To Pray or Not to Pray?

person holding bible with cross

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I have a granddaughter that will be confirmed this weekend. We will all be there to celebrate this milestone in her life.

I remember my confirmation. It was a moment in my life that I do remember and treasure. I know what I wore and I remember the day and what I chose for my confirmation name. We had to do that in my church at that time. Usually, it was a Saint’s name.

As much as I have written about my days growing up Catholic and telling you the tales of things that unsettled me about my religion, there were many positives too. As a young child, you don’t appreciate all the prayers you need to remember or the religion classes, but those are the very things that get me through my life.

I changed religions for a couple of reasons. I wanted to attend church as a family and I was impressed with the faith of my new nieces and nephews and their religious instruction in the Lutheran Church. I was impressed with their knowledge of the Bible. I was impressed with their confirmation programs that encompassed many hours of study. I was impressed with their Sunday Schools. I was impressed with their knowledge of other religions.

Today I use some things from my upbringing still, and I use things I learned as a Lutheran and from other relatives of other religions. But forming my faith started as a young child.

I have fallen away from church time to time when I was lost and searching, but I was always drawn back because of prayer and what I learned from both religions.

One day I was at a baseball game with my grandson. They were losing by over ten points and it was getting worse by the minute. Before the game I asked him if he prayed for help to do his best, not win, just to do his best. He told me no and gave me a funny look. I decided I would pray for his team, not to win, but to do their best and possibly bring the score up so it was a little closer and they wouldn’t feel so defeated. I did and I have to admit, I was amazed they scored over ten points and brought the game to a tie that inning. They did lose but not the terrible loss they would have had. I told my grandson I did that, and again I got the funny look. I was convinced it helped, but he wasn’t convinced.

Another time when chatting with another grandson who was about to play in a basketball game I again inquired if he asked God to help him do his best. His funny look appeared and he said no. I told him he should. I asked him later if he took my advice and he didn’t because he thought it was a strange request.

Both these boys go to church and Sunday School. I was taught to pray without ceasing no matter how little or unimportant my needs seemed. We’ve all heard the “someone needs it more than I do” speech.

Sunday School was more intense when I was growing up, and I know this even though I was not in a protestant Sunday School. We Catholics in our school had to go to church every day during the school year. Sunday School for people my age in protestant churches, and for my kids was every Sunday morning for an hour. Going to church was a requirement. It didn’t matter what was happening in the community with sports, church and Sunday School came first.

Confirmation was another matter. Saturday mornings for my Protestant friends and for my children were for two to three hours and Wednesday nights were church time. There were memorization and work that had to be done, and if it wasn’t, you were not allowed to be confirmed. Some might argue that this is too harsh for the young ones of today, but I argue it is why I have a foundation to hold on to at my lowest times; even the times I shy away from my church community.

John McCain tells of how his faith was strengthened, restored and tested as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. One of his prayers was to be given another minute to keep living. Orson Swindle was a Marine Captain who spent six years in captivity. He and his fellow prisoners would cough the letter C for church and tap a code so they knew it was time to pray together, and they would say their prayers on their own, but at the same time. The prayers were the Pledge of Allegiance, the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm. Prayer was their sustenance. Had they not learned that at their parent’s knees and in their Sunday Schools and churches they would not have had those memorized prayers in their darkest hours or been able to whisper their personal words of prayer.

Our churches today have changed in what they expect of our youth. Sunday School classes are shortened. After confirmation teenagers disappear from their churches because they are given the option by their parents and society to not be a part of a community where their faith will be sustained. Many teenagers, even Confirmation age have a hard time reciting any rote prayer such as the Lord’s prayer or the 23rd Psalm. We have dumbed down the teaching of our children to conform to society’s expectations, rather than keeping the expectation of what our children should be learning to be able to withstand the world today. Sunday school and education programs, along with youth events, are among the first cut when trying to save money. We seem to lower our standards for our youth to keep people in our churches yet churches are emptier. We expect less and we are getting less. How is that working for us?

I know people are falling away from the church communities for many different reasons. There is a lack of trust in the old church establishment. Yes, fragile leaders have let us down. Judgment has driven us away. The politics of churches have driven us away. Yet we still need that “old time religion” to grow up those kids so that if they are in situations they cannot handle they know prayer and faith will help. They can turn to a common prayer together as those prisoners did or if they cannot eke out a prayer of their own because of their situation. Our children today need a foundation and we are failing if we don’t give that to them.

