Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Holy Family Retreat

M. Regina Cram

cram angel statueYOUR LIFE, PARENTING

Childish prayers

A child’s prayer is the ultimate in sweetness, isn’t it? Yeah, right. Like the time my 3-year-old prayed for her baby sister to move in with the neighbors, preferably for a very long time. Years ago when I misplaced my wedding ring, my young son confidently prayed to find it, then whispered his back-up plan. “That’s OK, Mama. You get married again, get another ring.”

Our children have asked God to make the tooth fairy less forgetful, turn the green beans into chocolate and send all mosquitoes to Rhode Island. Five-year-old Meredith once thanked God for the baby’s slimy belly button, and asked him to make sure there are no frogs in heaven. Skip prayed for quadruplet brothers. We drew the line when one nameless child asked God if he could please make the teacher sick for the rest of the school year.

Children’s prayers are not always sweet, or even kind, but they are genuine pleas from kids who understand that God cares about the details of their lives.

Let me tell you about one such plea.

As a young mom, I had a pen pal named Rosemary in Philadelphia. Rosemary wrote hilarious letters about her family’s escapades, giving me much-needed respite from my daily routine.

Shortly before we began corresponding, Rosemary and her husband John applied to adopt a baby from Peru. They had recently visited that country, where they’d fallen in love with a 5-month-old baby boy. Returning to Philadelphia, they completed the necessary paperwork to adopt him — or so they thought. Months later, they returned to South America to bring the baby home, but the Peruvian government refused to release the child. Heartbroken, John and Rosemary again returned to the States, leaving the baby in a Peruvian orphanage. In their hearts, this child was already their son. They had named him Anthony.

Our children prayed fervently for Anthony, and each update from Rosemary propelled them to pray still more. “Please, God,” the children would plead, “please bring Baby Anthony home so he can be with his family.”

We began praying in March. April came and went, then May. Around the first of June, John and Rosemary were told to expect Anthony by midsummer, but June and July passed and Anthony was still in Peru. In August, they marked Anthony’s first birthday from thousands of miles away.

And still we prayed. “Why doesn’t God bring Baby Anthony home so he can be with his family?” my 4-year-old asked often. I didn’t know. I could only assure her that God loved Baby Anthony even more than we did.

The weather turned cool. September passed, then October. “Don’t you think God will bring him home for Thanksgiving?” my 6-year-old asked.

But on Thanksgiving Day, we were still praying for Baby Anthony to come home.

The morning after Thanksgiving, I strolled to the mailbox, where I found a letter in Rosemary’s distinctive handwriting. I ripped open the envelope and read, “He’s home. Baby Anthony is home.”

I could not see the rest of the words through my tears. I flew into the house shouting, “He’s here! He’s here! He’s here!” The children dropped what they were doing and gathered around to read about John and Rosemary’s final trip to Peru. This time, they brought home their cherished little boy.

Our prayers that evening brimmed with joy. “Thank you for bringing Baby Anthony home to be with his family!” the children prayed. The 7-year-old blurted out, “Hey! Anthony was home for Thanksgiving! We just didn’t know it yet.”

Anthony’s story has a happy ending, but sometimes God’s plan does not match our own. Sometimes God tells us, “No, my child, I can’t give you what you want because I love you so much.” It’s not easy explaining this to a child. It’s not easy understanding it ourselves.

But prayer is so much more than asking for things; prayer fosters a relationship with God. And so, generation after generation, we bring our children to prayer, often assisted by grandparents, godparents and caregivers. Together, we teach our children to trust their Heavenly Father whose love is everlasting, whether he gives us what we want or not.

M. REGINA CRAM is a writer, speaker and author. She and her husband live in Glastonbury and have four children and seven grandchildren.

sad 1821412 640We gathered around the kitchen table for dinner, accompanied by the usual bickering, grumbling and hilarity. Our children ranged in age from 10-16 and they were really good kids. They just liked to argue. A lot.

