Catholics Do What?, Culture of Death, Homosexuality, motherhood, Parenting, Sex, Theology of the Body, Women's Health, Women's Rights

About those bathrooms…

April 28, 2016

I read a great piece this morning on the Target situation du jour from local writer and friend who explained with great compassion and insight why she and her family would still be patronizing the Bullseye, restroom politics notwithstanding. And she took care to explain her position in such a way that I found myself nodding along and agreeing and, well, see for yourself how well thought out and nuanced it is.

I wholeheartedly concur with her assessment that the real threat implicit here is, first and foremost, the opening up of the (relative) safety of the women’s room to a host of unnecessary risks to women, who are naturally more vulnerable and more prone to violence.

And that’s why I’m angry.

Not because I hate transgendered people.

Not because I’m a backwards bigot who has never seen a cross-dresser.

And not because I want my children to live in a bubble of Stepford proportions, clad head to toe in Vineyard Vines and playing with their intentionally-curated pink Barbie houses and blue Matchbox cars. I happen to think that popular distinctions between the sexes are mostly BS, and mostly stereotypical. Playing with tools and cars does not a penis endow, nor does care for the garden or interest in the goings-on of a kitchen qualify you for membership in club uterus. But that’s a whole other post entirely.

No, I’m angry that the conversation has so completely shut out (for the most part) women’s, and particularly mother’s, concerns, and it seems to be more of the same, tired “business as usual, pretty little ladies need not bother themselves” from the mainstream media and on social media.

It strikes me as terribly dismissive – and ironic – that the legitimate concerns for the safety and privacy of roughly half the population (and Target’s bread and butter demographic) are being shoved aside to further a political agenda, on Target’s part, aimed to build their social capital as the unofficial Best Corporate Advocates for What is Currently Cool and Trending.

I think women, along with people in the trans community, are both being used in this equation.

Trans and gender-fluid individuals don’t want attention drawn to their plight the way it has been the past week, I have no doubt. The hatred and vitriol I’ve seen spewed across the internet on both sides of the issue has been breathtaking. And as someone who has written publicly about dog moms, I’ve seen it all, people.)

And on the other hand, concerned mothers are being marginalized and dismissed as hateful bigots because they don’t want creepy pretenders claiming sudden and terribly convenient gender-fluidity-for-the-sake-of-restroom-access using the toilet alongside themselves and their little, and not-so-little, girls.

How, precisely, a Target team member is to be expected to accurately vet the validity of a baseball-clad bro in gym shorts’ claim to a female mind and soul has yet to be convincingly explained to me. Because they didn’t think it through. They didn’t arrive at the logical conclusion that bad people will exploit a bad policy in order to do bad things.

The whole thing smacks of relativism and dismissive “progress” at the expense of, who else, women. Who are and will always be the perennial losers in the sexual revolution.

This move by Target? It was never about better care for people who lay claim to transgenderism. It was about making a political statement and garnering valuable corporate activism capital in the eyes of an increasingly secular marketplace and, even more so, in the echo chamber of social media and the mainstream news cycle.

And the outrage from the other side of the aisle? It was never about marking out or marginalizing or demonizing the “others.” At least not from where I’m sitting, clutching my own proverbial pearls and wondering whether or not my little girl will be safe when she’s in the restroom one day, without me there standing guard outside the stall door.

But now it’s become both of these, because we’ve lost our damn collective minds. And it’s hardly possible to order a coffee without offending someone, bumping up against a competing worldview or accidentally uttering a trigger word. 

Listen, even if we disagree 110% on matters of human sexuality, it is still possibly to have courtesy and mutual respect for one another.

And maybe, for Target and for every other retailer-cum-social engineer out there in the fray, a simpler and more authentically respectful solution to all parties involved would have been the addition of single-occupancy family/individual restroom and dressing room to their stores. (Because you know dressing rooms are coming next.)

But that wouldn’t have been nearly as splashy or, therefore, nearly as sexy.

frogs and lambs

Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, Culture of Death, Evangelization, motherhood, Parenting, Pornography, Sex, sin, Theology of the Body, toddlers

Porn proof kids and patron saints {part 3 in a series}

April 27, 2016

{Part 1}

{Part 2}

Lately I’ve been writing about — and hearing heart-wrenching accounts of —  people struggling with pornography addiction. It’s rampant in our culture in the West, and the deeper I dig into the statistics and the anecdotes, the more I’m realizing that it is very much a cross-cultural issue, and that even as the internet has transcended geographical boundaries in the best ways, it has been the vehicle for what I suspect history will look back upon as one of the most pernicious evils of our time.

And none of us are immune to it.

But it’s not hopeless.

And the very last thing we’re called to do, as parents, is throw our hands up in the air and resign ourselves to the sad inevitability of our kids and their friends becoming statistics.

So we take the practical steps. We talk to our kids early and often about what pornography is, the real cost of it, emotionally and spiritually and physicallyand we put physical and behavioral barriers in place to protect them and to safeguard the sanctity of our homes.

At the same time, we are called to be salt and light in a world grown dim and flavorless – and increasingly so, where sex is concerned. So we fill our little people’s hearts and minds with truth, goodness, and beauty, and we demonstrate for them what real love looks and feels and sounds like. And we send them out.

