Tuesday, 25 December 2012

hope for the world-weary

For a while now, I've had a vague but strong "uneasy" feeling about the times, which seem so overwhelmingly dark and so fraught with dangers unravelling in ever more unthinkable events. I'm filled daily with fear, sadness, disbelief - and so many cliche questions....Where are we heading? How on earth have we gotten this far? What will another five or ten years possibly bring? Can the culture change for good without first enduring some horribly, horribly dark(er) and (more) violent times? Do we have to hit some sort of a rock bottom that we haven't yet hit before we change? How is it possible that THIS is not rock bottom? 

When the fear and horror and sadness and tormenting questions rise up, I can only cling to the Lord. Jesus, I trust in You. I have to remind myself every day - all the time - even hourly - because I forget. Every day there is so much pain and ugliness to grapple with, it jars my brain and soul. I'm still sort of new to the abandonment scene. But I find peace only and truly in God, knowing that He can and will bring goodness and beauty out of anything. Anything. But usually His work is intricate and patient and....slow. I'm only human. I want to see much faster results.

After Newtown our president said the following:
"This is our first task -- caring for our children. It's our first job.
If we don't get that right, we don't get anything right.
That's how, as a society, we will be judged.
And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we
are meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we're
doing enough to keep our children -- all of them -- safe from
harm? Can we claim, as a nation, that we're all together there,
letting them know that they are loved, and teaching them to
love in return? Can we say that we're truly doing enough to
give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to
live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?
I've been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we're honest with ourselves, the answer is no.
We're not doing enough.
And we will have to change."

Beautiful words - true words. I read that statement once through the incredibly painful lens of the Sandy Hook massacre. And I agreed - with all my heart. And then I read it once through the equally horrific lens of the daily massacre of hundreds of children yet unborn. I agreed again. I felt sick both times. Then I read it again thinking of all the children who live in homes where they are abused - or who are hungry - or surrounded by drugs and gangs - abandoned by a parent - stripped of innocence at tender ages - neglected - molested - my heart felt ready to crack.

Our president said we are not doing enough for our most vulnerable, for children. He said - firmly, with conviction and passion and determination that we will have to change. Will we change? In order to meet our obligations to keep children safe from harm, to let them know they are loved, to teach them to love in return, to give every child in the country the chance he or she deserves to live out his or her life in happiness and with purpose, so much must change. The gun laws need a massive overhaul. And then.....many other laws and systems need a good hard look as well. If we are serious about this business of our first responsibility being to the children, to sheltering them as best as we are able from all that systematically harms them and denies them love and life and happiness, even at great cost to ourselves....We can start with abortion laws, divorce laws, decency laws, mental health care, the child welfare system, the education system,  the inner city "system", poverty, drugs, pornography, video games, entertainment media - and then go from there. So much in our culture fails children, harms children, warps the love that a child ought to experience and denies them the right every human has to live out a life of purpose. I want to believe that as a country we are going to take a brave look at these and change, as our President said this week that we must. I completely want to believe that we will not end up saying that "The politics are just too hard" about all of these issues. I want to. I believe he meant it. I believe that all of us were behind him with our whole hearts. I believe all of us were filled with sincerity and all that is best and most beautiful in us.

 But I find it so hard to hope. The darkness has spread so wide and so deep - even in to each of our own hearts. I find it so thick in my own soul - the materialism, the selfishness, the narrow views, the ignorance, the prejudices, the anger, the laziness, the clinging to what is comfortable and convenient, the lack of self-control and the often triumphing disinclination to be open to and cooperative with others who think so differently from myself. To hope has been hard.

This morning at Christmas Mass, we heard that "A light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." In the car on the way to church, I saw a small but powerful sign that it's still true - that the darkness has not yet overcome the light. McDonald's was closed. McDONALD'S. And every other commercial enterprise we passed. Without exception. I'm sure that somewhere in Bloomington, Illinois, something was open for business, but I didn't see it and it gave me hope: it was all because of Jesus, even if only mindlessly or grudgingly. Two thousand years after His birth, the infant Jesus has the power to shut down what is possibly the strongest worldly force in our age: American capitalism. Despite the media's ever-increasing usage of the term "Christian mythology" when referring to Him and His birth, the infant Jesus Christ is absolutely real enough to shut all those storefronts for one day every year. What other person in history (or mythology) can claim the same?

Thank you McDonald's. Jesus Christ is about hope. Christmas Day is about hope. And by closing today, along with all the other hundreds of businesses in Bloomington, you were able to spark a hope in me that has been struggling to stay lit. A light does indeed shine in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. Nor will it. Ever.

Merry Christmas to all - peace, joy and hope to you.
(And yes, I think I am blogging again.)

Long lay the world
in sin and error pining
then He appeared 
and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope
the weary world rejoices
for yonder breaks
a new and glorious morn

Fall on your knees.....