If I can leave one moment of wisdom for my grandchildren, it is to never quit praying in all instances, no matter how small the request might be. Memorize those prayers; there will be times you can’t find your own words for prayer but your heart will pull up that which is memorized embedded in your heart.

There are thoughts which are prayers. There are moments when, whatever the posture of the body, the soul is on its knees. — Victor Hugo

Are You A Bully?

Sprinkled Notes by Julie Seedorf

printed in the Albert Lea Tribune and the Courier Sentinel the week of October 25, 2018

IMG_0941I feel old this week, not in terms of years but in terms of muddling through the social landscape. I do not recognize the country I grew up in. Incidents personally and in the news keep me shaking my head in lack of understanding, and I am feeling rage. Rage is not an emotion I have felt very often in my life.

A few events in the past year weigh heavily on my mind and my heart.

Three football players in the area savagely beat and injure one of their teammates who is left with lifelong brain injuries. The incident was filmed on their cellphone. This week it was in the news that the school board hired an investigator to determine whether the district’s actions in the aftermath were in compliance with the Minnesota State High School League. They were found in compliance. Case closed. The boys received minimal sentences for their part in the assault. Meanwhile, the victim and his family had to move out of state because of the friction of opinion in a small community. If you believe the news reports, the parents of the boys committing the assault felt the sentencing was too harsh and the words bandied about, at least in the papers, were “boys will be boys.”

Another scenario played out in another small Minnesota community nearby — a break-in at a home, an assault on a woman and a rape. The perpetrator was caught immediately, but then, of course, he was released on bail and the friends of this person threatened the lives of the victim so much they, too, had to move out of the community for their safety. It was yet another slap on the wrist, even though the intimidation continued.

Another close friend had this experience: The 15-year-old son was bullied, harassed and physically assaulted in their school to the point of injury because of their sexual orientation. They had to leave school to be safe and attend an online school.

And just last week a ninth-grade student commits suicide because of bullying. This young boy is gone, but the people who chose to make life miserable for another will live on to bully another day.

This past year I also did a series on domestic abuse. My friend CeeCee James described her life of abuse as a child in an abusive family. Neighbors knew teachers knew and other family members knew; however, no one spoke out — the silence of their inaction in my mind is deafening.

I see the bullying rhetoric online from adults when they don’t like something: They attack. I can’t help but wonder if these individuals were bullied growing up and haven’t escaped the cycle. Are they providing this environment for their children, which in turn leads to bullying in school because they know no different, and, when confronted, the parents don’t want to admit to it because they haven’t learned how to let go of their fear and anger?

I recently had a conversation with someone who is trying to confront their way of communicating instead of lashing out and calling names and being abusive; they are confronting their past. The person grew up with an abusive father and in looking at the children in the family, the legacy lived on in the way they communicate with others, including those they love. This person feels it is time to break the cycle, but they can’t do it without first taking responsibility for their actions.

In all of these cases, it is the victims who will live with this their entire lives. They have been sentenced; they had to leave their homes, communities, and schools, or they took their life to get away from the pain. And that fills me with rage. And it should fill you with rage, too.

We love our children, but we need to recognize they are not perfect; they will make mistakes, but to grow into an adult they also need to suffer the consequences of their actions so they can grow. We need to teach them bullying toward another is not accepted by anyone. There will be consequences.

You can’t also tell me, teachers, friends, and relatives do not know and recognize who these bullies are. Does it make a difference which side of the tracks you live on? Who you are in the communities and who you know that makes a difference in the belief and the punishment? Are we afraid to speak up because we might lose our jobs defending a student who needs defending? Or do we fear for our well-being if we say something? Ask yourself those questions.

I think a perfect sentence for bullies would not be jail, but years of service in homeless shelters where they would have to live and be under supervision, or mental health facilities, where they must confront those who have been hurt and help them. Not days, but months and years.

And maybe I will get a little political. As both Democrats and Republicans, we need to stand up in our parties and say, “This rhetoric of calling names, demeaning women, lying and being dishonest has to stop. That is not what our party is about, that is not how we want to raise our children, and we are not going to support you if you do this. There are others in our party who do live up to honesty and integrity, and we are going to elect them.”

Responsibility starts at the top and filters down to us as parents and grandparents to stop the pain, to stop the victim from being the one with the sentence. And if you don’t feel rage that all this is happening, then I don’t understand this country anymore.

Don’t Let Fear and What-If’s Change Your Behavior

Something About Nothing by Julie Seedorf

posted the week of July 9, 2018 in the Albert Lea Tribune and The Courier Sentenel

 

Growing up in a small town I felt a sense of safety most of the time. It was during my childhood I learned about the “what-ifs” of life. It was taught to me unknowingly by my mother. She had no idea her anxiety about the evils of the world lent itself to my childhood fears.

