Tuesday, May 20, 2008

May, 2008-- Mom, was Jesus shot?

We were standing in line, waiting to use the bathroom, during the Sign of Peace at Mass, when Teenasia asked me if Jesus had been shot.
            “What?” I thought I had heard her wrong.
            “Was Jesus shot?” she asked, worried. She glanced over at the statue nearby. Jesus stood, arms outstretched, palms up, with a resigned look on his face. His side was pierced and blood was flowing from it. I could see why she had asked the question.
            “No, he wasn’t shot,” I whispered, hoping the bathroom door would open at any moment and we could whisk Teenasia in and stop the conversation. “He was cut with a sword.”
            Her eyes widened, then her brow furrowed. I looked again at the bathroom door. It didn’t open.  Teenasia, our six year old foster daughter, had been with us just two weeks since being removed from the home of her biological father. Last week she hadn’t needed to use the bathroom in the middle of Mass, so we had not run into this issue.
            Teenasia peppered me with questions as I watched other parishioners smiling, shaking hands, hugging and chatting at the sign of peace.
            Who stabbed Jesus with a sword?
            Why would they do that?
            Was this the same Jesus who was BABY Jesus?
            Did someone get him a Band Aid?
            Are you sure he wasn’t shot?
            I explained as best I could, stressing, as much as possible, that after all this suffering, Jesus rose from the dead and lives still. T seemed unsatisfied.
            Teenasia, more than anyone I’ve ever known, understands what real suffering is. While I have known several people well who have suffered from illness, an accident or disability, T is the only person I know whose intense suffering has been at the hands of another. Watching T look at the suffering Christ while we waited in line for the bathroom was at the same time excruciating and enlightening.
            I have always been a Resurrection person. I grew up at Holy Family parish, in Whitefish Bay, where instead of a crucified Christ in front of the church, we had a resurrected Christ, with the cross in the background. My image of Jesus growing up was a strong, peaceful man who the cross could not conquer. That always made sense to me. Crucifixion was not the point, I felt. Many people suffer. The point was the Resurrection—that Jesus overcame death to bring us all to a much better place.
            It was in college that I first understood that maybe, however, the crucifixion was just as much of the point as Resurrection was. I learned about the poor and oppressed throughout the world, and how they held onto the crucified Christ—finding solace that their God suffered, just as they did.
            “It’s first-world countries and often wealthy suburbs where the Resurrected Christ is given the most attention,” I remember a Jesuit telling me. “In poor areas, it is all the crucified Christ.”
            And now, as the parent to three children who have known little suffering, and one who has known too much, I see the truth in his words. Teenasia is attuned to Jesus’ wounds in a way my other children are not.
            One Sunday, we missed Mass at our usual church and went to Three Holy Women, where all four children were asked to bring up the gifts. I brought the kids to the back of church as the ushers collected the offertory. As I explained to Jacob and Liam that they’d be carrying the bread and wine, I turned to the girls to tell them about the basket, and saw that T had huge tears rolling down her cheeks.
            “What?” I asked. I was somewhat annoyed, thinking she was going to complain that she had to share carrying the basket of money with Jamie.
            Wordlessly, she pointed. I looked. It was a replica of the Pieta. Jesus, dead, in the arms of his mother. Teenasia covered her mouth to keep the sobs from coming out.
            “He’s hurt,” she gulped. “Is he dead? His mom is holding him. Is he DEAD?”
            Again, I quickly went over the story. Yes, dead today—resurrected three days later —lives with us still—happy ending. But Teenasia kept looking at the dead, sad Jesus in the lap of his mother.       
            And I had nothing to say. Because three days means nothing to a six-year-old. Now is the only reality. Adults understand days, weeks, months, but kindergarteners do not. T looked at Jesus and saw his pain; his mother’s pain. It brought her to tears, and it wasn’t the time to talk about the resurrection, I realized
            “Jesus died,” I whispered, as the ushers made their way up the aisle. “It was very sad. His mother was very sad. This is a statue of Jesus and his mother on this sad, sad day.”
            T nodded, still looking at the statue.
            “Sometimes sad days are as important as happy days,” I said. The ushers were getting closer to us. “And we need to make a statue for those sad days.”
            “That was the saddest day,” T said. “I wish he didn’t die.”
            Now, all I could do was nod and blink fast. But T’s tears were gone. The ushers had made it to the back of the church, and as Teenasia, Jacob, Liam and Jamie brought up the gifts, I looked at my third child. I prayed for her—for the suffering she had endured. For her own resurrection someday. And I prayed for my husband and myself. That we would find a way to honor Teenasia’s own sad, sad days. Not with a statue, but with something just as real. Something that told T we understood that this happened to you, and we are so sorry.  We believe in your sad days.
            My children brought up the gifts that day, and I watched with the congregation. They handed the gifts to the priest, and I looked at the crucified Christ in the front of the church. Not the Resurrected Christ of my childhood. My children handed their gifts to the priest under the crucified Christ. And even though they all bowed to the tabernacle, it was only Teenasia that I prayed for.

