Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween/All Saints Day

Tonight we tried out a new tradition - and I hope it's one that sticks around. Instead of door-to-door trick or treating and regular Halloween outfits, we attended an All Saints Day party put on by the homeschool co-operative group that we have joined out here.

It was great - the boys had a fabulous time, and it was not decorated with scary, grotesque Halloween decor (Joseph is kind of afraid of that stuff), was well-lit, and the kiddos still got their share of candy. The best part? (for me, at least) The party was FULL of homemade costume awesomeness - no store bought, plastic-y junk, but all homemade, carefully chosen costumes. It was a craft, DIY dream come true for me!

Some pictures from the fun:

St. Michael, the archangel

St Francis of Assisi (#1)

St Francis of Assisi (#2)

Enjoying the games and fun:

I think we've successfully started a new tradition!

School is cool!

I've been told that there haven't been enough pictures or schooling updates, so prepare yourselves for an overload of cuteness.

Homeschooling is still going strong here at our house - we're on week 8 of our 32 week plan for the year, and so far, things are going wonderfully. Sure, there are days when it's harder than others to get started, but we had those when going to a traditional school, too. Overall, we're still enjoying each other's company, and we're still learning a lot about the world around us......and each other.

Enjoy the picture post of our year so far!

Reading/Phonics: A friend told me about this great method for helping little ones learn to spell and read short words. Graham (age 5) is LOVING it! I present to you: sticky-note phonics

Science has also been a lot of hands-on fun. Joseph designed his own experiment using beans (which he then sprouted), and measuring how quickly the little plants grow. Here he is, building the experiment, after designing it on paper:

Art class has definitely been the most fun so far. We've been able to try out different mediums for creating masterpieces. One of the boys' favourite art projects was drawing with dry erase markers on our sliding glass door. We had a lot of fun with this double-sided activity!

Math: while this one doesn't usually lend itself to very exciting photos, but we've managed to fin a way to have some fun while working on math skills. Games, such as our "Jumping Numbers" game (I call out a math problem, and they have to jump to land on the card that has the right answer on it), and daily activities (such as baking: we worked on fractions while making the cupcakes below) have really helped to solidify math comprehension.

And then there are field trips. We've planned our week to do lessons for 4 and 1/2 days, leaving a half day to go and explore, or work on more intense art projects. We've managed to spend a lot of time seeking out local fun spots or nature reserves. There's so much to see here! Each boy has a field trip journal, and our goal is to have every paged filled by the end of the school year.

And the best part of homeschooling, so far? The relationships we've built as a family. The boys are best of friends now, and I love watching them grow up together. Homeschooling is proving to be the best for our family, on a daily basis.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

40 Days for Life, take 2

Same warning applies: if you continue to read this, there is a chance you might be offended. Please 1) remove emotions and discuss this rationally and 2) be respectful in any comments that you leave, whether here or on Facebook. (this means no name calling, no judgment of PERSONS, and no swear words). Let's continue to keep this "above-board." Thanks.

I posted a link to yesterday's blog post on my Facebook page yesterday morning. While not many comments were left here, there were quite a number of them on my Facebook link (I think it might be the most comments ever received on one link on my page, to be honest). I want to start this post by saying thank you to everyone who commented, and to say a BIG thank you for everyone for remaining respectful throughout the conversation. I am very, very appreciative of that - especially those who did not agree with me - and I want to make sure that you know how grateful I am for that respect.

Amongst the comments, there were a few "themes," for lack of a better word, and I've been pondering those themes for the past 24 hours. Constantly. I think. A lot. It's kind of a personal flaw - I contemplate and analyze a lot. All this thinking has made me realize that I don't quite understand some of the themes. I wanted to discuss each one, and my thought process behind them, and if you recognize yourself in one of them, please elaborate. I am curious behind your thought process, and how you came to that conclusion.

(I'm just going to list these, not in any particular order, just based on my memory. I'm not "ranking" them or anything like that, so don't read into where a theme/comment falls on my list when it comes to the importance of that theme/comment OR how strongly I felt a reaction to it. )

Here goes..