My husband Peter did not not want to have the conversation I was about to begin. He feared that the children would blame themselves for my odd behavior. I insisted that they already blamed themselves, and besides, we're family. They deserved to know what was going on. If I was battling a physical illness, we wouldn't withhold the truth. Why should we withhold the truth in this case?

“This case” was my struggle with some amorphous mental illness. The previous year, I'd been incorrectly diagnosed with clinical depression after having suffered in silence for far too long. Unfortunately, I still didn't have a correct diagnosis. I was depressed, confused, irritable and ghastly thin. Most days, it was all I could do to get out of bed. Some days, I couldn't even do that.

As dinner drew to a close, I cleared my throat and began. I noted that I'd been crying a lot, listless, lying on the couch for days and not my normal self. The three older kids indicated that they had noticed. I filled them in on what I had done to seek treatment. I also told them honestly that, thus far, nothing had worked. I assured them that their dad and I would continue to seek an accurate diagnosis, then pursue effective treatment. In the meantime, we wanted them to know that none of this was their fault. We stressed that we loved them very much and that they were free to ask questions at any time.

The three older kids seemed somewhat familiar with mental illness. To my delight, they had none of the prejudices held by previous generations. To them, a mental illness was no different from diabetes — a medical condition that is serious but, in most cases, treatable. 

The youngest child, however, was combative. “How can you be sad if there's nothing to be sad about?” she charged in frustration. “Why can't you just be happy?”

The older kids jumped down her throat. “It's an illness! She can't control it!” hollered the 15-year-old. “Torrie, Mom is sick. It's a sickness. That's all,” added the 16-year-old gently.

But the 10-year-old continued her rant, so I intervened and wrapped up the conversation. Later, I spoke privately with the older kids. I explained that Torrie's frustration had nothing to do with insensitivity or prejudice; it had everything to do with the fact that she had not yet reached puberty. “Once a kid is an adolescent,” I said, “the brain is able to deal with abstractions. I'm sure that in 18 months, Torrie will totally get it.” The kids were skeptical, but agreed not to battle their youngest sibling. 

Six months later, I finally received a correct diagnosis. I was suffering from bipolar disorder, a mental  illness marked by uncontrolled mood swings thought to be caused by chemical fluctuations in the brain. Fortunately, bipolar disorder is usually treatable, so, with a lot of hard work and tremendous family support, I am fat and sassy again. 

I'm making it sound easy. It was not. Actually, it was horrible — and our youngest was still combative.

It took about two years for my condition to stabilize, by which point our youngest was in middle school. One day, I took her aside and asked if she was embarrassed that her mom had a mental illness. 

She didn't understand the question.

“Mom, you're sick. If you're sick, you're sick. Why would I be embarrassed?”

I wanted to kiss her, except that that would have embarrassed her far more than any mental illness.

Throughout my healing process, our parents and friends were incredible, bringing meals, touching base and reminding me how much I was loved.

The final step came when I began to feel God's gentle nudge to write about my struggle. “Are you out of your mind?” I asked God bluntly. “It was horrible enough to live through it. Why would I want to write about it?”

God sweetly persisted until I acknowledged that it was time for me to stop feeling ashamed. I didn't do anything wrong; I simply had an illness. And so, reluctantly, I wrote about it, and spoke about it, and owned it.

I hate having a mental illness; I think I'll always hate it. But in all things God works together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. I wish he'd picked a different purpose for me, but this is what I have. To God be the glory.

 

M. Regina Cram is a writer, speaker and author. She and her husband live in Glastonbury and have four children and seven grandchildren.

Everyday Holiness

by M. Regina Cram

For daybreak coffee roasters

Once every decade or so, New England gets clobbered by one of those wild storms that knocks out power for days. During such outages, what is it that you miss the most?

Correct. You miss coffee.

A few years ago, New England was pummeled by a freak October blizzard that erupted onto a Halloween landscape. Transformers exploded. Trees crashed. Electrical wires dangled precariously.

My husband Peter and I had just settled in for a quiet Saturday evening when the lights flickered. And then it was dark. One hundred percent of our town was without power. We had no Internet access, no electricity, no heat and no water. I don’t mean that we had no hot water. We have a well so we had no water at all. For a week.