            Bless her. Heal her. Thank you for bringing her to us. Crucified Christ, give her strength.

Monday, May 5, 2008

May, 2008-- You be the judge (or not)

About a year ago, when Jamie was three, I needed a crown put on a tooth and in an effort to avoid thinking about what a bad day that would be—I’m deathly afraid of the dentist—I did not make child care plans for Jamie. The morning of my appointment, I called up my friend Kathleen and asked if Jamie could come over to play with her four-year-old.
            “Sure, bring her over,” she said.
            As I dropped Jamie off, Kathleen mentioned offhandedly that she was also taking care of her 1- and 2-year-old niece and nephew that morning because their mom just had a baby, and would I mind if she took all four kids to McDonald’s?
            I was appalled that I had put Kathleen in a position that she would be watching my child in addition to two extras, but with 20 minutes until my appointment, I had little choice but to leave Jamie there. I thanked Kathleen extensively, wished her luck, and left.
            After my appointment, when I picked Jamie up, I asked Kathleen how it went. She said the kids were great and listed all the things she had done with them. A marching parade; coloring time; and Ring-around-the-Rosie at home. Then off to McDonalds where there was tag in the indoor playground and French fries and chicken nuggets for lunch.
            “There was one bad part, though,” Kathleen said. She went on to say that after about three hours into entertaining the four toddlers, when they were all sitting quietly eating, she made a quick call to a friend to chat, while sitting with them in the booth. As she was speaking on her cell phone, a woman came up to her and admonished her for not paying attention to the children.          
            “She told me that my children needed my attention, and I shouldn’t be talking on the phone,” Kathleen said. “She was quite angry with me.”
            Kathleen didn’t explain to the woman that she had been playing with the children all morning and this was her first five-minute break of the day, but I had an strong urge find the woman and explain that myself. How dare that woman judge my friend—here she was, helping both a mom with a newborn, and me, with my newly crowned tooth, when she didn’t need to help either of us.
            Kathleen’s story reminds me how easy it is to judge others— and the risk we take by making a comment when we don’t know the whole story.
            The day after Teenasia entered our house as a foster child for the third time in five years, I brought her to our local public school to register her. As we walked in the office, the first thing the secretary said to her — even before hello — was, “Honey, you don’t need that thumb in your mouth, take it out.”  The comment was made in a sweet voice; Teenasia obliged and I didn’t say anything, but inside I was seething. With all T had just gone through, her thumb was about the only stable thing in her life at the moment. The secretary, of course, had no idea of all of this, and did not mean any harm. But every time we choose to criticize a situation we know little about, we take a risk.
            Fr. Mike Bertram, in his homily over the weekend, said that while sexual sins are often given the most press by those who like to point out sins, Jesus rarely spoke of them. Instead, Fr, Mike said, the sin Jesus mentioned the most was judging others. 
            Parents walk the line between using good judgment and being judgmental. If we are to keep our children safe; if we are to help them grow into the best people they can be, we cannot naively think only the best of everyone. To do so could put our children into harm’s way. Many times, as parents, we need to make a judgment about another parent’s decision that could impact our child. We need to use judgment about how well-chaperoned the party will be; what movies may be allowed in a particular household that our kids visit; how children are allowed to speak to adults in another household. So what is the difference then, between using good judgment and being judgmental?
            In talking about the dangers of being judgmental, Fr. Mike brought up the story of the adulterous woman at the well, and how Jesus protected her by inviting anyone without sin to cast the first stone. To me, that simple story is the illustration of the difference. The woman’s life was not intersecting with any of the stone-throwers. They had no reason to judge her.

            By repeatedly instructing us on the dangers of judging, Jesus is freeing us. Constantly being judgmental is exhausting. It requires us to tap into mental reserves to analyze the “facts” of a situation in order to make an assessment from those perceived facts. Jesus tells us to leave judging to God. In releasing us from the responsibility of judging others, Jesus gives us freedom to spend more time in examination of our own lives— freedom to simply live our lives. Jesus’ reminders not to judge protect us from ourselves—the less we judge, the less chance we will judge wrong.