- A lot of people said something along the lines of "While I would never choose abortion myself, I cannot make that decision for someone else." I'll be blatantly honest. This argument doesn't make any sense to me. Don't we do this every day, in all aspects of our lives? I'm pretty sure I would never hear someone say "While I would never rape someone, I cannot make that decision for someone else." No - instead, I'd hear "Rape is wrong, no matter what a woman was wearing, or what they had to drink, or where they were, etc.." Could you imagine someone saying to you, "While I would never kill someone for insurance money, I can't condemn someone who does kill for insurance money, especially if they are struggling financially?" Aren't people prosecuted for these very same things, every single day? I find it very hard to believe that the people who made a comment along those lines would say, "While I would never cheat on my wife/husband, I can't expect my spouse to feel the same way." We make those kind of statements all the time, on a daily basis, do we not? Why is abortion given a special place in our heads? There is a reason that these things disgust us, and why we stand up against them every day: it is written into our very being as natural law. Almost every culture on this earth has a consequence for murder, because it is written in natural law. We are not supposed to kill one of our own. What makes abortion different?

- Along those lines, comments were made about "It's not a baby, it's an embryo, or it's a product of pregnancy." Somehow, changing our word choice changes whether or not it is "alive." The majority of abortions in the United States are performed after 8 weeks gestation. At 6 weeks old, a baby's heart can be seen on ultrasound. Brain activity can be recorded. When a person is injured in some way, how do we determine if they are alive? We check for a pulse (heartbeat) and brain activity. If they have one or the other, they are still considered alive. So....those babies killed after 8 weeks of age meet the requirement that we attach to life at all other ages. Why do we make an exception in this case? Even if we call it an embryo, it has a heartbeat and brain activity, and by all definitions of life, it has a life. Our own Constitution guarantees a right to can we claim that this baby, with a heartbeat and brain activity (a life), does not have that right? The most recent count I can find comes from 2008, when 1.21 million babies were aborted. Using the statistics from the government, we killed 23% of those children before they were even 8 weeks old. That leaves approximately 919,600 babies killed with at least heartbeats and brain activity in that one year, just in our country (USA). When a baby is aborted, the doctor or abortionist has to account for all body parts, to make sure everything has been removed from the womb. That means, even at 10 weeks old, for example, an abortionist has to account for 2 legs, 2 arms, a head, etc. How can we continue to say that an abortion does not kill a baby, when the body parts have to accounted for, and that baby had a heartbeat and brain activity?

- A bunch of people commented (or messaged me) saying that they agreed with my pro-life stance....but did not feel that they had the right to say it out loud or that they did not feel an obligation to try to challenge the abortion movement. Can I ask for an elaboration? Why do you feel that way? Let me put it into perspective: You and I are at a party. You have had too much to drink. It doesn't matter how you got drunk, what you were drinking, whether or not you made a mistake by drinking that much. The fact of the matter is that you are drunk. If you get behind the wheel of your car, there is a very large chance that you will hurt either yourself or someone else, possibly killing them. Am I not morally obligated to take your keys from you? Is it more acceptable to say, "Well, I sympathize with those who will be hurt by your decision, but I can't do anything to stop you?" By saying that we are not willing to stand up for those being hurt by abortion - and by this I mean BOTH the woman and the child - we are doing the same as if I let you get into your car and attempt to drive home. The compounding difference is that, unlike drunk driving, there is more than just a chance that someone will get hurt. By a woman choosing to obtain a abortion, she is guaranteeing the death of one person, and is drastically increasing her chances for mental, emotional, and physical complications. How can we not be morally - or ethically, if you want to remove "morals" from the discussion - obliged to speak out?