Christianity does not belong in a bubble. And neither do little Christian foot soldiers in training. So while do our best to make our home base a sanctuary of love and learning and growing in discipleship and virtue, we must also equip our kids to engage the outside world, bit by bit, bringing the Gospel to their friends and classmates by means of those organic, innocent child-to-child encounters that the very young are so ideally suited for.

Our kids are going to be exposed to evil in this life, but we needn’t resign ourselves to the inevitability their becoming enslaved to it.

By teaching them, using the language of Theology of the Body and the currency of virtue and the grace of the Sacraments, our kids can become little living icons of Christ in a dark and hurting world, and grow up to be the kind of men and women who change history.

St. John Paul II left a great gift to the world in his masterpiece, Theology of the Body. As his wisdom and holiness continues to be distilled into materials that kids and young adults and laypersons of every stripe can readily access, simply entrusting our kids to his heavenly protection is a powerful first step.

A famous story has been circulating on the internet for a couple years now, and it never fails to bring me to tears. Fr. Gabriele Amorth, chief exorcist for the diocese of Rome, was speaking about the effectiveness of invoking different saints during exorcisms. During one encounter, he asked the demon point blank “why do you fear the name of John Paul II so much?” and it replied “Because he pulled so many young people from my hands.”

Mic drop.

Another heavy hitter in the battle for purity, I’ve no doubt: Mother Angelica.

Though she’s only been in heaven (hey, even the Pope thinks so!) a month or so, stories are already circulating about wealthy businessmen (as in, this exact scenario played out more than once!) trolling for porn in their hotel rooms and instead happening upon the oddly captivating image of an elderly nun, sometimes sporting an eye patch, telling them who they really were, and why they deserved to be fed more than garbage.

(Those encounters, by the way, ended up culminating with conversions to Catholicism and massive financial gifts to the ministry and operations of EWTN. Because God can use any of us.)

So we entrust ourselves, and our children, to the mercy of God and the powerful intercession of His saints, and we face the problem of pornography head on, because, in the immortal words of St. Joan of Arc: “I am not afraid. I was born to do this.”

Take heart, moms and dads; So were you.

(This post originally appeared at Catholic Exchange)

porn proof

motherhood, Parenting, toddlers

Just be a good lion

April 25, 2016

I’ve been trying to put some better parenting practices into place lately, to be more present to my kids and to be less, um, yelly.

Not that I ever yell. I’m really very mild mannered.

But on the off chance that things do get heated, I tend to blow up quickly and then cool down almost as fast, leaving me to question my secondary temperament (melancholic, allegedly) and wonder if motherhood hasn’t lit a bit of a sanguine fire in my belly.

Then again, that could just be the sleep deprivation talking.

I’ve been quietly observing parenting qualities I’d like to emulate (or avoid) in my friends the past few months (sorry guys!) and I’ve come up with a working mental list of areas I’d like to improve upon, along with corresponding examples of said virtue or knack as demonstrated by my (unwitting) observation subjects.

For example, I have a friend who is newly pregnant with her 6th child, and who is always joyful. Even in hard moments, she exudes joy. I suspect a large piece of this is genetic and emotional composition, and the rest is virtue and careful years of practice. But I like to think that a sliver of it could be just plain choosing to be happy, no matter the circumstances.

And that piece of the joy puzzle is eminently attainable, even for a critical realist like yours truly. So sometimes, when I find myself unreasonably upset with something that is really just a normal kid thing: mud, fights, Costco defiance, etc., I am trying to pull back a little and think about her, about her maintained composure and peace, even in the midst of chaos, and I’m trying to exercise those flabby little smile muscles of my own and laugh it off.

It works about 8% of the time.

But! It’s 8% better results than I was getting before.

Another friend is incredibly patient and incredibly respectful of her children, roughly the same ages as mine. They interrupt her with a baby need or a toddler yowl of protest and she calmly (and usually immediately) engages them. Now, a piece of this puzzle is her natural tendency towards people and their needs. She is fundamentally oriented towards the person. Everywhere she looks she sees relationships and individuals, where I see behavioral patterns and ideas and sweeping cultural movements.

(You should have a drink with us some time, it’s pretty entertaining.)

But, the thing is, she’s present to her own children in a powerful way because she is so fundamentally other-oriented. And I’m not. But I can watch her practice her other-focusedness on them, and I can look into my own motherly navel and examine whether my children might benefit from mommy spending less time analyzing them and more time acknowledging them.

It’s nice to be collecting little pieces of encouragement and best practices from all my unwitting peer teachers, but it’s also tempting to burn out on the all the bigger and better Methods and Improvements I want to implement right away, and end up in an exhausted couch heap with 50 minutes still to burn till bedtime.

This afternoon I was resolved to practice some good old fashioned togetherness with them in the backyard. We’d been in the car too long this morning and I – and they – were frazzled by carpool dynamics and hanger and that weird reunion angst after a day spent apart. So we got home, I made them a snack plate (read: held out a torn open bag of salt and vinegar potato chips and a bowl of almonds and shrink wrapped string cheese) and let them race out into the yard to devolve almost instantaneously into verbal and literally fisticuffs.

