Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Temperament Book God Gave Me

I looked at my copy of Art and Laraine Bennett’s The Temperament God Gave You: The Classic Key to Knowing Yourself, Getting Along with Others, and Growing Closer to the Lord. It wouldn’t close anymore.  The cover was curled up from having been in my hands so long.  The corners were bent.  The back was completely marked up.  In front of me sat one book that had truly helped clarify the world around me.

I had received it as a Christmas present from my husband a few years ago when my oldest was still a toddler.  Desperate to find out what my, my husband, and my children’s temperaments were so I could fix—something—about the way I interacted with them, my husband I took the lengthy temperament quiz in the back of the book during the three-hour car ride between our parents’ houses that Christmas day.  Doggedly answering, marking, and calculating, we had finally solved the puzzle:  I was a melancholic and my husband a choleric.  Our oldest darling girl: a choleric, just like her dad.  Finally, some answers.
As I worked through the book, understanding first the four temperaments and how they come into play in marriage, the spiritual life, and in parenting, the fog of confusion of relating with people completely unlike me in my household began to lift.  As I came to a greater understanding and appreciation of the four temperaments, the gifts natural to them and the accompanying struggles, I had a greater empathy for those around me.  I slowly came to understand the constant inborn need for my husband and daughter to always be doing something and also see as a legitimate need my desire for quiet time and reflection.  I understood better friends who first saw the world in terms of relationships instead of principles.  I came to a greater appreciation of my own natural gifts, and became more rightly abhorrent of vices that ran in contradiction to what should come naturally to me (for instance, melancholics are naturally tidy, orderly people, and I am notoriously messy).
I found myself very often using the tips found in Chapter 8 entitled, “How to Motivate Yourself and Others”.  I often had great success using the suggestions listed for motivating the different temperament types.  When I remembered to motivate with principles and goals my first child and with relationships the second, more often than not the work got done.  Occasionally, I found that chapter’s advice on motivating individuals to be completely disastrous, until I realized that I had mistakenly switched tactics in my head, using them on the wrong temperaments.  When I remembered and corrected myself, I had the same beautiful results again.
In the following weeks, I hope to more closely examine the different temperaments, highlighting key advice from the Bennetts on how to relate, motivate, and best love those with each type of temperament. 

To the Bennetts: I am so grateful for your wisdom.  Thank you for this most beautiful book that has done wonders for my family.

“Every temperament is in itself good, and with each one man can do good and work out his salvation.” (Father Conrad Hock, pg.27)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Catholic Baby Names at the Playground

About a month ago in Ottawa before we moved, my husband was preparing for his second year exams.  It was the weekend, and he had to study.  The kids and I headed for our neighborhood playground.  It wasn’t long before my three-and-a-half year old son spotted a youngish dad like his dad and made a beeline for him. 

“Oh yeah, I like your shirt,” my little guy said to the dad.

The dad, taken off-guard, responded, “Oh, thanks,” looking a little amused.  He continued pushing his small child in the swing.

My little guy continued, “Yeah, I have a blue shirt, too.  It’s a Brewers shirt,” he said enthusiastically to the bewilderment of the Canadian dad.

“Cool,” he said, starting to look for this little person’s parent.

The baby was in the middle of a difficult maneuver on the equipment, making it impossible for me to claim—and redirect—the boy, who continued happily in his guy chat.

“My name’s Thor,” said my little guy, deep in a super hero phase.

The dad started to smile, then caught himself, unsure of the veracity of his little friend’s statement.  Just then, my four-and-a-half year old daughter arrived on the scene to set things straight.

“Nuh-uh,” she said, “his name’s Augustine.”

The dad was completely confused at this point, as both choices seemed unlikely.  He was really searching for their parent, and by then I didn’t want to identify myself.   Fearing more family disclosure, though, I scooped the baby off the equipment when she wasn’t looking and ran over to the group.  As she fussed, I tried to smile and shoo everyone away while trying to appear completely normal.  The dad smiled faintly in return, and I tried to hide behind the playground steps.

Later, I wished that I hadn’t felt so strange, that I didn’t mind if someone may have mistaken my Catholicism for insanity or worse.  But when it came to my son, I did.  I wanted to explain it all to that poor dad who had simply wanted to be left alone with his child at the park.  I wanted to explain how my husband and I had chosen someone who had dearly loved God to be a close and constant intercessor for our son, how we hoped that he would emulate his patron in some way and that some day, he, too, might love Our Lord as much as St. Augustine did.  I wanted him to understand and affirm us in our faith and parenting.  But he didn’t.  And I had to rely on God and not the dad in the playground that we were approaching parenthood in the right way.  And some days, that feels so impossibly hard.