- A few people asked "What if the woman's life or health is in danger?" I responded with the principle of double effect. There is a difference between direct and indirect abortion, and it boils down to the intention behind the act. For example, if a woman has a terminal cancer, and the tumour is in her uterus, her uterus needs to be removed. If she is pregnant, removing her uterus has the unintended effect of killing her child. Not once was the intention to kill her child, but to save the mother. If a child was actively killed (not as an unintended consequence), that is a direct abortion. JPII (again, that's Pope John Paul II for non-Catholics) does a MUCH better job explaining it than I do, as he was an incredibly gifted writer and theologian. I highly recommend reading his work on this for a full understanding of direct vs. indirect abortion. Even before Roe vs. Wade even was enacted, this form of abortion was considered legal. It had to be medically necessary, and had to be performed by a physician in a hospital. Statistics of how many abortions were performed, for this reason, are hard to come by on a national level, but anecdotal evidence at individual hospitals leads me to believe that it was very, very small. Truly medically necessary abortions - not even applying the indirect abortion qualifications - are not as common as we are led to believe, especially with the advance of modern medicine and the age of viability drastically dropping.

- a few people mentioned that they would prefer abortions be legal, even if they would not obtain one themselves, in order to keep it "safe" for the mother. This comment also gives me pause to think. Here in Arizona, 7 out of the state's 9 abortion clinics had to close this past year. Why? Because a law was passed requiring them to meet the same safety standards as a surgical facility. They did not meet those standards, and had to close. They were performing a surgical procedure - with very real risks and complications - but were not required to maintain the same level of safety as a hospital or freestanding surgical center. This is happening all around the United States. One could argue that an abortion in one of these clinics is "safer"....but is it really safe? Let's add a little perspective.....I have a two year old. I could decide to give him a knife to play with. It doesn't matter if it is a butcher knife or a paring is still not safe, is it not? An abortion clinic might be safer than a back-alley somewhere.....but is an abortion really safe? Someone is still losing their life. Someone is facing some pretty serious complications. Is abortion truly safe, no matter where it is performed?

- One commenter told me that she considered her aborted baby similar to a parasite, relying on her for everything. Having been pregnant four times myself, I can understand this feeling, and sympathize with this struggle. However, I'm not sure there is really a difference between an unborn baby and say, the 6 week old that I'm caring for once the baby is born. He still depended on me for everything: food, shelter, health, cleanliness, comfort, etc. Everything he needed...I had to provide. He was still completely and totally dependent on me for everything. A 6 week old, without someone to provide basic needs, will die, will it not? Now imagine if I decided to kill that 6 week old......people would be horrified and I would most likely be prosecuted, no matter what the circumstances (my health, my emotional state, my financial resources, etc). Where is the difference? A baby is still completely dependent on me, and I chose to kill it, yet in one instance it is considered legally and morally acceptable...and in the other, it is not.

- The response that I found most intriguing - and possibly the one with the scariest implications to me - was an argument in favour of legalized abortion............out of concern for the unborn child. To be honest, this one shocked me. With the exception of genetic abnormalities, I have never had someone make an argument for the death of a child out of concern for a healthy child. After I got over my initial shock, I sat back to think about the comment. The quality of life that the child would be living, if born, should be a reason to allow an abortion, I was told. As I pondered it, I realized that this statement stems from the Pandora's Box that was opened with genetic testing. We are led to believe that we are performing an act of compassion, a mercy killing, if you will, by aborting a child with a genetic abnormality or disease. The child's quality of life will be poor, we are told. They will be in misery...and we can compassionately prevent that misery from occurring if we just have the abortion. There are obvious flaws to this argument. There is a HUGE scale of uncertainty with these abnormalities and diseases. The first one that comes to mind is Downs Syndrome (I have 3 friends with DS children, to explain why it came to my mind immediately). DS can be a debilitating struggle, yes. But people with DS can be people who benefit our society. People with DS can - and often do - live independent lives and contribute to our society. Is there any way to tell - with 100% reliability -which end of the spectrum a baby with DS will fall on? No, there isn't. If there isn' can we judge their quality of life before their birth? Allowing these exceptions in our view of abortion has led to a general acceptance of other factors/struggles as a valid reason for abortion, all based on the "quality of life" that the child will live. Social, economic, is all over the place now. Can we really, with 100% certainty, determine that a child born into poverty has a poor quality of life? Can we really, with 100% certainty, determine that a child born into an imperfect social situation (say, to a single or teen mom) will have a poorer quality of life than if he/she had no life at all? If the answer to that was "yes," then my own oldest two children would be considered to have a poor quality of life, as they were born to a mother who lived below the poverty level at the time of their birth. At what point does the "quality of life" argument end? This argument has extremely scary implications to me. I challenge do we determine an acceptable "quality of life?" The choice really boils down to being between having life and having no life at all.....and when you look at it like that, which of the two is the better quality of life? Even if we apply a numerical rating to quality of life, choosing death is choosing a "0," and choosing any other option is choosing the positive.