Sunday and Monday, we worked to clear debris. By Tuesday, the inside of our house was so cold that we could see our breath. I did look rather fetching wearing a balaclava to bed.

By Wednesday, everything in the refrigerator and freezer had spoiled. FEMA was distributing MREs – military precooked rations that taste even worse than people say. The high school had been converted into an emergency shelter. Lines for gasoline stretched city blocks.

I functioned reasonably well with the cold, the grime and the darkness. What pushed me over the edge, however, was life without coffee.

So on Wednesday morning, I grabbed a backpack, tossed in money and water, strapped it on my back and walked two miles to the closest market. Fortunately, the store had a generator.

I strode to the back of the store, grabbed a pint of half and half, paid for it, placed it in my backpack, then hiked the two miles back to my home. By this point I had walked four miles with nothing to show for it but a small carton of half and half.

This is where I got creative. I retrieved charcoal from our garage and set up our dilapidated charcoal grill on the frigid back deck. When the coals were hot, I filled a small saucepan with water and placed it on the grate until it boiled. Then I poured the boiling water over coffee grounds and a filter, and into my waiting mug. After adding half and half, I found myself in possession of what was possibly the best cup of coffee ever brewed by humanity. If you have ever given up coffee for Lent, you understand what I mean. My coffee did taste vaguely smoky, but that added to its appeal.

Energized by my coffee, I was able to face the rest of the week. By Thursday, there was a party-like atmosphere wherever people gathered. Residents exchanged stories and offered advice. Neighbor pitched in to help neighbor, checking on the elderly and homebound.

It sounds more charming than it was. There is nothing romantic about being cold, or hungry, or afraid. Peter and I had it better than most because we had each other. And, unlike many in the world who lack food and water, we knew our hardship would end. We had hope.

When power was finally restored after a week, people felt a new appreciation for electricity and hot water. Not me. I appreciated having hope. No matter how cold I had been, I knew with certainty that clean water and a warm home would return. It was hope that carried me through the storm.

Hope, and one really good cup of coffee.

Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.

Everyday Holiness

For Meredith, who loves her sisters

It was a week before Christmas when our daughter Victoria and her husband Mike stopped by with a gift for Peter and me. I tore off the wrapping paper and found myself staring at a picture frame with the image of an ultrasound in the center. I gasped, squealed and began to weep, pretty much all at the same time. “Really?????? Really?????” I screamed.

Mike and Torrie were pregnant. The baby was due August 14 in Bangor, Maine.

A week later, the family gathered for Christmas. In the midst of the commotion, our daughter Tierney and her husband Andrew handed us a gift bag. Peter reached in and pulled out a bottle of red wine from an unfamiliar winery called The First Trimester. The logo was the imprint of two tiny feet. I screamed, then launched myself at Tierney as I kissed her and sobbed. Later, we read the fine print on the label: “Cram-Keg blend. When aged nine months, this red will come to life with flavor.”

Tierney and Andrew were pregnant. The baby was due August 14 near Pittsburgh.

That’s right – the same day that Mike and Torrie’s baby was due.

I couldn’t make this stuff up.

As the news became public, family and friends shook their heads at the improbability of two sisters expecting their first babies on the same day. Unfortunately, the couples live 850 miles apart, and I was determined to be in the hospital for both births. I didn’t anticipate a problem, however, since babies rarely arrive on the due date.

Precisely on August 14, Victoria called from Bangor to say that she was in labor and they were heading to the hospital. Peter and I left immediately to drive to Bangor, then commenced pacing.

Less than an hour later, Tierney called from Pittsburgh to say that she was in labor and they were heading to the hospital.

Seriously? These babies couldn’t have planned this better? Reluctantly, Peter and I enacted our let’s-hope-we-don’t-need-it contingency plan. Peter remained in Bangor while I said a tearful goodbye to Mike and Torrie, then hopped on a plane to Pittsburgh. There was a good chance I would arrive in time for the birth of Tierney’s baby.

