In spiritual direction, Ignatian Spirituality and the concepts of desolation and consolation come up. A lot. I’m still processing the meaning of desolation and consolation but I found this information, from the Loyola Press website, very helpful:
What do we mean when we talk of consolation and desolation? We are really only talking about our orientation, and the bottom line is this: which direction is our life taking us—toward God [consolation] or away from him [desolation]?
Here are some of the main symptoms of desolation and the most commonly experienced blessings of consolation.
· turns us in on ourselves
· drives us down the spiral ever deeper into our own negative feelings
· cuts us off from community
· makes us want to give up on things that used to be important to us
· takes over our whole consciousness and crowds out our distant vision
· covers up all our landmarks
· drains us of energy
· directs our focus outside and beyond ourselves
· lifts our hearts so that we can see the joys and sorrows of other people
· bonds us more closely to our human community
· generates new inspiration and ideas
· restores balance and refreshes our inner vision
· shows us where God is active in our lives and where he is leading us
· releases new energy in us
When Little C was born, she had a problem with her pancreas. She was two months old and a patient at three different hospitals before she came home for the first time. When I look back on this time in our lives, I try to have some perspective. No question, we experienced desolation. But things could have been a whole lot worse. One nurse at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia said to me, kindly but firmly, “Your child will live. Other’s will not.” In the end, we were moved by the Holy Spirit from a place of fear and negativity into consolation. Life changing stuff.
The problem with her pancreas caused c to have problems with her blood sugar which in turn caused her to have seizures in her first days of her life. The seizures went away until, at age 2, she developed a seizure disorder. About twice a year, c would have a “complex partial” seizure. She usually had them at home, thanks be to God. We tried various medications which had lots of terrible side effects but weren’t very effective in preventing her seizures. The medications made it difficult for her to function normally, particularly at school. After a lengthy discernment process, we decided to take c off the anti-convulsant medications. That was in May of 2010. Her last seizure that we know of was January 23, 2010. Thanks be to God!
Along the way, c had a few delays. She was never “off the chart” for all those milestones that parents and doctors track but she definitely pushed the boundaries. Those days were also times of desolation and consolation. At age 2 1/2, she started speech and occupational therapy. She has made tremendous progress but still struggles in some areas. We were very concerned when she entered kindergarten. Would she keep up? Would she succeed? We didn’t know. Little c’s teacher was quite devoted and she had a wonderful classroom aide, and two talented student teachers. In fact, there was a whole team at c’s school concerned with helping her succeed. She especially enjoyed learning to read and to write. (Like mother, like daughter.) Math, not so much. (Like mother, like daughter.)
She had such a successful kindergarten year that when 1st grade began, I wasn’t worried. Not much, anyway.
But shortly after school started, we realized that c was having trouble staying focused when she was in a large group. She did much better when receiving one on one attention or in a small group setting. (Really, who doesn’t??) Unfortunately staffing levels don’t allow for as much small group instruction in 1st grade as was available in kindergarten. No one wanted Caroline to fall behind. We discussed lots of different options, even changing to private school or homeschooling. It was a very stressful time. I just wanted her to be “ok.” Even the principal at her school said, “People should know how far this baby has come!”
We knew that c was having the most trouble during math time. As it turned out, I am able to drop Big C off at the high school and make it to the elementary just in time for math. Sometimes I work one on one with Little c but other times I help other students while she works with her teacher. Two days a week I stay for reading groups as well. I went at first because I felt I had to but I had no idea how much I would love going. I am learning so much from her teacher and from the children. Little c enjoys me being there. The other children want to read to me and hold my hand when we walk down the hall. What an unexpected blessing!
Meanwhile, Big C’s work load has really picked up. He has some advanced classes and one AP class. We’ve all experienced some growing pains. I was really worried for him too. I just wasn’t sure how to help him out. I certainly would be of no help with Algebra II !
I told my dad it felt like too much…I’d like to worry about only one child at a time, thank you very much!
After talking to each other and with quite a few educators, my mom, my dad and my friends, Michael and I decided it was time to circle the wagons and help each other out. Michael made math games on the computer and Big C agreed to join us with Little C for Family (Math) Game Night. Big C doesn’t enjoy reading as much as I do. I am still hopeful he will learn to love it because reading is the greatest thing since sliced bread. My friend suggested that joining a book club might help him learn to enjoy reading more, instead of reading for a grade, but we weren’t sure how to make that work. Then we realized we could start our own family book club. Next week C’s Advanced English class begins reading Fahrenheit 451 and so will Michael and I. Michael and I are more excited about this than Big C but he is quite willing. I’ll let you know how it goes.
It’s quite odd how things work out sometimes. I’ve always wanted to belong to a book club. I just never guessed it would look quite like this.
Today when I called my mother to tell her of our plans, I was feeling better. I was energized and excited. Not so tired, frustrated and worried. In the end we decided that this had been a GOOD thing for my family…it is bringing us closer together as a family…it is bringing us into community with the teachers and educators at both schools in a different way than we have ever been before. “You will all be the better for this. It was just hard getting here.” I think that’s what she said. C is also now emailing his rough draft writing assignments to my mom. She taught English at the very high school he attends. Out of difficulty their relationship is expanding too. She really, really liked the last essay he sent her and he was proud. He told me last night, “I can’t wait to turn in my writing tomorrow.”
This was all very unexpected and pretty darn cool.
I guess that’s how it works…this movement from desolation to consolation.
I guess that’s how God works.
From isolation to community.
From drained to energized.
Balance is restored.
Inner vision is refreshed.
Thanks be to God.