To be fair, though, I never caught the name of his son.  It might have been Polycarp.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Hope, the Eucharist, and the Church in Ireland

After having “studied” abroad for a year in Galway, it had been such a joy to travel back there with my husband. Once an insecure twenty-year-old, it was a thrill to return better than ever—twenty-eight, married, queen of my domestic church. And to my surprise, Ireland looked better, too.

The year of my study was 2005, the year the gut-wrenching details of decades of unthinkable abuse of minors by clergy had broken in Ireland. Every day in the news were new reports of abuse or a rehashing of the major cases. The effects in the parishes, I can only imagine, must’ve been devastating. No man in the country entered seminary that year.

It was my impression at the time that the Irish Church was one big open wound. And one got the feeling from some quarters that some people suspected—or hoped—this would mean the end of the Catholic Church in Ireland. As I left in May, I wondered what would happen to the faith in Ireland—how low Mass attendance would get. Over the years, I’ve often wanted to go back and see for myself. The only report I’d heard since being there was from an Irish priest who’d mentioned that his nephew priest back home reported that he and the clergy had been walking around with their heads down.

When, through God’s providence, I found out that Ireland would be in my husband and my travel plans, I was intent on what we’d find.

The morning after having arrived in Galway, my husband and I attended Sunday Mass at the beautiful stone cathedral in the city. As we slipped into one of the pews near the front, I watched as mostly older people, with some young families and the occasional single young person entered and prepared themselves for Mass. There had been about as many people in attendance as I had remembered in 2005. Mass began, and the somewhat older priest led a loving, reverent liturgy.

It was Good Shepherd Sunday, and the priest gave a reflection on his time serving the Church, with all its ups and downs, naturally giving mention to the recent struggles of abuse. But what he concluded, with a quiet joy and certitude, was given a chance to do it all over again, he would. He was a priest of Jesus Christ, and that was a life worth living.

A few days later, we had the pleasure of attending a church in a small town also on the west coast. The bell for Mass was rung, and in walked Father, a younger, very strong-looking man. He celebrated Mass with power, the walls of the church almost reverberating with his words of consecration. My husband and I were caught up in awe of his profound belief of the power of the Eucharist, and later, our youngish concierge—who had helped us find Mass in the morning—noted that that particular priest was really popular with the young people in the town.

As we flew home, my heart was full. The Church in Ireland, though still wounded, still was. People still attend Mass. Young men still enter the seminary. Young and old still believe in the Eucharist. Though greatly in need of prayers as other countries in our very modern world and its culture, the Church in Ireland is still there, offering Christ in the sacraments to a world who needs Him more than ever. And that looked good to me.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Mountain Climbing in Ballet Flats: Our Afternoon at Croagh Patrick

