A blog where families who love and live the Catholic Faith can share, encourage and support each other.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Human Contact

By Felicity McInnes

All humans need physical contact. Physical touch has been linked to all kinds of health benefits, from relieving depression, stress, anxiety and pain, to actually healing a person physically. Premature babies grow and thrive better when regularly touched, while it has been found that a baby left untouched will become very sick, or even die.

Growing up, I never had any problems absorbing the love of my family through physical contact. There were always siblings to be hugged and babies to be held. We would cuddle, wrestle and kiss.

This all changed when I left home for the convent. This very strict convent had all kinds of rules limiting communication, from a rule of silence, to separate rooms (or "cells") for the sisters to sleep in, to barriers between sisters in their pews, to a huge gate barring the sisters from the public. There were rules for everything, and most of them seem to have been designed to make each sister as invisible as possible.

I actually didn't mind being silent. I understood that to foster a prayerful environment, there had to be rules (even though I broke them often). I saw the individual cells as a privilege (I couldn't remember the last time I had a room just for me!). I didn't even mind the huge bars between me and the public, making me look like an animal on display.

What I found myself missing was human touch. Whether it was by accident or design, the sisters did not touch each other. No hugs, no touching hands or shoulders, nothing. I would go to bed at night and yearn even for the brief hug and kiss I used to get from my parents before bed. I didn't want much. Just a hug. And I never got one.

Eventually I realised the only time that the sisters ever touched was during Mass. The priest would invite us to exchange the Sign of Peace. Where most people would shake hands or kiss, we had a ritual. The junior nun would put her hands together in the gesture of prayer, and the senior nun would put her hands over them. Then both nuns would bow their heads as they exchanged the words: 

"Peace be with you." 

"And also with you."

It was all rather stylised. And it certainly didn't make me feel very loved. I felt lonely.

I left the convent, and in time, travelled across the country to Perth, Western Australia. Again, I found myself very lonely. This time, however, I was lucky enough to be part of a church community where physical touch was welcome. I remember going to prayer gatherings, where I had made friends with a little girl named Bridget. She used to ask permission from her mum, and run over to me to sit in my lap, hugging me while everyone sang.

This little girl made me feel so loved. I don't think she ever realised that often when I held her, I had tears in my eyes. The unconditional love, expressed through a hug, made me feel better when everything else in my life seemed to be going wrong.

Today, I have an inexhaustible source of comfort from my husband, who never seems fazed when I demand a hug. Sometimes I wonder if he knows why I prize our hugs so much, that because I had been deprived of human contact, I now crave touch. It probably doesn't matter. Graham gives amazing hugs, and I am able to just relax and enjoy the moments I spend in his arms.

My littlest sister Gemma-Rose is known in our family as the best kisser and hugger. I remember reading a story of my mother's where Gemma-Rose protested that she was dissatisfied with this role. She wanted to be bigger and have more responsibilities. I only wish I could let her know just how important her role really is, that everyone would find themselves sad and lonely without her enthusiastic hugs and smacking kisses.

Yes, Gemma-Rose has the most important role in the family. Because cuddles are all about sharing love, and that is the most important job of all.