When the dust settled and the carbohydrates were being processed, the man cubs pounded downstairs to the basement to play “Star Wars Cantina” (very exclusive and involving shards of fence slats and yelling), leaving me and Evie upstairs and Luke napping in his room.

“Play with me, mommy!”

Wearily setting my library book aside and lowering myself to the floor, I asked her what she wanted to play, bracing myself for a laundry list of toddler book re-reads.

She looked at me thoughtfully and then dropped onto her hands and knees with a grin.

“I’m a lion mommy. Rawr.”

I shook my wind-destroyed hair out of it’s bobby pinned prison and growled back at her, surprising us both with my playfulness.

“I’m a lion too.”

Then I rushed her on all fours, causing her to devolve into giggles and mock terror. She ran screaming to the back door and roared at me from behind the glass a few times, then came back into the room and looked at me seriously.

“What do you want to do now, Evie?”

She tossed her hair over her shoulder and announced she was going downstairs to join her brothers, and, turning at the top of the stairs, she tossed a final command my way:

“Be a good lion, mommy. Just be a good lion.”

And then she disappeared, happy to have been seen and heard, and happy to leave me to my own devices for as long as it took to tap out this little narrative.

So the moral of this story is…well, I don’t actually have one. Just that parenting is a work in progress, and that even infinitesimally small attempts at doing better can make things…better.

Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, Culture of Death, motherhood, Parenting, Pornography, reality check, Sex, sin

Porn-proofing our kids: practical steps {2 in a series}

April 19, 2016

{Part 1 here}

(I want to start this piece with a plea to anyone who stumbled on this blog today, for however many seconds and from wherever in the world, because you googled “mama porn” or “mama with kids porno,” or “mom porn”… It happens more often than I care to think about, but I want you to know that you are loved, that you don’t have to fill your mind and your heart with trash, and that you were made for more. If you’re looking for help, try here first.)

The next big piece of the porn-proofing puzzle is actually putting some safeguards into place for the inevitable exposure to pornography.

Of course we’ll talk filtering software, parental controls, etc., but the bigger piece of the puzzle actually takes place internally, for the child whose will and mind and character are being formed and cultivated by loving parents and by humane, comprehensive education that respects and recognizes the whole person.

One of the best pieces of advice for parents about pornography that I’ve ever come across was written by another mommy blogger, and I can’t find the piece to link to it here, but this is a good approximation of what she was striving to teach her children.

In a nutshell, from a young age, help your children to recognize two things: 1. what pornography is and 2. why pornography is so sad.

For example, you’re shopping at Target (or wherever) and you come nose to nose with the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition in the checkout line. Now, I’m not so prude as to be scandalized by a mere bikini (though scandalous some may be) but the new thing is actually body paint. On bare skin. So even for SI swimsuit edition, swim suits need not apply. You calmly bend down and either flip the magazine or put a copy of Real Simple in front of it before explaining to your little person(s) “that’s pornography. And she needs privacy. Let’s say a quick prayer for her and for the person who took her picture.”

And for a little while, that might well be sufficient.

It’s critical to drill home these two truths: 1. identifying pornography for your children when you encounter it, and impressing upon them the sadness of it and 2. humanizing the woman (or man, but I’ve yet to see a copy of anything questionable in any retail outlet I frequent featuring man booty, so…) in question, and teaching your sons and daughters empathy for the great dignity of the Other.

When we demonstrate to our children what pornography is and what to do when one encounters it, we’ve already taken a huge first step, while holding their hand, which can help them along the path of virtue.

I’ve never been a big fan of modesty-via-shaming. It might make a point, but at what cost? It is possible that the first conversation we have with our children about pornography will come too late in the game for some of them. And by this I mean that they may already have been exposed to it, and may already be struggling with an addiction. While I pray that isn’t the case for my young brood, I do want to communicate to them my great love for them, as their mother, and our shared concern, as human beings, for the dignity of others.

Even magazine cover stars.

And even porn stars.

When my children are older, we’ll have more frank conversations about human trafficking and the sex trade, and what the insatiable global appetite for more and bigger and better and more violent content has created…but for now I want to impress upon them two things: that they are loved. And that “they” are loved.

And porn kills love.

It also kills brain cells and willpower. But before addiction and industry and commercialization and supply and demand, there are broken human persons being brokered for profit, sold into virtual slavery to ensnare others into a detached and depersonalized slavery.

And I want more for my children. And for yours, too.

So we teach love, first. Love for self, love for neighbor, and love for God. All of which can be demonstrated in a quick moment in the checkout line or on Youtube where we shut down the offending device, flip the degrading magazine cover, and have a frank and unemotional 20 second conversation about

what pornography is (violation of the dignity of the human person via immodest images),

why it’s wrong (this dehumanizes her, and you, and gives away too much of who she is),

and how we respond to it (with immediate aversion of our eyes/shutting down of the device and prayer, both for the person(s) we’ve seen and the way their dignity has been violated, and for the person who took their picture/created the content.)

Some additional practical steps are in order, of course, because while we can’t protect our kids from the world, we can keep the world at bay, to a certain extent, by putting boundaries into place that maintain the sanctity and safety of the home.