Our tiny car slowed to a stop neatly within the parking stall.  "Thank you, God," I breathed as I turned off the engine.  My husband exhaled with relief, but before we could celebrate our safe arrival in Murrisk from Galway, our eyes slowly turned upward at the imposing mountain in front of us.  There were three peaks, the rightmost enrobed in a thick gray cloud.
Clad in a thin fleece sweater and ballet flats, I looked at my husband.  "It has to be the one in the middle, right?"  I looked back at the peak on the right, its tip still hidden.  There's no way St. Patrick could have climbed that by himself, barefooted, with no gear, I thought.
"I don't know, Meg," said my husband.  "I think it's the big one over there."  I gulped and he added, "And we'll only go as far as you want, and we'll stop whenever you want."  I nodded.  He frowned.  "Did you bring other shoes to wear?" 
I couldn't bring myself to tell him that I'd forgotten them.  "I'll be okay," I said lamely.
We slowly got out of the car and made our to the Croagh Patrick visitor center.  After having ascertained that the one in the clouds was indeed our destination, the peak on which St. Patrick had prayed, fasted, and done penance in the Lent of 441 AD, we set off toward the path.
We picked our way up it, which was mostly rock embedded in a little dirt, the grass having been worn away from the countless pilgrims who had followed in St. Patrick's footsteps over 1500 years.  Even today roughly 30,000 pilgrims climb the summit to pray or to attend a special Mass during the national pilgrimage in July.  And many do it barefooted.  Each step was uneven due to the abundance of rocks underfoot.  I now understood why a friend of a friend had to be hospitalized after having done this barefooted.  I looked at my little ballet flats and at the hiking boots of those ahead of us.
Grass covered the rest of the base of the mountain beyond the path.  A steady sparkling stream flowed to our right.  At our backs, tiny hilly islands dotted the blue-green bay.  Another purple mountain sat beyond the water.  We prayed the joyful mysteries, and my husband felt like he was communing with the Irish and he prayed for his Irish in-laws.
By the time we finished, we were a quarter of the way up, and the terrain was making it too difficult to pray.  Each step required thought, as the path had changed slightly to give it the appearance of a giant, steep rock staircase.  Our quads burned.
It was then when I realized that this was a penitential walk.  With each step, we could offer it up to do a little reparation for our sins and those of the whole world.  I began to offer each step to Jesus as an "I love you", and the Spirit propelled us up the path.  Soon we reached the midway point, a popular place to stop for those who didn't wish to continue to the summit.
My husband and I stopped to enjoy the view--almost the whose bay now was visible.  Large fluffy clouds sped through the air, casting shadows on the water below.  We turned to view the sight behind the mountain, the land blanketed by fields and dotted with tiny white sheep.  The path at this point had flattened out encouragingly as it wound to the right.  "Come on!" I said and my husband grinned as he gallantly took the back.  We were headed for the clouds.
We passed a group of high school boys who had come from the summit, a couple stopping to spell out girls' names in the rocks along the way.  Two had strayed far off and below the path, carefully spelling out "Nicole".  I smiled and my husband offered to do the same.  I asked him instead for his encouragement as we were almost to the last, most difficult climb of the journey.
We could now better see the top and watched, wide-eyed, as a sheet of clouds blew right up over the top.  The wind had picked up, and I clutched my arms around myself, the wind blowing easily through my thin sweater.
A rosy-cheeked boy of about 15 was quickly descending.  I asked him, "Is the last part very hard?" hoping for some encouragement.  Surely it couldn't be as difficult as it looked if so many people climbed it every year.
"Very hard, yes, very hard indeed," he said quickly as he dashed past us.
We reached the bottom of what seemed to be a nearly vertical climb.  The wind now was howling and whipping about.  We slowly started up the hill, and I was certain we would be blown off the hill, leaving our three little ones orphans.  Miraculously, people kept descending from the fog above, and they seemed okay, though outfitted smartly in hiking gear. 
Rock by rock, we pulled ourselves up, hunkering next to the dirt wall to our right as the wind blew over our backs.  I marveled at the faith and love of St. Patrick, to do this on his own, hoping that it would result in yielding fruit for his people.  All the muscles in my body were tired, my feet hurt.  I looked up, greatly disappointed that we couldn't see the top yet.  Another couple came down out of the fog.  "Mind the wind," said the wife.
Sure we must almost be there, I thought, as the moisture from the cloud stung our faces.  How nice it'll feel to get to the top and into the cozy chapel where we'll be able to do some serious praying, I thought.
Suddenly a dark rectangle appeared above, and my husband and I pushed towards it.
The top!  We were there!  We had reached the summit!  A large gray cloud surrounded it, though, so we could only see a few feet ahead of us.  A small shelter of rock littered with soda bottles lay at our left.  On our right was a plaque describing the customary prayers to be said on one's knees.  The wind almost knocked us over, so we made our way to the little white chapel ahead.  My husband pulled on the wooden doors--locked!  I was so disappointed I could've cried, but another gust of wind sent us looking for shelter behind the chapel.  Inside a little doorway we were protected a bit from the wind.
The wind howled and my mood darkened.  I felt silly that I was surprised that we couldn't see anything and upset that this was currently, like, the worst praying spot ever due to the conditions.  I imagined St. Patrick clinging to the rock up here for 40 days and nights until he had secured great graces for his people.  Unbelievable.  Because the instant we had gotten up there, all we wanted was to get back down as quickly as possible.  So that's what we did.  We turned back down the path, not stopping until we had reached the half-way point, which was still sunny and beautifully calm.
Haggard from the wind and rain and aching from the climb, we hobbled down the path, as I tried to remember to smile at those still on their way up.
I was still so disappointed from not having been able to pray at the top.  Perhaps I should've knelt down and said the customary prayers.  But I hadn't.  Did this trip even count for anything spiritually, I thought.  Just then, my foot slipped and I skinned my foot and shin.  The pain halted that line of thought and I took it as a sign.
We reached the bottom and rejoiced, thanking God and St. Patrick for a safe journey.  We turned around and the summit was now completely clear and surrounded by a bright blue sky.  "Quick, let's go back up," I teased.
We reached the visitor's center, and my husband noted that the mountain was about 2,400 feet high.  That's about 4,800 I love you's, I thought.  Maybe it wasn't such a bad way to spend the afternoon after all.