Wednesday, 3 October 2012


Adjusting from explicit "missionary" life in New Zealand to the mission of ordinary life in Illinois has been made easier by the fact that there are some parts of life that have remained utterly consistent. For example:

Top 10 Ways Illinois is Exactly Like New Zealand:

1.  I have seen no fewer Kiwi birds here in Illinois than I ever saw in New Zealand.
2.  There was, however,  a (dead) possum in our backyard this week.
3.  People are consistently polite and pleasant as I go about my daily business.
     (That is so NOT the America I have always known......)
4.  We are surrounded by farmland.
5. A lot of the people with whom we'd really like to keep in touch live half the globe away and are requesting blog updates, Skype sessions & emails.
6. We're in a different time zone from all extended family.
7. Everyone around us has a funny accent again.
8. Rich has an iPhone glued to his person.
9. I am pregnant.
10. We're not really sure what we'll do with our other children during the upcoming birth and are praying again for specific dates and times for his birth.

Despite all these striking similarities, Richard still pines for his "true homeland" - and the photos that expatriot Karen Whyte is posting to Facebook of her new farm in Tauranga are not helping at all. She is living proof to him that an American can successfully transplant to the Kiwi dream, and he is more determined than ever to do so one day. Naturally, even I must admit that there are some teensy differences between Illinois and New Zealand......

Top 10 Ways Illinois is Nothing Like New Zealand:

1. The nearest ocean is about sixteen hours away by car. It appears the nearest hill might be almost as far. (Despite all the acres of dried-out, brown, autumnal farmland, "Natural Beauty" is A LOT harder to come by....)
2. Gun rights are very important to many locals. Some even post catchy little jingles on their property, such as the following:
                  Another would-be thief is sadder but wiser; 
                  Gran always kept her shotgun beside 'er
3. Fish and Chip shops are nonexistent. There are no morning tea breaks at schools or offices. Rich can't utilize any of his cool Maori vocabulary. He's the only person in town that owns/wears any All Blacks gear. There are no switches on electrical outlets. There aren't any roundabouts on the roads. People look at you weird if you say something is "sweet as". 
4. I understand people when they talk to me. I understand their funny accents, their idioms, their terminology and all of the units of measurements they use. (I do not necessarily understand the gun thing).
5. Fr. Michael does not pop in every day. Neither does James, nor Glen, nor any youth, nor persons seeking lunch, petrol money, Confession times or keys to Rooms A & B. In fact nobody pops in. Ever.
6. Weather forecasts are accurate (and in Fahrenheit, praise the Lord). Furthermore, things die in the autumn. They fall. Thus, you can freely call autumn "Fall" here. And October is fall, not spring.
7. The kids have to wear shoes every single place we go. I have to remember to check that they are all wearing shoes before we arrive at our destination (or preferably before we leave the house).
8. I put all my washing in the glorious clothes dryer.
9. The farms here produce corn. Only. No cows, no sheep, no kiwifruit in sight.
10. Rich has far fewer people to text on his iPhone. Consequently, he is texting me all day long. (But I am no more active a texter in IL than I was in NZ.)

fresh backyard roses (AND beautiful foliage) on the Feast of the Little Flower

Overall, the Sealy family is really happy in Illinois. My perfect, beautiful, beloved Sacred House back in Pennsylvania has not exactly attracted the attention and desire that is its proper due. Since we can't buy a house in Bloomington until the Sacred House sells, we find ourselves in a most unexpected bind. The original plan was to rent this house for only a month or two - because naturally the Sacred House would be scooped up immediately (and probably we'd even be offered double the asking price!). But buyers are obviously intimidated by the perfection and glory of the Sacred House and so there have been absolutely no offers yet. So we decided that rather than face lease-expiration and eviction four days before my due date, we would sign a year-long lease and hunker down just where we are. And actually, as usual, the Lord has done all things well. It's a lovely house with a mostly above-ground finished basement - in other words, there is a sunny, bright, warm, cheerful place for me to exile all three children so that I can collapse in peace as an exhausted heap of humanity. And when the kids tire of the books and toys and art supplies downstairs, there is a gorgeous fenced-in backyard filled with still-blooming roses and impeccable grass and small trees for climbing and squirrels and bunnies (and the occasional dead possum with rotted-out eyeballs and squirming with maggots). The children spend much of their day happily exiled to one of these two locations. Perhaps I don't achieve my finest mothering in the last few weeks of pregnancy, but the kids are happy so I'm not putting too much guilt on myself over it.

happy place of exile

Some of the things we like best in Bloomington: We've found a great parish bursting with life and community. It has a beautiful Perpetual Adoration chapel filled with the finest Catholic spiritual reading that has ever been published. There are heaps of young people, pregnant women everywhere and plenty of families with a lot of kids.

he got a haircut and aged overnight!

Rich is enjoying his new teaching career and is really impressed with the school. There's a priest on the faculty, so Mass is offered optionally twice a week and is well attended by students who choose to come early to school or who give up their lunch break to attend. Confession is offered once a week; Adoration is held all day every Friday and every religion class attends for ten minutes of class. There is a good rapport among the faculty and great spirit at the school. So far Richard's only complaint is that he is expected to appear at school dressed as a Disney character next week (homecoming week, all faculty and students participate in this ritual). I'd think that after all the things he freely chose to dress as for youth group, this would not be such a big deal.... After impersonating Barney, a dead mouse and the devil himself, why not be Jafar for a few hours?