I had a layover at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Severe thunder storms had grounded outbound flights, leaving no available gates for arriving planes. We sat on the tarmac for more than three hours on a stifling August night with no air conditioning. While we waited, I learned that Torrie had given birth to Nora Emily Lalime. Peter held Nora soon after birth, and together they whispered secrets and conspired to keep her parents awake all night.

Still on the tarmac, I was frantic about making my connecting flight. Eventually I was informed that there would be no connecting flight because all flights had been canceled.

I sank my face in my hands and wept.

Finally deplaning at 10 p.m., I rented a car and drove all night, arriving in Pittsburgh at 5:30 a.m. as the first tinges of pink peeked over the horizon. Somewhere along I-80 in the wilds of Pennsylvania, I learned that Tierney had given birth to Addison Grace Keogler. Both babies were born on their due date, four hours apart. I missed both births.

I met baby Addison in Tierney’s hospital room. Pink and tiny, she slumped in my arms and made those sweet baby cooing sounds. She was exhausted from her eventful day.

Peter lingered in Bangor with baby Nora for a few days while I cherished every minute with baby Addison in Pittsburgh. Then we switched.

After that, we went home and slept, but not before giving profound thanks to God.

For the record, I recommend births of no more than one family member per day, unless they are twins. Twins may be harder on the young parents, but they’re a whole lot easier for traveling grandparents. Trust me on this one.

Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life. 

Cram color 75x75Column name: Everyday Holiness 

If you’re Catholic, you’ve heard them at Mass – crying babies, irritable toddlers, whiny-squirmy children. If you attend a house of worship other than Catholic, you probably feel the same way I did at first: Why aren’t those kids in the nursery or Sunday school during Mass? Don’t the parents realize that their kids are disturbing the worship?

As a brief tutorial, Protestant churches typically have nursery care and Sunday school during the worship service, rendering worship sweetly serene, while most Catholic churches take the “Let the children come to Me” approach. Hence, Catholic kids sit (or squirm) throughout the entirety of Mass.

When my family began our journey into the Catholic Church, one of my first impressions was that Mass was dreadfully noisy. How could I pray with all of that racket? Why didn’t the parents take the children out when they fussed? Wasn’t there a crying room for such children?

Let the children come to Me? Bah! Humbug!

My attitude has softened. Certainly a child should be removed when the screams drown out the priest or deacon. That’s common sense.

But there is a more important point here: Let’s thank God for the young families among us. Believe me, it is much easier to stay home. Think of the effort it takes to get kids dressed, fed, combed, shepherded into car seats and engaged throughout Mass, not to mention kept quiet. I have undying admiration for parents who bring their children to Mass week after week. These families bring life to the church.

By God’s sweet irony, nowadays, I’m often privileged to sit at Mass with small children who occasionally grow squirmy or talkative. It’s interesting to be on the other side of the pew.

So here are some lessons I have learned from noisy children and their families:

1.     One does not need to pass an entrance exam in order to be invited into God’s presence. All are welcome. Jesus accepts us just the way we are: broken, wounded and noisy.

2.     Parents who bring small children to church should be congratulated, not judged.

3.     It’s not all about me.

4.     Make a joyful noise unto the Lord. God did not promise that it would always be a pretty noise.

5.     As the Body of Christ, we need to step up and help. Most of us sit in the same pew week after week and, therefore, we recognize worshipers in adjacent pews. If a nearby child is acting up, offer to help. Sit with the other children while the parent takes the noisy one out. Offer to hold the baby. Pick up dropped items. Offer anything – just get involved. This is especially important if a parent is there without a spouse. The Body of Christ is a family. We need to act like one.

6.     Jesus called for the children to come to him when his disciples tried to shoo them away. It’s pretty likely that there was a rowdy child or two in the bunch, but Jesus made it clear that he wanted them at his side. We ought to be similarly welcoming.

Years ago, I was at a local breakfast spot for one-on-one time with my young daughter Tierney. She was very good-natured, so I was surprised when she began to fuss after the food was served. Whimpers turned into cries, then wails. It quickly became clear that the situation was not going to improve, so I scrambled to pack up food, toddler, coats, diaper bag, purse and check as I headed to the cash register. By this point, Tierney was in an all-out meltdown, shrieking at full volume and furiously thrashing her arms and legs like an angry bull.

And no one lifted a finger to help. This was a fairly small town, mind you. People knew each other.

Instead, I was pelted with those, “Why can’t you control your child?” laser gazes.

I tell this story because someone should have offered assistance, if only to carry the diaper bag to the car. A little moral support goes a long way.

Similarly, worshipers have a responsibility to help young families who are sitting nearby. Yes, a responsibility.

Young children bring a joyful noise to our worship, and they remind us that everyone is welcome – even the littlest ones who have not yet learned church etiquette or inside voices. “Let the children come to Me,” Jesus told us, “for to such as these belongs the kingdom of God.”

By the way, when young Tierney finally settled down, she explained her tantrum. She wanted french fries.

Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.

Everyday Holiness by M. Regina Cram

It was one of those bitterly cold spells when the mercury hovered around zero. One morning in the middle of this arctic freeze, my husband Peter and I awoke to find that we had no heat.

To be more accurate, we had no heat upstairs. We fiddled with the thermostat and changed the battery but the baseboards remained icy cold. Our bedroom registered a chilly 41 degrees.

A delightful repair guy spent two hours trying to diagnose the problem. Was it a furnace malfunction? A thermostat failure? Why only one heating zone and not the other two?

I was engrossed in work when the guy tracked me down to announce his findings. “You’re not gonna believe this,” he began with a smirk. “Ever since the system was installed in the late 1970s, the upstairs thermostat has controlled the downstairs heat, and the downstairs thermostat has controlled the upstairs heat.”

Seriously? The system had been reversed for 35 years and we never noticed? What does that say about us? It reminds me of the married couple who accidentally switch the electric blanket controls so he keeps lowering the heat on his already freezing wife while she’s spiking up the heat on a husband who’s sweltering.

And people think we’re such a nice, normal family.

I’m pleased to report that our heating system is now properly configured and keeps us toasty warm. Nevertheless we continue to hear complaints about the other end of the spectrum: we have no cooling system. Growing up, our kids insisted that we were pretty much the only house on the planet without any air conditioning. Maybe even the universe.

I’d just roll my eyes. “This is New England,” I’d say with exaggerated patience. “Heat is a necessity. Air conditioning is a luxury.”

Yeah, right, Mom, was the typical reply.

One scorching summer day years ago, as the kids and I climbed into our hot minivan, a neighborhood child looked on. He urged us to turn on the A/C. “My car doesn’t have A/C,” I replied as I settled the youngest child into her car seat. The neighborhood kid gawked at me. “Why don’t you get it fixed?” he queried. “Because it’s not broken,” I explained. “This minivan doesn’t have air conditioning.” The kid appeared to have difficulty wrapping his mind around this concept, as if I had announced that I didn’t believe in eating. I recited my mantra: “This is New England. Heat is a necessity. Air conditioning is a luxury.”

I didn’t add that people lived for millenia without air conditioning.

He walked away, bewildered.

Many years later as the kids began to move out on their own, Peter and I spent an evening brainstorming about our future. We were tired of raking and shoveling and mowing so we mused about downsizing. I grabbed a paper napkin and sketched a possible floor plan for my ideal small home. Unfortunately, I have the artistic skill of a kumquat so my drawing looked less like a blueprint than the diagram of a beer pong tournament.

Along the margins of the napkin we scribbled our wish list for a new place. Peter’s number one priority was that it be above the 500-year flood mark. What can I say? He’s into weather. Next on his list was air conditioning. A/C didn’t make my list at all.

When we showed our drawing to our 18-year-old daughter Torrie, she added her own priorities: hot tub, ocean view (we live 40 miles from the nearest salt water), trampoline room and the original Mona Lisa.

Years passed and we continued to muse. The day finally came when Peter weeded one garden too many, so, with many hurrahs from my corner, we put our house on the market.

We bought a small home on a sleepy lane near the center of our town. It has many of the items on our wish list, although Torrie may have to wait a while for the ocean view and the Mona Lisa. And yes, it has air conditioning.

The sad thing is that I’m quite sure my body will acclimate to air conditioning, which will lower my tolerance to hot weather.

The good news is that we sold our house with its reconfigured heating system. The new owners can deal with the 17th century torture chamber, also known as lack of air conditioning.

Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.

Everyday Holiness

Students who graduated from high school this year were born in 1997 or 1998. They have no memory of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They always have had the Internet.

Teens of this age do not know how to operate a rotary phone and don’t know what LP stands for. They’re unfamiliar with the Lindy Hop and the Twist and have no idea what a dance card is. They’ve never attended a Latin Mass and almost certainly do not know anyone who has become a priest or religious.

AIDS always has been part of their lives.

Today’s graduating seniors did not grow up with “I Love Lucy” or “The Ed Sullivan Show.” They’re unfamiliar with Elizabeth Taylor, Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart. They don’t know Jackie Robinson, Dorothy Hamill, Billy Graham or Jesse Owens.

These teens are likely to have a female doctor, a male nurse and foreign-born friends. By age 4, they were capable of teaching their grandparents how to use a computer.

Kids graduating from high school today have grown up with a peanut-free zone in the cafeteria and gluten-free friends. They attended school with children who were on the autism spectrum, intellectually and physically disabled, and non-English speaking. Most have done extensive volunteer work during their teen years.

To today’s graduating high school student, the Dodgers have always been in Los Angeles, abortion has always been legal and the Berlin Wall has always been down. They have never known whites-only schools. They would not dream of relegating anyone to the back of the bus.

Other than through history class, these teens are unfamiliar with the Bay of Pigs, Victory Gardens and air raid sirens. They have no idea who Walter Cronkite was; to them, the most trusted person in America is likely to be Peyton Manning or Oprah Winfrey. They cannot imagine dancing in the streets when a war ends.

These youths have never had the experience of nervously calling a girl to ask her on a date, only to have her father answer the phone.

Cursive writing is an enigma to them. They do not know how to diagram a sentence. Statistically speaking, they spend more time on their cell phones than in school. Their communications are instantaneous.

As they were growing up, safety concerns prevented many of today’s teens from roaming the neighborhood freely. Their grandmother did not live next door and cousins lived too far away to gather for Sunday dinner. The idea of homemade soup is quaint.

These kids grew up in a world without tuberculosis, whooping cough and diphtheria. Infant car seats were universal. They always wear seat belts. Sunscreen is part of life.

Today’s high school graduates do not accept that it is a man’s prerogative to beat his wife, nor that people should “stick to their own kind.” They are likely to have friends who are Jewish, Muslim, Asian and African-American and of all manner of political persuasions.

In contrast, people in their grandparents’ generation grew up in a world of rationing, Meatless Mondays and patriotic fervor. Instead of television, they gathered around the family radio for news and entertainment. If they got into trouble at school, they’d be in more trouble when they got home. They had daily chores and family dinners. They went out to play after school and didn’t come home until dark. They wrote letters and mailed them with a stamp.

These grandparents grew up in a world where women’s career choices were limited to the secretarial, teaching and nursing fields – and even then, only if the woman was white and able-bodied. People of color typically held service jobs, did not own cars and had little hope of earning more than a subsistence wage. They were on the receiving end of blistering racial cruelty, from which there was little escape.

People with handicaps found the world inhospitable. There were no ramps or parking spaces for the handicapped, and no computers for the blind. Many were barred from attending public school.

If a woman in that era was being beaten at home, she had no legal recourse. Authorities told her to go home and submit to her husband.

This generation of Americans attended worship services. They valued honor and honesty, and they did not expect the government to take care of them. When their country needed them, they served.

In their era, they knew what it meant to work hard and to sacrifice. Manual labor was considered respectable work. Neighbor took care of neighbor. It was not uncommon for someone to live in the same house his or her entire life.

Each generation has extraordinary strengths and frightening weaknesses. What binds us together is that each of us, regardless of generation (or anything else), is made in the image and likeness of God.

And all that God made was good.

Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.

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