1. Do not give your child an internet-enabled device of their own. In my mind, this would be a person under the age of 13, a kid who shouldn’t be seeing PG-13 movies without a parent or guardian. That number seems reasonable to me, but again, my kids are young yet, so maybe I’ll be eating these words in a year or 4.

So maybe…

2. If total tech abstinence is too crazy for you, and you still want to gift your preteen a Kindle or a laptop for school use, then at least consider blocking it up and locking it down with some hardcore (pun intended) filtering software or app like Covenant Eyes, Circle by Disney, or a good old fashioned password (changed regularly by parents) on the home router. But even those measures aren’t fool proof. Basically, a motivated and tech-savvy teen (and which aren’t?) will find the content they’re looking for. Which is why we train and teach first, and block and filter second.

Because while all the filtering and blocking of offensive content in the world is great, it’s essential that our kids are emotionally, spiritually. and intellectually filled in, beforehand, on what porn is and why it’s harmful to them. Because if a kid wants to find porn, a kid is going to find porn. So that’s why I led with the teaching stuff.

I’ve worked out a sort of timeline in my head for what this is going to look like for our family, at least in theory. So here it goes:

Age 0-6: Teach basic Theology of the Body concepts, from birth. i.e. “You are a gift, made by Love and for Love.”  “Your body is like a love letter written by God, to the world, and you can know who God is and who you are through your body.” “You are fearfully and wonderfully made, and you have dignity.” “We cover up what is sacred because it’s holy, not because it’s yucky.”

Stuff like that.

(Also, we’re big on naming parts their real names. So, sorry about that, neighbors. I think I heard somewhere that teaching your 2 year old to yell “penis” makes them 100% more likely to get you side-eyed at neighborhood functions and supermarkets, and so far it’s working out great!)

Age 6-8: Basic instruction in sexuality and an introduction to the concept of pornography. i.e. “You are a boy, you were created to be a man, your masculinity is a gift to the world, and your body is capable of caring for and protecting others.” “You are a girl, you will be a woman some day, you are created to give of yourself in an incredibly complex and unique way that is beautiful and capable of creating new life.” “That’s pornography. She needs privacy. Pornography shows us parts of other people we don’t have the right to see. We need to pray for him/her, and for the people who create the product of pornography” “Pornography is created to trick your brain into wanting something that will hurt it/to make money from hurting people”

Age 8+ I bought the book “Good Pictures, Bad Pictures” last month after hearing great reviews from a lot of more seasoned parents, and it does a fantastic job of explaining the addictive and scientific properties of porn addiction, without being overwhelming, boring, or overly frank. It’s written from a totally secular perspective, so I can’t imagine any parent would struggle with implementing it in their own home. I haven’t read it with my oldest son yet, because 5.5 seems a little young still, but I’m planning to sit down with him and start working through it in the next year or so. My vision for ongoing instruction here hinges on endlessly open communication and talking, talking, talking about what you’re seeing when you’re out with your kids, what crazy commercials pop up while you’re watching the game together, and what trashy pop ups are crowding the Youtube sidebar while you’re trying to show your 2 year old a video about honey badgers (Evie badger does.not.care.,proving my point that she is one. But I digress.)

Whew. Since this is getting longish, I’ll wrap things up here, but stay tuned for part 3 where we’ll discuss strategies and resources for talking porn with your tweens and preteens, and how to get help for kids (or parents) who are already struggling with an addiction to pornography.

St. John Paul II, pray for us.

porn proof

{Part 1}

Catholic Spirituality

8 crazy things you’ll never believe the pope said

April 19, 2016

Are you ready for these? I mean really and truly ready?

(okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. He’s a renegade, this one.)

1. “The conviction that the economy must be autonomous, that it must be shielded from ‘influences’ of a moral character, has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way.”

(I don’t know if he’s necessarily feeling the Bern, but there are some less than capitalistic undertones to that one…)

2. “Charity in truth places man before the astonishing experience of gift. Gratuitousness is present in our lives in many different forms, which often go unrecognized because of a purely consumerist and utilitarian view of life.”

(I often find myself questioning my Target habits when I read this pope…)

3. “The sharing of goods and resources, from which authentic development proceeds, is not guaranteed by merely technical progress and relationships of utility, but by the potential of love that overcomes evil with good, opening up the path towards reciprocity of consciences and liberties.”

(#communism?)

4. “Violence does not build up the kingdom of God, the kingdom of humanity. On the contrary, it is a favorite instrument of the Antichrist, however idealistic its religious motivation may be. It serves not humanity, but inhumanity.”

(Give peace a chance.)

5. “Evil draws its power from indecision and concern for what other people think.

(Love that off the cuff, man of the people vibe.)

6. “I would like everyone to feel loved by the God who gave his son for us and showed us his boundless love. I want everyone to feel the joy of being Christian.”

(He’s just so relatable! You can sense the love he has for each individual soul. What a pastor’s heart.)

7. “We are living in alienation, in the salt waters of suffering and death, in a sea of darkness without light. The net of the Gospel pulls us out of the waters of death and brings us into the splendor of God’s light, into true life. The modern world is … a spiritual and emotional desert of poverty, abandonment, loneliness… and destroyed love.