In teaching theology, Richard very much has a public ministry once again. I do not. When we registered as official members of the parish, the parish secretary handed me a very impressive list of all the groups and ministries that bustle about the church. I wanted to pick something and sign up. I felt that I was "supposed to" do so right then and there. But I just couldn't. Not yet. I'll know that I'm ready to hop back into some sort of ministry when I'm back in the saddle with just my basic duties of housekeeping and child rearing. Like when the kids are permitted to leave the basement (sometime after the new baby is born and I feel more like a human being again). But for now, in keeping with the concept of the mission of everyday life, I think the Lord is asking me just to do well the basic things that are part of my inescapable vocation of wife and mother.....This is a season for a subtle but essential growth - growth in the virtue of not just "ticking the boxes" (to get the kids fed & bathed & entertained & disciplined and to keep up with the house), but to do each needed task with excellence.  

To do each thing punctually. To do it carefully, taking my time, being attentive and present to the task. To do it cheerfully and humbly, offering the work to the Lord.  

Lord, I will bathe this child as patiently and gently as if I were bathing You as a young child.
 I will mop this floor as carefully and thoroughly as if You personally had requested that I mop it.   
I will speak to Richard with an exasperated voice no more than I would to You.  

I'm really much more of a very efficient box-ticker. This "mission of everyday life" thing is requiring a complete overhaul of habit and nature. It's a very slow process. In that very slowness however, the Lord is teaching me by His own example. I am learning to slow down and take time with my work by observing how slowly and painstakingly He is accomplishing His work in me. I am being taught to be gentle with the hearts, souls and bodies of those in my care under the instruction of the One who is nothing but gentle with mine. Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect....  I'll never be omnipotent, free of concupiscence, omniscient, or imitate many of His other divine perfections, but certainly there is realistic hope that in grace I can learn to slow down, accept all the day's tasks without complaint and do everything with great care.

Except dead possum removal. THAT I will continue to shirk all day, leave to the man of the house after he gets home from work, and not worry at all about how hurriedly or carelessly he does it. In fact, I was glad to see Rich yank that thing up by the tail, shove it in a bag and rush it across the lawn, ignoring the children's pleading questions about "Will it rise?"  "Is it in heaven?"  "Do possums love Jesus?"   The Lord also says that for everything there is a time and a season - so clearly that must include being in the occasional big hurry.

Monday, 12 March 2012

the mission called ordinary life

After two years of missionary living, I almost can't imagine finding something worth writing about in my "ordinary" life. My only experience of posting to a blog has revolved entirely around the extraordinary experience of moving temporarily across the globe. But one thing I've learned as a missionary in an exotic land is that the heart of life is just the ordinary days - the grind. I thought the overseas experience would be an enchanted intermission from normalcy - a thrilling adventure of meaningful work and unfamiliar vistas. I could not have been more wrong. A few days after arriving, ordinary life was just ordinary life again, even halfway across the world. The kitchen floor needed to be mopped. Diapers had to be changed. Children had tantrums; I felt cranky; it rained for weeks. Most days were not glamourous. Most days were the same as they had been back in Pennsylvania, except in an uglier living room. The mission work also felt very ordinary. Human nature is what it is. We worked with troubled individuals and eccentric characters and liars and those desperate for attention - and mostly lots and lots of lovely people. Just the same as we had in every other job or ministry throughout our whole lives.

A few years ago at this time, I was trying to prepare to be a missionary in country I'd never seen before. Now I'm trying to prepare to go back to a life I know very well, but to live it in a whole new way. For me, the call is no longer to do something unusual and dramatic; my call now is to do what is quite ordinary - but with extraordinary zeal and charity, with excellence and sacrifice and cheerfulness - in other words, to embrace the mission of ordinary life with such a generous heart so as to yield thirty, sixty or a hundredfold. I think this was supposed to be my call all along. Only by living temporarily as a "real" missionary did I learn that I had been a "real" missionary all along - I'd simply failed to recognize it. We are all missionaries of the everyday and we are all laborers in the apostolate of the humdrum. Not recognizing this, we fall prey to comfort, to laziness, to timidity, to grumpiness, to pettiness, to materialism....or to dissatisfied restlessness. I speak to so many people who yearn to do something great - to have a vision, a call, a mission - to really contribute. For the most part, the Lord has already placed us exactly where He knows we can have the most impact! Our spouse, our children, our friends, our relatives, our coworkers, our neighbors, our mechanics and hairdressers and plumbers and accountants and physicians - these are the people He has entrusted to us and we have a true purpose to accomplish in our interactions with these people. Our own ordinary life is a place of greatness - here and now - if we can recognize that.  Let's aim to yield a hundredfold.

For anyone interested in reading about the more exotic years of missionary living in New Zealand: