Sunday, May 20, 2012

Celebrating WhyMommy

As you know, my friend and fellow mom, Susan Niebur (aka WhyMommy), passed away on February 6, 2012.  Susan was a wonderful wife and mother, a faithful friend, an accomplished scientist, and a writer whose words moved mountains.  Susan's interlocking communities of mothers, SJE parents, and bloggers are still feeling the reverberations her absence causes in our lives.  I've seen women in parking lots who resemble Susan and, after an initial surge of happiness (Oh, THERE she is), have cried all the way home. 

On Thursday, in School of Community, I recounted how, that morning when I was getting ready, I chose a dress because I wanted to look especially nice for the day, then realized that it was the same dress I wore when I stood beside Susan when she was received into the Catholic Church at her confirmation... and promptly started to cry. 

I wanted to look especially nice because, on Thursday, the Girl Scouts at SJE celebrated Susan in a special way with "Girl Scouts Do Science," a program that included speakers and opportunities for the girls to do hands on experiments. 

With the help Susan's husband, Curt, I located a planetary scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center who was willing to talk to our girls.  She gave a great presentation -- she works on the Cassini mission to Saturn.  The girls were so excited by the idea of a spaceship taking seven years to get to a planet and asked many interesting questions.  She talked about how the Cassini spacecraft was analogous to a human body and how, with math and science knowledge, we are able to communicate with it so that it will find things out for us about this very interesting gas giant planet. 

She also talked about how exciting the Space Shuttle program was for her as a young girl and how affected she was by the Challenger disaster -- something about which most of our girls had not yet learned.  It was interesting to see how many questions that passing reference generated -- they seemed to fixate on the disaster rather than on how inspiring and awesome the whole program was. 

The middle school science teacher at SJE then talked to the girls about her journey to loving and teaching science -- she told us that, as a young girl, she had not liked science.  She had always loved math, but science didn't really capture her interest until high school.  At that point, she became fascinated with biology and how all living things, from the smallest cell to the ecosystem around us, work in harmony and fit together.  She showed a cool video by They Might Be Giants on the scientific method and encouraged the girls to question, question, question and test, test, test.

Finally, we had another of Susan's friends (and a member of her prayer group) who is a biomedical engineer give us a great talk on her dissertation research.  In it, she worked on creating artificial tissue.  Her powerpoint presentation fascinated all the girls -- how they could separate the different kind of cells present in tissue using different kinds of solutions that would attract only one kind of cell, then grow those cells in culture, with the goal of then putting these different kinds of cells back together to create artificial tissue that works like the original.  At the end of her talk, she told the girls that we need people like them to be scientists, researchers, biomedical engineers, chemists, in order to help find a cure for cancers like the one that killed Susan.  It was such a powerful moment.  All of us adults ended up in tears.  All the hopeful potentiality in those earnestly listening little girls... drat. I'm crying again. 

All I can say is that Susan would have loved it.  I loved it on her behalf.  I was so honored to be able to plan and bring to fruition this work in honor of one of the most wonderful people I've ever met.  And I think that Susan would have been right there with the girls as they did experiments, getting her hands dirty as she showed them how oil and vinegar (with the help of a little Dijon mustard and a whisk) can become emulsified, how static electricity works, how to combine vinegar and baking soda and an empty water bottle hands to blow up a balloon without using your mouth, and other fun things.  At every experiment station, I could feel Susan there, gently encouraging the girls, really getting excited with them as they learned about density, static electricity, or whatever. 

Thank you, Susan, for inspiring me and for sharing your light with me and so many.  I think of you every day, and pray for you all the time.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Food for the Soul

On Sunday, Chickadee #1 received Holy Communion for the first time.  First Holy Communion is a BIG DEAL for Catholics.  The children have spent all year preparing for this sacrament (a sacrament is an outward sign of a spiritual reality -- in this case that the Lord is really present in the body and soul of the recipient of Holy Communion.)  Many Protestant traditions think of Holy Communion as a sign of unity between members of the church who are gathered in love for the Lord.  Catholics see the sacrament as an outward sign of Christ Himself united with the believer.    Chickadee #1 was very excited and happy -- she had the dress, the veil, the shoes, fancy socks. She attended a retreat last week in which she made a symbolic banner, constructed a rosary, and took a tour of the church in which she learned about the symbolism and history of the parts of the building (she told me that someone was going onto the ambo and I had no idea what she was talking about -- she informed me that it is the podium from which the lectors read the from the Old Testament and Epistles and from which the priest proclaims the Gospel).  We attended practices and sang songs at home, arranged for chairs and a tent, bought food, ordered cakes.  Her solemnity and beauty in approaching this moment was so gorgeous to observe.  As a parent, it moves me so much to be able to share this with her. 