(Perhaps a subtle nod to the crisis of immigration and the cold indifference on the parts of so many of those in power?)

This man, with his words of compassion and his heart for the poor and marginalized, is truly a shepherd after Christ’s own heart. The Church – and the world – are lucky to have him. Even if he’s easily misunderstood by members of the faithful or willfully misrepresented by members of the media.

I am speaking, of course, of the author of the quotes listed above, that surprising and frequently misunderstood Holy Father…

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

(Or Fr. Joseph, as he would prefer to be called these days.)

Elected 11 years ago today, and retired now for the past 3. The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?

Love you, Papa B. Keep those prayers coming for the Church, for Pope Francis, and for the world. God knows we all need ’em.

papa poster

Culture of Death, Evangelization, Family Life, motherhood, Parenting, Pornography

Porn proofing our kids: Emotional investment {part 1 in a series}

April 12, 2016

This topic near and dear to my heart. I have 3 little boys, 2 nephews, 2 brothers, and 1 husband. And too many male friends to count.

I also have one daughter. 4 sisters. 4 nieces, and the list goes on.

Pornography isn’t “someone else’s problem;” it’s our problem. It’s my problem and your problem and the guy across the street’s problem. It’s your barista’s problem and the 2nd grade teacher’s problem, and it might just be your spouse’s problem, too.

If you don’t think it’s your problem? That’s probably because you’ve yet to have an incredibly hard conversation with someone close to you who may be, at this very moment, drowning in shame and overwhelm and addiction, unable to reach out and unsure of where to turn for help.

I was in a conference call this morning where porn was referred to as “the pandemic of our age.”

And I couldn’t agree more.

An entire generation of men (and women) enslaved spiritually, psychologically and physically to an addiction as strong as cocaine, and as readily available as sugar.

It’s a strange time to be raising kids, in a culture that both objectifies women (and men, but let’s call the spade by it’s given name and admit who the biggest losers in the porn game really are) while simultaneously calling for their empowerment via the shedding of all sexual and cultural norms regarding modesty.

I won’t attempt to make the case here for what’s wrong with pornography, because I’m going to assume we’re all on the same page there, whether your convictions stem from an emotionalmoral, religious, or  psychological perspective.

What I do want to talk about is how we best equip and instruct our children for navigating the dangerous digital jungle. And the checkout line. And prime time television. And the school bus.

The average age of first exposure to pornography is around 9 years old, as best I can tell from my online and in person research. That gives me a little over 3 years to prepare my oldest son for his first encounter with porn. Most first exposures are accidental. Something might pop up on Youtube, or in a banner ad, or even via a misspelled or poorly thought out search term.

Notice that I didn’t say “if,” but “when.”

Because our kids will be exposed to porn. And it’s not enough to cancel your Victoria’s Secret catalogue (not that it’s actually possible to do that. They’ll keep sending the damn thing no matter how long ago you shopped there, and how many times you ask their customer service department). Nope, we’ve got to be proactive and reactively tactical as parents of baby … Millennials? (What are our children, exactly?)

First and foremost, the most essential part of the porn-proofing equation is … you.

A child who is affirmed in his or her intrinsic goodness and worth and dignity by his mother and father is less likely to go seeking out pornography.

Will he be immune to the lure of it? No. Of course not. And yes, he still might come upon it if you live in a city or a suburb or a village on a mountaintop with internet access…. but on the whole, kids are less likely to go looking for it on purpose when their basic emotional and psychological needs are being met at home.

And hopefully? They’re more likely to click away when they do happen upon it.

So we love up on these kids and let them know that we’re here, that we’re safe and trustworthy, and that we’re available for spur of the moment heart to hearts and annoying butt-ins and one million questions all day long. Because that’s how these little people give their hearts. And we have to be willing and ready to receive them. As an introvert this is hard times a million. I like my space! I like my down time!

But I can’t have as much of that as I want while they’re awake. And some days I acknowledge this with more grace than others. And the other days? I pray to God for selective amnesia in my offspring so they’re not dissecting my awful parenting via group hologram sometime 20 years down the road, one-upping each other with stories of How Mom Screwed Us Up.

(Dare to dream, right?)

The fundamental health of our relationship as parent and child is critical to that child feeling secure and capable of one day coming to us with harder stuff than “I accidentally spit in my brother’s mouth.” And even when it’s hard and it’s yucky, we need to be the ones who they can come to and ask for help, for guidance, and for forgiveness.

The second piece of this looks like intentional, one-on-one engagement between opposite sex parent and child. Sons need to be loved and praised and recognized in the goodness of their masculinity by their father, yes, but also by their mother. 

Boys who don’t experience a strong connection with their mother are more vulnerable to a pornography addiction as they seek out the disordered approval and love of women

And daughters? Yep, you guessed it. They need dad telling them who they are, what they were made for, and why they’re so good.

There is no way for us to prevent our kids from seeing porn, but we can lay a foundation of unconditional love that will invite them to come running when they do see it, so that we can talk it through with them.

Pray with your children and for your children, and for their sexuality, their emotional health, and their hearts. Ask their patron saint or namesake to intercede for them as you entrust that particular child to God’s mercy and providence, knowing that despite our best intentions as parents, we’re still not going to be able to protect them from everything. 

But that won’t stop us from leaving it all on the field in the effort, right?

Up next: Practical resources for having “the talk” about porn, and for monitoring internet usage at home in a mentoring style, so that your kids learn to monitor it for themselves.

porn proof

 

{part 2}

Catholics Do What?, Contraception, Marriage, motherhood, NFP

This vocation is shaped like a cross

April 5, 2016

Nap time is dying in our house. It’s been dead for months I guess, but I’ve only started to notice it really recently. Like on days when I’d give plasma for an hour of silence, or at least the freedom from verbal interaction with another humanoid for longer than 7 minute stretches.

This morning a couple girlfriends and I took 8 nearly indistinguishable blonde children to IKEA for kids eat free Tuesday, probably looking every inch the part of Sister Wives in so doing. Our friend with the smallest (so far!) visible number of children mentioned that she finally understood what it meant to get “the looks.” And, I mean, look away, 8 kids under 6 is legitimately gawk-worthy.

It’s nice to be past the point of caring even the smallest bit what or whether anyone thinks about you and your crew when you’re out rolling 4 or 5 or 8 deep, trying to keep it together.

I used to think I’d just become so mellow and peaceful that I’d stop worrying about keeping up appearances. It turns out it’s more like too busy counting heads and keeping butts in seats. When I look up to see if anyone is staring, they almost always are. But I never look up any more! And unless someone gets in my face for a compliment or light-hearted comment (frequent) or a rude remark (almost never), I have my blinders on. And they’re super effective.

(Except at Trader Joe’s. Everything at Trader Joe’s is sweetness and light. I make intentional eye contact with everyone in a Hawaiian shirt, and it’s a foretaste of the beatific vision, I’m sure of it.)

I’ve been re-reading Kimberly Hahn’s (prophetic? Challenging? Frustrating? Life-changing?) masterpiece, “Life Giving Love,” over the past couple weeks at bedtime, and almost every section leaves me with a new insight or some uncovered wound in need of spiritual Neosporin.

I picked the book up years ago, when I was a starry-eyed grad student and well before marriage became a reality. I remember sitting in Kimberly’s 4-part seminar on marriage and motherhood almost a decade ago now, scribbling furious notes and longing for the day I’d get to implement all this great stuff firsthand.

Well well well, that day is here. And I must have taken most of my notes with a rose-colored pencil. Because ouch. Ouch, ouch, ouch.

Everywhere I turn I’m tripping over my own ego, lying dead in a puddle of double digit sized jeans from the clearance rack, or else I’m bumping up against my own selfishness in the middle of the night when I’m praying somebody else (hi, honey!) hears that crying baby and rolls to a reluctant vertical position before I do. Or when I’m hunched over a Dollar Tree pregnancy test feeling pretty sure there’s no way but still wondering if maybe it’s worth looking into. (FTR: Not an announcement. Just a relatable anecdote.)

There are lots of opportunities to practice life giving love in marriage. And there are plenty in the priesthood and religious life too, I’ve been told.

But what I hadn’t been adequately prepared for, thanks more to my own ignorance and media consumption and less to any failure on my own parents’ part, was the extent to which I was going to be asked to take up my cross.

Yes, I know. It’s stupid. It’s in the Bible over and over again, the parts about being a disciple and accepting the sweet burden of the yoke of Christ and promises of how He’d help us carry it and we’d be few laborers in a field ripe for the harvest.

But I don’t think I internalized it all, adequately, in light of the sacramental vocation of marriage. Because I also had plenty of worldly input that led me to expect something along the lines of romantic self actualization and total fulfillment of wildest dreams and security and blissful candlelit dinners and relaxing beach vacations. (Don’t ask where exactly I picked all those ideas up, just know that they exist.)

And then for me, harder still than the promise of fun and security, was the false notion of deserving to look and feel a certain way, in exchange for having been faithful.

I think I honestly believed that God owed me one for being open to life. That because I was “playing by the rules,” so to speak, I’d effortlessly drop that baby weight and have lots of silent time for sipping coffee and staring peacefully out the window into my sun dappled back yard, watching with pride as my well behaved offspring frolicked together in the grass.

Several of them did frolic in the grass this afternoon, matter of fact, but they were inexplicably naked and covered in dead grass and dried silly string when I retrieved them 6 minutes after idealistically handing over the long-coveted hose for the first bit of water play of the season. When will I learn?

I certainly have felt, over the past year or so, a dawning awareness of how very little I understood what I was signing up for at the altar when I promised to accept children willingly, and to raise them to know and love God.

I foresaw back then that, with the help of the handy! easy! beautiful! effortless! tool of NFP, I’d be smugly spacing those children 2-3 years apart, maaaaaaaybe have 4 of them total, and they’d all be fluent in baby sign language and eating hand-cranked organic purees prepared by their thin and attentive mother.

Also, we’d go on lots of nice vacations.

(Well, we have gone on nice vacations.)

