break my heart if that is what it takes, that I may feel more, love more. When Regina Doman's boy, Joshua, was killed, I wondered if it would take something THAT earth-shattering to break my heart. Well, this eating disorder is a pretty close second. Regina's boy knew, in his last moments of life, that his mom loved him. My daughter, if things keep going this way, will probably die in my arms feeling unloved and fat. No matter how much I try to show her.

Thats the battle I have to fight right now. "Why bother learning to show love and intimacy, since shes going to die anyway?" Then, I'll have gone through all the pain of losing my stoic attitude and have to suffer through her death and FEEL it.

I'm embracing the cross Lord. No one is going to look at my family and want to convert. It won't be easy, but maybe I can save the other children from feeling what Zoe does. And, please Lord, when we send Zoe off for inpatient treatment these next 2 months, send her home ready to connect with us. Ready to be intimate- with all it's messiness and risk of pain. Because I want my joy back, Lord. And I want it back in a new form, with intimacy and meaning at the center. Please pray for us.

(and no, our family never focused on dieting or physical beauty... this is just the self-punishing form my daughter chose to express her deep wounds. It had nothing to do with our family pushing physical perfection.)