I remember, a long time ago, someone related a story to me.  In it, the person recounted an unbeliever taking to task a parent for "corrupting" her child's mind with all this claptrap about religion, God, etc.  The unbeliever sincerely thought that religion was inherently bad and that parents should allow their children to "make up their own minds about all that stuff."  In response, the parent said, "When you have something really, really wonderful, the natural thing as a parent is to want to share that with your children -- to help them have this great thing that you have."  It reminds me of the question Jesus asked,  "Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?" (Matthew 7:9). 

And it occurs to me, since everything these days seems to revolve around the issue of my weight, that I am actually giving my children, and myself, a stone.  A millstone.  And I keep right on picking it up and passing it on.  How you can simultaneously carry a stone and pass it along is not apparent to me, but I acknowledge that this is what I'm doing.  This book I'm reading, Made to Crave , is wonderful in that it reminds us that we are supposed to be filling up our days with love of the Lord and reliance on His Word.  Lysa TerKeurst's slogan is "Satisfying Your Deepest Desire with God, Not Food."  For myself, that's a lesson I keep having to learn and, despite all evidence from previous times in my life, it appears that I'm not a fast learner.

At a recent mass, as I waited go to Holy Communion, it occurred to me that I was really hungry.  The prayer that welled up in me was something like this -- "God make me hungry for You.  Make realize that the places in me that need to be filled can only be filled by You.  Help me to distinguish the kinds of hunger I feel and to feed them with the correct food." 

And that is my prayer right now, as I sit up late (it's 2:13 am) writing -- my body is craving something (water and sleep, I am sure).  I'm tempted to travel into the kitchen and try that awesome ice cream cake I made for Chickadee's 8th birthday, or the even more awesome cake Costco made for her First Holy Communion party.  Instead, I'm going to have a tall glass of water and turn off the light.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Rejuvenate Me, Rejuvenate Me, Rejuvenate Me

Yesterday at just about this time, I was sitting on the beach in Monterey, California.  I'd found a nice "bench" of sand from which to survey the Pacific and, honestly, I only intended to bid farewell to an ocean which had overwhelmed me with its beauty and power in ways I had not expected.  I'm an East Coast girl -- to me, ocean means the grey Atlantic, which one approaches via miles and miles of flat, farmland and freshwater marsh.  It means the Boardwalk downeyohshun, saltwater taffy, suntan lotion, and seagulls fighting for scraps.  The Pacific took my preconceptions about oceans and turned them inside out -- instead of grey, it was the bluest blue.  Instead of marshland, mountains are its gateway.  Instead of the tackiness of Ocean City, MD, it breathed solitude and natural splendor. I loved it.  I loved me being there.  I achieved an important childhood dream on this trip and one adult dream.  Ever since I was a little girl, I had wanted to go whale watching -- ever since reading Nightbirds on Nantucket.  And I did do that -- I saw a humpback mother and calf (though I missed the calf breaching because I didn't want to get pitched overboard in the rough sea so was holding on tight to the railing in the wrong part of the boat) and the three killer whales which paced our boat and showed their dolphin-like natures by arcing through the water like arrows.  My adult dream was to celebrate ten years of marriage to a wonderful man who loves me with all his heart, soul, mind, and body.  And I did that too.  It was a wonderful trip.

So, why, on my last morning there, as I was bidding farewell to the blue Pacific and watching the fog roll away from the coastline, did I find myself fighting tears as I composed an impromptu prayer?  Looking at the Pacific, I rocked as I sang, "Rejuvenate me, rejuvenate me, rejuvenate me, rejuvenate me.  O Lord my God, oh please help me.  O give me courage, o give me strength.  Rejuvenate me, and please bring me to be the person as you want me. Rejuvenate me, rejuvenate me, rejuvenate me, O please help me.  To say no to myself.  To say yes to myself.  O please help me to choose wisely.  Rejuvenate me, oh come to me.  Amen." 

As I have gotten older and have gained more understanding of myself and the condition which I've imposed upon myself, I am trying to be kinder to myself and more loving towards the fragility of my own life.  Ever since Susan died, I've been thinking about the sheer sadness of death -- the loss of the light of this wonderful woman and all she had to offer to her family and friends and to the world at large.  Every once in a while, it pops into my own head that I'm closer to the end of my road than to the beginning, and I feel very tender towards myself.  I think that I'm a pretty cool person and I have a lot of interesting things going on in my mind, my heart, and my soul.  And I'm sorry that I won't be in this life forever.  And, at the same time, it occurs to me that I'm wasting time.  Wasting time hating my body. Wasting time being tired and sore and in pain.  Wasting time being overwhelmed by things.  Wasting time being out of control.  And that makes me feel very tender towards myself too. 

Hence the prayer, which I will sing every morning, perched on my bench of dirty laundry, regarding the ebb and flow of my family life.