Please share more of Felicity's posts at her blog, Felicity's Felicity

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Unschooling: The Little Way

Written by Sue Elvis

I would like to tell you a story of Suzie Andres and St Therese and homeschooling. But first I must start with a tale of grief. Grief? Yes, it was through grief I first met St Therese and her Little Way.
Our son Thomas died as a baby and I grieved for a long time. But one day the pain lifted slightly and I felt pure joy and was glad to be suffering for God. Love overflowed my heart and I suddenly had the urge to suffer anything for God. I wanted to be a saint. And not just a little saint but a big one. I felt I could follow in the footsteps of St Teresa of Avila or St John of the Cross, whose books I was reading at the time. But this worthy thought lasted only a moment. With the next wave of grief came the plea, “I’ve had enough. Please help me, Lord.”
I had a prayer card. I can’t remember exactly what was on it but I knew I was a bit afraid of it. The words said something like “I offer my whole life to suffer greatly for the souls of my family and friends.” Perhaps there was something about how this life on earth is so short and we should suffer as much as possible while here. And there is nothing better we can do than to ask for suffering that will win the eternal souls of our loved ones.
I agreed entirely with the thoughts on the prayer card but I couldn’t pray the words. I’d pick up the card and read the words but I always made sure God knew I wasn’t really praying them. I was frightened. I knew what suffering was. I was right in the middle of it. How could I suffer this for the rest of my life? Some days I just begged God to take away the pain. No, I wasn’t made of the right stuff to be a big saint. However much I wanted to be big, I knew I was really just a little soul. I just wanted God to lift me right up in His arms and take care of me and make things right.
Then I discovered St Therese of Liseaux. Of course, I’d heard about her but I’d been avoiding her. I remember a friend telling me that she’d chosen Teresa of Avila as her patron saint and not Therese of Liseaux. The reason? The friend had always had this idea since childhood that The Little Flower was a sickly sweet saint, a saint without substance. I needed big help from a big inspiring strong saint. So I turned to St Teresa of Avila. I knew she’d suffered greatly. What was that famous quote? Something like “God if this is how You treat Your friends, it’s no wonder You don’t have many of them.” I was going to be one of God’s few friends. So I read The Complete Works of St Teresa of Avila and then went onto The Complete Works of St John of the Cross. And I tried to follow in their footsteps. But it was too difficult.  I wasn’t brave. I didn’t really want to suffer. I wasn’t a saint.
Then somehow I came into contact with St Therese of Liseaux regardless of my belief she couldn’t help me. I read The Story of a Soul, and later, I Believe in Love and I discovered The Little Way. Suddenly I realised that maybe I could still become a saint after all. Not a big saint but a little one, a little one supported by God’s arms. I could be a full little cup instead of a full big cup.  Or perhaps, as Suzie Andres would say, I could become a great saint through the little way of love. I started taking life one day at a time, not asking for suffering, but asking God instead to help me accept and bear whatever came my way.
But what has grief got to do with homeschooling? Just as I wanted to be a big saint so I wanted to be the perfect mother and educator of my children. I made big plans, bought the right resources, did my research. How could I fail? But some days I suffered. There were times when I just wanted to lie down and never get up again. “I can’t do this God. It’s too big a task. I can’t give my children all they need. I don’t have the inner resources to give them the perfect education. I am not enjoying this at all. It was never meant to be this way.” How would I teach my children everything I thought they needed to know? Some days they seemed to learn nothing. Other things got in the way or they were uncooperative, not fitting in with my grand plan. Were my children getting ‘behind’? Was I jeopardizing their futures?
I thought about the alternatives, about sending my children to school and I realised I didn’t have a choice. The educating job was mine and mine alone.
Gradually I changed my style of teaching my children. I stopped making plans we never got around to using. I stopped writing timetables that we were unable to keep up with. I didn’t worry about completing particular curricula. I decided to just enjoy my children and trust that they would learn as we spent our days sharing and doing things together and just being a family. We had discovered unschooling. In public, I called our homeschooling method ‘doing our own thing’. I’d vaguely refer to good books, enjoying our interests, music, writing… But to myself I called it ‘my lazy way’. Yes, there was a bit of guilt. Should we enjoy homeschooling together so much? Shouldn’t homeschooling be a bit more difficult? Perhaps we were just being lazy.  Maybe I’d just given up.
Then I discovered Suzie Andres’ book A Little Way of Homeschooling. I jumped up and down with excitement. It all made perfect sense. We were following St Therese’s Little Way while we were homeschooling. I’d given up trying to be the big saint, that perfect mother and homeschooling parent. Instead of trying to educate my children on my own, I was listening to God and to my children. I trust they will learn what they need to know. I no longer worry about that endless list of absolutely essential knowledge I thought I should stuff into my children. I am now living each day, one day at a time. I don’t believe God means homeschooling to be difficult. I don’t see homeschooling as a sacrifice and a suffering that I am just meant to endure and offer up. I think God wants us to delight in our children. And to trust in Him.

There are so many wonderful excerpts I could quote from A Little Way of Homeschooling. Here are just a few, written by Suzie, I hope you will enjoy and find helpful.

Therese was a realist, and knew there was work to be done, but she decided to do whatever came here way without fear without worrying about the outcome, without the false notion that it depended on her…
… I think that one of our methods for multiplying worries is telling ourselves that our job in educating our children is to do our best, to pack as much knowledge into them as possible. How much more profitable to us to begin from Therese’s reminder, “It’s only in Heaven that we’ll see the whole truth about everything. This is impossible on earth.”
God will give each of us the time that we need to learn everything He wants us to know; this applies to both ourselves and our children. Why do we expect we must teach it all to our children in our homeschool? And why do we automatically assume that this burden of prospective learning will be painful for them, arduous for us? There is a less frightening way….
… In the spirit of St Therese, we as Catholics ought to realise that Jesus has set us free. If we believe His words, if we strive to believe Him more and more, we will start by living one day at a time, letting tomorrow take care of itself. Already we will have made progress if we refuse to see the whole future of a child contained in today’s accomplishments, successes and failures…
…Spend time listening to Him, and let Him tell you what He desires for your family. It may be unschooling… Whatever it is, you will recognise it by the peace it brings to you and your children. Do not settle for anything else.
Yes, peace.
Eventually I felt peace despite my grief as I started living one day at a time: “I accept how I feel. You allow this grief. But I need You to help me through the day.” I began to trust God. He was looking after me. And peace followed.
In the same way, I know God is looking after our homeschooling family. When I started listening, He led us to unschooling. And I know this is what He desires for us. I can feel it. No longer do I feel guilty. Instead I can feel peace… real peace.
A Little Way of Homeschooling is available both as a paperback book, and an ebook as epub and Kindle editions. I thoroughly recommend Suzie’s book.

Please share more of my posts on my blog Sue Elvis Writes