Of course I was scared of the dark. What child isn’t? That was not anything my mother worried about. She worried about my health — what if you eat that and you get sick? She worried about my having an accident —what if you go with another family and they are in a car accident? And she worried about someone snatching me even if in those times kidnapping wasn’t a well-known problem.

We lived by the railroad tracks, and it wasn’t uncommon for hoboes to stop by and ask for money or food. They would often talk to my uncle when he was across the street with the horses or cows in the pasture. I was never allowed out when they were near. I was told they might kidnap me, and my parents would never see me again.

Gypsies were someone else to be afraid of in those days, at least from what I garnered from my mom. I was told they stole kids and did terrible things to them. I was terrified. I remember one time when I was home alone with my wheelchair-bound grandmother — I was around 9, a woman who dressed somewhat like I thought a Gypsy would dress, came to our door. I was afraid to go to the door. I opened the inside door but left the outside door latched.

The woman wanted to know if my mother was home. Of course I didn’t know what to answer. She wasn’t, but did I tell the woman that? The woman tried to get me to come outside, but I refused. She finally went away, but I was scared the rest of the day with visions of me being pulled out of the house and stolen.

Another time while in kindergarten, my mom wasn’t on the corner where she usually met me to walk me uptown to my dad’s store. I was terrified, because of the anxiety of what-ifs that mom wasn’t there. What if she had an accident? What if someone kidnapped me off the street?

Having been taught by a loving overprotective mother about what-ifs, my life continued and still does to this day to be fraught with scenarios when presented with something out of the ordinary or scary — scenarios that the majority of the time never come to pass but in my mind they are bigger than life and make me react out of fear to a situation, rather than thinking it through and coming to a sensible conclusion.

Right now I am in a book study which helps us confront our what-ifs and it is helping me immensely overcome those messages. But the vibes and messages of what-ifs and fear unknowingly sent to me in my childhood by my mother have had lasting consequences.

The other evening I attended a community meeting. A Level 3 sex offender is moving to my community onto a street with many children, close to parks and near the school. The community meeting was to give us information to make our community stronger and to alert us what to watch out for when it comes to our neighborhoods and children.

I thought it was well presented and felt the monitoring system in place was well thought out, along with the fact, well known in a small community, we all know what our neighbors are doing before they know it. We look out for each other. But the level of panic and anger outweighed any information attained to help us deal with the situation.

The “what ifs” were rampant. “He’s going to rape someone.” “What happens when he kidnaps one of my children?” “My son won’t be able to ride his bike safely to the pool anymore.”  “My children won’t be safe in their own yard.” “He’ll grab a child and put them in his car and we’ll never see them again.”

The tears fell, the anger built and some were out of control with their accusations. Some blamed our law enforcement for letting this person move into our community but the law is the law and they had no say in the decision.

I experienced something similar when my children were growing up in a different community from where I live now. The difference is the person hadn’t been caught yet and lived next door to me in a very old house. As neighbors, we watched as the men in the house enticed middle age school children to their home. I watched one day as one took a knife to another’s throat. The entire neighborhood was concerned, and we worked with the local police. This was a person detrimental to children but because he had not been charged, etc. we received no warning he was moving in.

Our neighborhood banded together. We calmly talked to our children. We took to the street. By that I mean, the kids went out into the street to play and we adults went out with our lawn chairs when we saw activity we were suspicious about at the house. We could track everyone coming and going because we were having neighborhood picnics. Soon, the neighbor moved because we were interfering with his activities. Soon after he moved he was arrested.

Were we angry? Yes. Were we scared for our kids? Yes. Were our kids scared? No. They were not scared because we worked together and the neighborhood did not show our children our fear.

We have a Level 3 sex offender coming to our community. We should be worried. We should be upset. We should have a plan, and we should be watchful. What we shouldn’t do is let our fear and what-ifs change our behavior so we teach our children that fear. Our fear should not be so out of control that it makes us act irrationally because that could have dire consequences not just on our future, but on the future of our children.

We as a community have to work to put safeguards in place to make our children safer and stronger. We need to work with local law enforcement to change laws in our community and with our legislature so offenders are not put within a close distance to day cares, schools and parks. In the meantime, new community residents need to know that small town residents watch out for one another. They care. Remember the “Sesame Street” song, “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” In my community we know the answer to that question.