- the last comment I received (multiple times, mind you) was "How could I be so holier-than-thou or judgmental? How dare I judge a woman who obtained an abortion!" This comment kind of makes me giggle, I will be totally honest. The concept of "judgment" has been warped in our society. We can judge the action, without judging the actor, can we not? I can judge my child to have lied to me, without judging his moral character to be one of a "liar," can I not? I can judge an action to be right or wrong: it is wrong to steal, is it not? Does that mean I automatically judge the person who stole to be characteristically untrustworthy? Not at all. If my teenager breaks curfew, sneaks out, and then lies to cover it up, he has now committed 3 actions that I can judge to be wrong, can I not? Does that make me love my teen any less? Does that make me consider him to be characteristically untrustworthy and a liar? Not at all. It is completely possible to judge someone's action as wrong without judging a person's character to be wrong. If my husband is cooking dinner, and reaches down and picks up a hot pan without an oven mitt, I can judge his action to be stupid. Does that mean that I think he is completely and characteristically stupid? Of course not. We judge actions all the time in our lives......judging the action does not require judgment of the actor.

The majority of the comments I received on yesterday's post fall into one of the "themes" listed above. I ask you, do you see your own point of view in one of the above themes? If you do, I ask that you elaborate. Our discussion yesterday led to a lot of contemplation of my own viewpoints and beliefs, which challenged me to find out just why I believed what I did. I hope to do the same here for others - the more we dialogue about this (respectfully), the more we can learn from each other, and ultimately, the more we can help the women and children who are directly affected by abortion.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It's the most wonderful time of the year....

Fair warning: this is NOT a Christmas-related post. It will probably touch some nerves out there, and I apologize in advance if you are offended. If you keep reading, I ask that you try to 1) remove emotions and 2) be respectful in any comments posted.

Now that the warning is out of the way, on with the post.

About a week ago, I had the incredible blessing of being able to go on retreat with a group of amazingly fabulous, awe-inspiring women. I've come to know these women through an online moms group (CMOMC) , but this was the first time I'd met many of them in person. The retreat fed me both spiritually and socially, and I am incredibly grateful to my husband and family for helping to get me there.

One blessing that came out of this retreat, that I wasn't expecting, was a closer relationship with St Maximilian Kolbe. See, the retreat was held at Marytown, near Chicago, which is the home to the National Shrine of St Maximilian Kolbe. I was able to learn so much more about him and his life, and really started to feel a desire to learn even more. He's a recent saint - he would be the same age as close family members (grandparents) if he was still living. He experienced the SAME things as some family members. He fought some of the same evils as my own family members. I should have known more about him, but I didn't. (FYI: if you want to know about St. Maximilian Kolbe, look here.) To be totally upfront and honest, I am "saint-ignorant." I never really learned much about any saint before recently - to me, they were often just the name of the church down the street. I knew basic facts about many (when they lived, if they experienced apparitions, if they wrote a certain popular prayer, etc), but know very little in-depth information about more than just a few. I think a lot of Catholics are like me, and don't realize just how vast of a resource we have been given in the Saints. Our Church has given us a beautiful gift...and many of us don't even recognize it.

Anywho, I digress. Like I was saying, I've had this incredible desire to read as much as I can about St. Maximilian Kolbe since coming back from Marytown. He definitely does NOT disappoint, and I recommend that you do the same. It's slightly ironic, I think, that my desire to learn more about him coincides with what has become my favourite time of year: the 40 Days for Life campaign. You see, St. Maximilian Kolbe is one of the patron saints for the family and the pro-life movement. JPII (that's Pope John Paul II, for non-Catholics) declared him the "Patron Saint of our difficult century."

St. Maximilian Kolbe didn't mince words. I stumbled across this quote from him today, and it has been echoing in my head all morning. I actually put homeschooling on pause today so I could come down and write about this - that's how much he's been speaking to me today. St. Maximilian Kolbe said:

“No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it. The real conflict is the inner conflict. Beyond armies of occupation and the hecatombs of extermination camps, there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?”

This train of thought is fascinating to me, especially as I'm immersed in the 40 Days for Life campaign right now (it's day 21, if you're curious). I'm a natural debater. I always have been. I love to learn, I love to research, and I love to discuss what I have learned and research. This kind of gets me into "trouble", especially in the world of social media (i.e. Facebook, this time around). Finding this quote today, of all days, as I'm involved in a discussion about abortion on Facebook, is incredible.

(here's where the warning comes into play - if you choose to keep reading, remember the stated rules above).

I am pro-life. I haven't always been. This is something I've come to recognize as the Truth over the years. You know that deep-down feeling in the pit of your stomach? The one that you can't shove away or ignore? It's there, no matter how you try to convince yourself it isn't? That's me and abortion. I tried to buy the pro-choice arguments, but deep-down, I knew in the pit of my stomach that it was wrong. Deep-down, I knew it was not what God wanted for us. Over the past 10 years or so, I've learned so much more about abortion, and seen what it can do to friends and family members, and that deep-down feeling grew and grew.

Very recently, I've started being willing to speak out against abortion. I've started being willing to share alternatives to abortion, and try to work to strengthen those alternatives. I've started putting myself out there, not concealing my pro-life leanings, and at times it has been very difficult. In the current Facebook discussion, I'm the only one speaking out against it plainly. People are "liking" my comments....but no one else is speaking up. That's a scary, lonely place to be.

It troubles me that, even as people are willing to send me private messages, commending my arguments and agreeing with me, we are unwilling to be public with our opinions. Have we really become so scared of the loudest opinions out there? Poll after poll shows that the majority of Americans are pro-life and against abortion, but yet, we are too scared to stand up for that belief. Why is that? Why have we become so terrified of what everyone else thinks and being labeled "pro-life?" Abortion ends the life of a human being. The "product of a pregnancy" is none other than a human life. A pregnancy can only produce one thing: another human. Destroying the "product of a pregnancy" is none other than destroying another human being. It is a clear, undeniable Truth, and one that needs to be spoken time and time again. There ARE other options to a crisis pregnancy, and those other options are less traumatic, less destructive, and bring joy into the world. Millions of adoptive families around the world are thanking moms for choosing that option. We hope to join them in the future, as we move towards adoption ourselves.

Yes, a crisis pregnancy (no matter the circumstances) is scary. It is overwhelming. It can be an incredibly lonely, difficult journey. An abortion does not erase the crisis. An abortion makes a mom more susceptible to disease, medical complications, future infertility, depression, and suicide. An abortion is not any less scary, overwhelming, lonely or difficult. In fact, it often compounds those original circumstances. Moms are often left with incredible depression, guilt, and medical scars after an abortion.....and no one is willing to talk about it or support them.

We cannot continue to categorize the unborn as a "product of pregnancy," dehumanizing and stripping a baby of its most undeniably basic right: the right to life. We cannot continue to eradicate and kill an entire group of humans based, not on what they have DONE, but on who they ARE. We've seen - and spoken out about - countless acts of murder and genocide where entire populations have been wiped out merely because they exist and someone else determined that they do not deserve this basic human right to life. We cannot continue to do that to our own children.

Today is the "Day of Silent Solidarity" in the pro-life movement. Around the world, people are refusing to speak, as a way of standing up for those who are unable to speak for themselves. I commend them. I am so respectful of those who are able, and willing, to do something so public as this. These people, refusing to speak, are being ridiculed and tormented by those around them, all for standing up for the most basic of human rights: the right to life. Thank you so much to all of you participating. Your strength and courage motivates me.

Thank you for standing up for the Truth.