Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The opportunity to build virtue

Deacon Jim Meyer, who we were lucky enough to have receive our vows at our wedding Mass, opened an RCIA class with an interesting thought. The gist: pray for virtue. But if, for example, you pray for patience, don’t expect traffic to clear up and lines to feel shorter. Expect more traffic, longer lines, children slower to obey. God builds our virtues by giving us the opportunity to build virtue.

This week I made the mistake of praying for a peaceful, clear mind. I’ve since been overwhelmed with the chatter of 5 beautiful kids (6 including my great-with-kids husband); answered so many questions that my stepson has nicknamed me “Google;” and hit my head in a football game leaving a dull ache for two days and counting.

Thank you, God, for the opportunity to try to keep my mind clear of clutter!

“Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good.”


- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1804: Human Virtues (available from Ignatius Press)

Also recommended: Aquinas on the Cardinal Virtues (Ignatius Press)

-Michelle Gracia

Monday, July 5, 2010

"You're So White," says my hubby

Usually there's little difference between my husband's Puerto Rican outlook and my European perspective.  We're both American.  We enjoy each other's cuisine.  Then my husband will surprise me with what seems to me the most random laughter followed by "Honey, you're so white."

That happened yesterday when I asked him if we can have a quick meeting with his mom, and maybe his dad, before the kids arrive for their month with us.  Since my husband & I both work, the kids will be spending most of the mornings with my husband's parents.  I've been gathering ideas, info on hours & admission prices at museums that the kids like; free concerts and family festivals; etc.

What a novelty in Hispanic culture--a sit-down meeting about the summer plans!  His laughter increased when I told him I have a binder of info for his mom to go with it!  It contains coupons, restaurant clubs, my art museum member card, etc.

I have to admit, I've never been quite this organized myself before.  Usually I'm much more spontaneous.  Perehaps my level of juvenile nervousness about having a houseful of kids for 4+ weeks is making me obsess just a little.  More.

Well, what's the downside?  It's really just about getting my thoughts together.  It doesn't matter if the kids end up doing the activities that I've gathered in the binder.  After all, my husband is right.  I'm so white.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Tender conversations

I've beeen doing a lot of introspection recently, because the kids are coming!  They'll be here for a month straight, and I can't wait! 

Along with the excitement and planning and home arranging, I'm also reminding myself of the things that my husband does to help the kids adjust to having a stepmom.  One accusation that stepmothers constantly face is that we shouldn't be.  That's true.  It's important that my husband and I somehow communicate the value of an intact family while still encouraging admiration for our own marriage. It's humbling and difficult to admit that something fundamental to our situation is wrong.
The tendency to look down on second marriages is natural. The quirk that many of us, myself included, forget to consider is that the second marriage might not be the one that is unnatural.  Our marriage is Sacramental; my husband's first marriage was not.
How can we explain that to the kids?  Child psychology surrounding separated parents is so tender.  Logical though I am, the presence of the children is helpful in forcing me to look at things in a tender-hearted way. They love both of their parents; it's natural to want a family to be all together; why should theirs not be one of them?  It was years before my middle stepdaughter stopped wanting her parents to get together again...and I'm sure that desire has been repressed, not truly removed.

In answering the biggest "why?" of their young lives, my husband has a talent for articulating things that are very abstract.  He understands the heart of people's actions.  While I am able to analyze and explain the progression of things in a logical way--for example, I can explain the differences between legal & sacramental marriage--he has a much cleaner, simpler way that connects with his children's hearts.  In fact, two of the kids have inherited minds like his.  They have a little more difficulty with logic, but are very insightful when it comes to moral concepts.
Here are a couple ways that seem to help the kids.  These are all more organic, sentimental things, but I can't help putting them into a list! 
  1. Proactively explaining what Sacramental marriage is, while being reactive about legal marriage.  It may be difficult to explain the emotional and spiritual turmoil surrounding a divorce, but it's fairly simple to explain God's role in a marriage.  Once understood, the difference becomes obvious. 
  2. Providing an open door about the past, and giving only good consequences when they talk about their parents across town.
  3. Example.  My stepkids are so perceptive, and tension is one of the things they pick up on the best.  I know that they notice when I'm nervous, impatient or rushed, or shy when they first arrive.  That's OK I guess.  I think a lot of step-parents put emphasis on showing the kids who's "in charge."  This is a bit more combative than my pesonality though--I'd rather let them see when I'm nervous, or hurt, or unsure, so that they can also see how I handle it.  I may not always handle it fact I rarely that also provides an opportunity to show them how to correct my mistakes.
Wish me luck this summer--I can't wait to have a whole month of family activities!