Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Good Shelter Work


(This was printed by our Frontiersman yesterday. I'm particularly fond of this one.)


I acted the devil’s advocate. “So here we are, driving to the animal shelter to volunteer when people are hungry. Shouldn’t we be helping at the Food Bank?” I grinned so she knew I was playing a bit. She pursed her sassy, thirteen-year-old lips and dodged. “Well, you can go there with one of the boys (She has five brothers.); I want to walk the dogs and help people find their perfect pets.” Fair enough. We marched in and donned our aprons and name tags.

My daughter and I volunteered for the first time a few weeks ago at the Mat Su Animal Shelter. I am not allowed to call it the pound.  We exercised and goofed off with three dogs, tested to see if they knew any commands, cleaned up after them, wrote down our observations in the special notebook, and stacked some dishes. Then, joy of joys, we assisted a couple with the adoption of one of the dogs we’d taken out that very morning. My girl was able to explain just what she’d done, how the dog responded, and because she reads so much about dogs, to describe what she knew of the breeds that made up the adorable mutt. The world seemed a little sweeter on the drive home and our conversation was as cheerful as any I have ever known. I was sorry I had dragged my feet in scheduling time there. It was a good day.


And I am not a dog person. I deal with the three dogs we have at home because my husband and this daughter of ours love them. But I have learned to see the goodness that pets bring to lives; both in terms of practical responsibilities that parents relish in child raising, and in terms of existential connections that humans cherish in creation.  I cannot yell at our dogs because one of them gets nervous and tinkles on the floor. See? Good for home life, too. I was surprised at the peaceful delight in my soul after our hours there. I felt close to my daughter, my community, and my Lord. Of course, it helped that the the staff (and dogs!) were friendly and appreciative and that we were able to actually aid an adoption our first day. It affected me deeply.

Stimulated by our excellent conversation and experience at the shelter, I pored through our catechism for support and theology. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is “offered to every individual who asks us to give an account of the hope that is in us and ... to know what the Catholic Church believes” (from the introduction). I found several paragraphs to share with my daughter.

“Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Man’s dominion over living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.
Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like Saint Francis of Assissi or Saint Philip Neri treated animals (# 2415-16).”

(My daughter hustled off to look up Philip Neri, whom she had never heard of.)

“Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another... Work honors the Creator’s gifts and the talents received from him... (#2427).

My daughter’s work with these animals and the people who happily bring them home is good.  She is helping to raise the quality of life for her neighbors and respecting the integrity of creation by actively aiding these dogs kindly and gently and connecting people with prospective pets. She is using her gifts and talents in all her human dignity.  God is pleased with her work and I am honored to toil beside her in our town. It doesn’t have to be either/or; it can be both/and. We volunteer away some of our food and we volunteer away some of our time at the shelter. People are blessed. The world is a little better. God is glorified and creation is respected.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was in Matthew 22:36-40, He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And then, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We do love God and His love moves us to action. By volunteering at the animal shelter, we are putting love of neighbor back into our community. I am actually looking forward to our next morning there.

Love, Allison



Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Lessons from the Mud Run

We did the ACMHS Mud Run a few weeks ago according to our new family status ~ without Rees and John (Still having a hard time with that.). Ken ran the kids' 2K with Ian, Luke, and Joseph, then the adult 5K with Clare.


I just walked around with Addie and plied her with hot dogs and water cups, which were probably for the runners but she's cute so the grilling guys gave her whatever she asked for.


I witnessed an incident that had a profound effect on me. I've written before that homeless people scare me: I'm wary of their looks, their smell, their stories, their choices, their mental health. I'm certain one will grab me or ask me for something or breathe on me. I avert my eyes and hope they will just get a job, take a shower, or buy an apple for goodness' sake. Well, I got Addie a drink, popped her up on some sort of cement table, and noticed two homeless men lounging at the other end with hot dogs. Indignation welled up. They are not part of this; they just drifted over because they smelled the grill. I busied myself getting out her enzymes when one of them spoke to me (Oh no). "Pretty soon, you won't be able to lift her so easily," he grinned, proudly exposing his blackened teeth. I tried very hard to focus on his eyes through the grime and didn't notice any leering creepiness, so I took a breath and answered, "Yeah, I hate to think of that." He bobbed his head and poked his friend in the arm while the two of them cackled cheerfully. I moved the two of us away, pretending that I wanted my own cup of water.

Then, one of ACMHS staff, a lady I recognized from the company picnic but couldn't remember her name, approached the men and I heard her say, "You guys enjoying the day? How're you doing? We're raising money for supplies for our community mental health." They chatted some more (which I couldn't completely hear because remember, I'd moved away) and she meandered off to mingle with others. She did not shoo the men away or confiscate their hot dogs. The exchange was pleasant. I sniffed.

Then of course it hit me that I was being a jerk. Again. There was no need for rudeness. Look what I have. Mercy. Kindness. Food. Drink. Family. Love. Humanity. They deserve it, too.


I wish I could have gone back and asked that man if he had children, if he was enjoying the nice weather and tasty lunch. I wish I was as cool and friendly as Ken's coworker. Next time.

Love, Allison

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Another Death Sentence

Along with I don't care if it's a boy or girl as long as it's healthy, I've come across another sentence that raises my eyebrows and deflates my heart. Here's how I discovered it.

There's a writer that I like. I mean, like so much that I look for her articles and gobbled up her memoir in a single weekend. I was stuck in a medical clinic waiting room a few weeks ago with a son who had a spider bite gone very wrong (He's fine now, after antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and anti-something I can't remember now.) and flipping through a ladies' magazine. My writer's name caught my eye and I was pleased to settle in with her article about the international adoption of one of her daughters.

About how she and her husband fell in love with the toddler's video: her sweet face, shy smile, little twirls, and halting English, "Will you be my parents?" About how the paperwork process moved quickly. About how her husband got Serious and said: She can't have any health problems. About how my writer scurried to the computer to fire off a breathless question to the orphanage. About how the answer of perfection brought on a sigh of happiness. They would rescue this darling because she  had no health problems.

My heart started to pound and I felt dizzy and clenched my teeth but I completed the article. What if the orphanage director had told them this beautiful child that they "loved" had cystic fibrosis? She'd still be there, of course. They wouldn't bring her home and give her enzymes or hook up her nebulizer with a Little Bear DVD. They wouldn't buy her potato chips and peanut butter cups to help her gain weight and laugh about how great it was to have such a good excuse for keeping chips and candy in the house. They wouldn't hang out with her in the hospital for IV times, doing puzzles, watching movies, or good-naturedly harrassing nurses. Do orphaned kids with CF in former Eastern Bloc nations even have pulmonary care?

I know, I know, if we could order a child up like a burger on a menu (or pick through embryos like picking through trail mix for the candy), we would choose perfection (Which is a joke; we are all perfect in some things and flawed somewhere else). But she actually wrote it down and had it printed with her own name: She can't have any health problems, and the unwritten but necessary conclusion: Or we'll leave her there and pick someone else even though we said we loved her.


I've been fussed at over the internet for being too cheerful about cystic fibrosis. And it's true. I want to combat this culture of perfect humanity or nothing at all. But yes of course it's hard. Yes of course I cry. Yes of course I don't want to consider the death of my children. But neither did my friend who lost her healthy son at 17 from a car accident. Neither did the mother of a healthy toddler who drowned down the road from me. Neither does any mother. It's not just CF, it's life, even when you adopt a healthy orphan. I hate to think of children with CF languishing in orphanages. I'm sick to think of babies killed in utero over those genes. It's like saying my kids aren't worth life and loving. I wish my writer had brought home whatever child reached out to them when they decided to adopt.

 I want to fire off a letter to "instruct the ignorant" writer but it won't do any good at this point; after all, the child is now a mother herself. I will teach my own children, though, and try my hardest to live at peace with all (Romans 12:18).

Clearly, I haven't yet formulated an excellent answer. I haven't yet made peace with my messy feelings. There is still an air of melancholy hanging over my head.


But (!), now I am heading outside to set up the sprinkler and a picnic in the sun to play with my kids (with and without CF). My adult son (who happens to have CF) will probably bring me my favorite Kickstart drink when he gets home from work because he's nice. They were not left in an orphanage. And the world is a better place.

I hope my writer can learn this someday.



Monday, July 6, 2015

Forty-six

Ken took Thursday, July 2nd off from work and we packed up the truck to head out to a favorite, secret place over Hatcher Pass to camp. It was my 46th birthday.



He made the tents from Tyvek, with hiking poles as the center. Great for backpacking. No floor makes it easier with dirty boots. And yes, the first day, the mist was that low. We basically camped in the clouds. But Friday morning dawned bright.

Ian and Luke, looking out over the trail.

Mama needed a rest.


 Clare found that cobalt glass bottle at the entrance of an abandoned mine shaft and carried it all the way. It's currently soaking in bleach water.

One of several mine shafts. Ian was angry that we wouldn't allow him to explore inside, even though he had a flashlight, good boots, and wasn't afraid.


We have snow at least 6 months out of the year and a perfect day of July sunshine, but when we discovered a snow field, they screamed, "SNOW!" . . .
. . . and played like penguins.


It was a marvelous trip and I wished we'd brought extra food to stay another night. Next time.

Love, Allison


P.S. ~ It seems that we've entered some family Twilight Zone, wherein, "the whole family is going" now means, "the whole family is going EXCEPT REES AND JOHN." I understand they're old and have jobs and friends but I missed them very much.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Laudato Si with My Children


(This was printed by our Frontiersman paper today also.) 


 I have read portions of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si, mi Signore (Praise be to you, my Lord; known simply as Laudato Si) to the younger children and have sent the Vatican link to our older boys, telling them to read it themselves, both to learn and to be ready to converse about its contents. Encyclical, from the Greek word for circle, is a letter from the pope to be sent around to the bishops to encourage and educate the faithful. This day, anyone is able to access it immediately and send the links around without waiting for our bishops to translate and teach. I love that the web address includes the words, “Papa Francesco.” My Papa Francis.


Currently, we are halfway through. It begins.

“LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.
“This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her...The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life...We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”

This reminded the kids of the Noah story from their picture Bibles and the older Howells of the intense visual destruction of both earth and humanity from last year’s Noah movie as well. We wondered how the Creator could watch.



We continued.

“Nowadays, for example, we are conscious of the disproportionate and unruly growth of many cities, which have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise... Neighbourhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space. We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature.”

One of the children remarked, “Sounds just like Wall-E,” Pixar’s 2008 animated film where humans had completely lost touch with nature -- both their own human nature and anything green. I love that Pope Francis uses, “nature” (such an alive-sounding word) alongside, “environment” (a necessary scientific word).



And then a wincing grimace as I scrolled along.

Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously...True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature. Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences.”

May I live wisely, think deeply, and love generously. May I actively reach for real relationships and  challenges. May I use today’s media to share and communicate but never to shield myself from direct contact with others. May I teach this well to my children.



He sheds light on the reason for the destruction of our souls and our planet.

 “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast... It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians, with the excuse of realism and pragmatism, tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment. Others are passive; they choose not to change their habits and thus become inconsistent. So what they all need is an “ecological conversion”, whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”

I reminded the kids of our final blessing after Mass, which is an encounter with Jesus. “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”




The Catholic faith is a sacramental one; that is, God’s supernatural graces are given by natural materials. Just as Jesus used the stuff of the earth (oil, water, dirt, bread, wine) for miracles, so do our sacraments, says Papa Francis.

“The Sacraments are a privileged way in which nature is taken up by God to become a means of mediating supernatural life. Through our worship of God, we are invited to embrace the world on a different plane. Water, oil, fire and colours are taken up in all their symbolic power and incorporated in our act of praise. The hand that blesses is an instrument of God’s love and a reflection of the closeness of Jesus Christ, who came to accompany us on the journey of life. Water poured over the body of a child in Baptism is a sign of new life. Encountering God does not mean fleeing from this world or turning our back on nature.

It was a good reminder for all of us, that church is not simply where we go to sing songs and hear preaching.



He gives easy, practical advice.

“I ask all believers to return to this beautiful and meaningful custom [thanking God before and after meals]. That moment of blessing, however brief, reminds us of our dependence on God for life; it strengthens our feeling of gratitude for the gifts of creation; it acknowledges those who by their labours provide us with these goods; and it reaffirms our solidarity with those in greatest need.”
“Saint Therese of Lisieux invites us to practise the little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship. An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness. In the end, a world of exacerbated consumption is at the same time a world which mistreats life in all its forms.”

I can start this immediately. So can my children. So can anyone.



I’ve been in the mind of a theologian, a scientist, a pastor, an environmentalist, and a lover of Jesus and people. I can’t wait to learn and love more. Praise be to you, my Lord!


Love, Allison

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Mom's Hour


My routine has been the same for years: babies, toddlers, teenagers, homeschool, homemaking. Rinse and repeat. With seven children, there’s always someone, or several, in all those age brackets. Two kids have cystic fibrosis, so there are extra health chores daily and two-week hospitalizations occasionally that add to the mix. I have always been honored to be known as my husband’s wife and my children’s mother; it is not a loss of my identity but a flowering of it. So when feelings of discontent began whispering to me in my forty-fifth year, I was shaken and embarrassed. I wondered if I should get a job, complete a degree, or send the kids off to school. Am I boring? Am I useless? Am I fulfilled? I made a list of the pros and cons for each possibility and could not live with any of the cons. How to transform myself?

I spent a morning alone at a local cafe to relax and think, with an attractive, expensive cup of coffee and a delicious, tiny slice of biscotti. I decided to take baby
steps; or more accurately, one baby step: in the middle of the day, every single Howell at home was going to be silent for one hour. The small ones could rest and the older ones could read or draw. Separately was the key. I told them they were going to be alone with themselves. I promised myself not to clean or cook or help with lessons, but to simply be with me. I would use that hour to nap, read a book, learn to crochet, write a letter, or relearn how to play the piano -- something to stretch my mind and heart.



I'm pretty sure I see a positive boon for myself and our entire household order. It is both exciting and grounding. My next plan is to sign up for one college class online. We are getting used to Mom’s Hour and I am confident that some of those hours will be perfect for working through an anthropology or literature course.

 
I did not have to give up or reinvent what defines me --my home and family-- in order to fulfill something new welling up within me. A bit of balance is coming with one baby step, one hour, one day at a time. I look forward to my next year, one Mom’s Hour at a time.


Now to start filling out forms ...
Love, Allison



 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Book Review by Clare


(Copied and pasted from her blog by her pleased-as-punch mother!)



Book Review: ARAM
Cover for ARAM 2013This is a book review on ARAM, the first in the Deliverance trilogy.
This post is mainly what I thought of the book, not what it's about. If you want to know more on what it's about, Here is a good synopsis on the story.

ARAM was written by a Catholic, and has a Catholic writers' seal of approval or something like that inside the front cover, but I don't think it's exclusively Catholic so most Christians should also enjoy it. I also noticed some Pro-Life themes, which may or may not be considered a good thing for readers (it's considered awesome for us!). Age range is probably 10 and up, but parents should know what their kid is like. Ian (little brother) is eleven, but he is really sensitive and didn't like all the war, fighting, and scariness.
On the subject of that, the book can be violent. Bad guys are constantly attacking the good guys, and there's evil spirits and demons throughout (all seen in a bad light, though!). Many beloved characters die, often in horrible ways (Ian stopped reading after his favorite good guy was stabbed while asking
for peace).
But it's more than just killing and death. As I said before, it's written by a Catholic, so there's God, but thankfully it wasn't too preachy (I can't abide books like that). Here's an excerpt from the writer's website about ARAM:
Imagine hours of entertaining reading which helps you to experience life from a new
perspective, enhances your understanding of spiritual realities, and takes you
on an epic journey with characters who face terrifying fears, overcome
incredible temptations and are inspired to grow into better people delving into
life more profoundly.

One thing I would change with the series though, is a different editor, because there's some spelling and grammatical mistakes in it, but please don't let that deter you from reading it, because ARAM is awesome! Only . . . my favorite character turns into a nutcase by the end >:(
Ah, well.
I've already finished the second book (Ishtar's redemption: Trial by Fire), and am currently in the middle of the last book (Neb the Great: Shadows of the Past). I'll do some reviews on them next!