But I’ve never been called thin, at least to my face, and the babies have come closer than I could have anticipated; this morning my fourth born chugged a packet of Similac on-the-go mixed directly with frigid water from the IKEA soda fountain, chased with a torn off hunk of chicken strip and a pinch of somebody’s brownie. Also, nobody speaks anything other than English or has anything resembling nocturnal bladder control. #we’renumber1

But my life is rich. It’s rich in moments to give and receive mercy. It’s embarrassingly wealthy in service opportunities. (Like, for real, my 17 year old self would have been all over the college application padding potential.)

And it’s filled to the bursting-wineskins-point with moments to choose between Thy will and my will.

I suspect that, until the day I die or the moment I gain some semblance of sanctity, that will continue to be the case, and the opportunities to surrender will keep rolling in.

Sometimes wearing diapers.

Or sometimes wearing the bitter disappointment of another month of hearing “no.” Or of a painful diagnosis. A ridiculous spousal miscommunication. A gut wrenching betrayal. A loss. A hardship.

I guess this is what it means to live with one eye on Heaven and one on the daily grind. It’s not some kind of weird hybrid reality where things get easier because I’m trying to exercise virtue, but a real participation in the life of Christ. Which was and is all about self gift and loved poured out. And pain. Not pain for the sake of suffering, but for the sake of love.

I can suffer that. But it’s still going to hurt.

(Also, I’m going to forget I said or thought any of this within 4 days, guaranteed. Onward and upward.)

 

About Me, budgeting, decluttering, design + style, thrifting

Blooming in rented soil

March 31, 2016

Hi, I’m Jenny and I’m a closet real estate junkie. I devour episodes of House Hunters and read shelter magazines like 4 walls and a front door are going out of style. And I regularly nickel and dime our carefully-crafted monthly budget to death with “just one missing piece” or “a quick $11 tweak” to rooms in our house that I desperately want to love but feel hamstrung in so doing, because they are not actually mine.

office

(The irony of the very title of this post is not lost on me, because no matter whether our housing checks go to first mortgage of wherever or rental company, inc, aint none of us taking it with us. But bear with me.)

I love decorating. I love finding something and giving it new life with a fresh coat of paint or by introducing it to an unlikely partner and achieving  style cohesion.

When the Nesting Place dropped a couple years back, I was all over that pretty little tome, even though until this morning, I’d actually only read it in black and white on ye trusty old Kindle. (Kinda ups the game to see her genius laid out in brilliant color. My bad, Myquillin.)

family 2

I eagerly incorporated her battle cry of “it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful!” into every square inch of our cute, if beige, rental house.

This may not be my house, my internal monologue mused, but it’s going to look like it, gosh darn it. Even if I can’t change the wall colors or tear out every inch of (perfectly nice, but still horrifying with small children) carpet, or Joanna Gaines me some decent sight lines between the kitchen and dining room.

dining room

So I mixed and I matched. I scoured Saver’s and Goodwill and the clearance racks at Home Goods. I’ve even curb-picked a few gems from our neighbor’s ample front walkway. And over the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve turned this place into our home.

family room

Bringing a couple more babies home into the mix hasn’t hurt to make it feel more official, either.

And yet, every month when I write that rental check, I have to tamp down a little surge of shame, or maybe it’s more like wounded pride.

This isn’t where a thirty-something family of 6 should be. We should be homeowners by now. When will we be grown ups?

Even just writing that out, it looks so ridiculous to me. Because it is ridiculous. We have clean water and secure jobs and healthy babies and 300 days of sunshine per year. And we live in a safe and walkable neighborhood that I have come to love. I can walk to the grocery store, our gym, and, quite recently, a craft brewery which welcomes children and goldfish crackers. Because Denver!

bath

Of course, when I’m throwing my monthly mental pity party as I sign the check, I’m not usually thinking about the choices we’ve willingly made that have gotten us here, choices we would never dream of altering, even if we could. Living in Italy. Traveling abroad. Being open to 4 little souls who are even now mingling Legos and mac and cheese into a builder-grade paste which will cement itself to the side of my (free! hand-stained and refinished by us!) kitchen table.

I wouldn’t trade what we’ve done with our first 6 1/2 years of marriage for anything. And yet there’s still frustration as we crunch the numbers.

kitchen

God has been so faithful. He continues to be so faithful, even as I question His path for us, frantically searching Redfin and Zillow for new listings as I nurse a sweet baby to sleep. I could be doing spiritual reading, or even staring blankly at a wall, and it would probably be better for my heart and soul than clicking on “just one more” listing, devouring data about square footage and interest rates and HOA fees like an addict.

I’ve some work to do in the contentment department, and I know there needs to be a day of reckoning for my heart which seems to vacillate wildly between “let’s eat rice 11 times a week while we save for a fantastic down payment” and “I just need to spend $75 on some patio furniture for our front porch so this feels more like home.”

Can’t have it both ways, Jenny.

Can’t have that Pinterest-perfect curated space of your dreams, updated as the styles and seasons change, and be hitting those financial goals you set with your patient and probably saintly husband.

master

So here’s my new missive: waiting. Waiting in joyful hope. Waiting in expectant peace, and believing that one more load of crap from the thrift store or the Target Dollar Spot is not going to make this place more home to us. And waiting on God’s timing and His clear directive that our next step is His next step.

I’m better at doing. But I can’t “do” my way into the kind of patience that grows gratitude. Which is a pity, really, because I’m rather handy with a hammer and spray paint.

Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, Culture of Death, Evangelization

The power of a single life

March 29, 2016

I’ve heard it said often enough that one has to be able to “afford” to be open to life, that only those people in the most fortunate and stable of circumstances (at least by human appearances), can welcome and successfully raise a productive member of society.

I don’t want to get into a game of “I’ll show you my (grocery bill) if you’ll show me yours,” but I’ve always found that to be an incredible claim.

And not just from a financial perspective, either.

We think our marriages must be perfect, our family lives stable and free from stress, our professional paths paved with certainty and security.

But I think it’s is a modern-day fairytale, this myth of the planned and neatly executed life.

When I think about great men and women who’ve charted new territory and changed history, more often than not, it seems, a little dirt digging produces interpersonal strife and suffering, in spades.

I’m thinking of Mozart. Of St. Catherine of Siena. Of Abraham Lincoln. Of Martin Luther King Jr.

And most recently, this week, I’m thinking of Mother Angelica, foundress of EWTN and known to the masses as the feisty pirate nun with a zinging wit and a deadpan delivery most stand up comics can only dream of nailing.

Born Rita Antoinette Rizo to a suicidally depressed and soon-to-be single mother in Canton, Ohio, the young would-be nun grew up in a toxic family environment in a home that swarmed, at times, with literal rats. Her father, an unemployed tailor who would eventually leave her mother, never wanted children.

The religious sisters who taught at her parochial school offered her little in the way of support or comfort, and when her parents divorced when she was 6 years old, her position as a pariah seemed set in stone. She recalled of her childhood years that she was often cold, hungry, and more interested survival than in schoolwork.

Sounds like a great beginning, right?

And yet, this isn’t her Story. It was merely the first few scenes in what became a biopic spanning almost a century.

The television network she founded in the garage of her Poor Clare’s monastery grew into the largest Catholic network in the world, streaming 24 hour content to 144 countries and 230 million households. Numbers that make cable news networks salivate.

And the Church who’d failed her as a child, whose leaders sometimes found themselves at odds with the feisty nun with a penchant for orthodoxy and truth? It remained her greatest love.

From all appearances, her life ought to have ended in ignominy and miserable poverty. She struggled academically. Her mother was neglectful and ill. She had few adults rooting for her or invested in her success. She was only tangentially exposed to religion via her education, and she and her mother actually left the Church for the better part of a decade after a cruel experience in the confessional soured her to the Faith. Divorce was, back then, a damning sentence for the innocent child victims, who were not spared the scorn and cultural condemnation heaped upon their parents.

And yet, despite being saddled with these seemingly insurmountable handicaps, she created for herself a beautiful, productive, and wildly innovative life, and as a Catholic nun.

Or rather, she allowed Him to create with her and through her.

I wonder sometimes when I read about the great saints and scholars, masterful musicians and heroic physicians, how much of their greatness came not in spite of their humble and even horrific beginnings, but precisely because of them.

“For my power is made perfect in weakness,” Christ tells us through the Apostle Paul. And claw and clamber as we might to assert ourselves into position of strength and security, how often it is the weakest and least-likely ones He uses for His greatest work. Over and over again.

I’m not advocating for a life of poverty or abusive childhoods here. Just challenging the prevailing cultural notion of comfort and prosperity as the essential ingredients to a life worth living, a life worthy of being allowed to live.

We don’t know the value of a single human life, nor can we proclaim at the outset how or whether someone will turn out to be any good at all.

Because sometimes the universe throws a curveball, and a little Rita Rizzo, slumming it in dirty apartments with a mentally ill mother and a deadbeat dad nowhere to be found, grows up to be among the most influential women of the 20th century. And she does it without a trace of lipstick.

God has a great sense of comedic timing, too.

Mother Mary Angelica, pray for us. And rest in peace. I bet you’re having the best Easter ever.

Bioethics, Catholics Do What?, Culture of Death, politics, Women's Rights

Who are the Little Sisters of the Poor, and why should you care?

March 23, 2016

If you were totally avoiding the internet today, or if you live under a particularly pleasant and comfortable rock, maybe you don’t know that the federal government and a bunch of nuns are duking it out before the Supreme Court over birth control.

More to the point, they’re fighting over the Little Sisters of the Poors’ refusal to subsidize contraception and abortion-causing drugs for their employees via their health insurance coverage, all of whom, by the way, are mandated by the President Obama’s signature eponymous government overreach law to purchase their own health insurance.

Well, fair’s fair, right? I mean, the law’s the law. We’ve all got to play by the rules.

Except that fully one third of Americans – including major corporations like Exxon, Pepsi, and Visa – flipping Visa – are exempted from the mandate.

I’ll let that sink in for a minute.

(I’m being a little bit dramatic actually. Because the Little Sisters of the Poor aren’t actually nuns; they’re sisters. Nuns are cloistered women religious who spend their lives away from the world, physically hidden behind convent doors and engaged in lives of quiet contemplation, prayer, and sacrifices.)

Sisters, on the other hand, are women religious who have vowed to live out their vocation to serve Christ in an active apostolate. They still vow poverty, chastity, and obedience, but they work in the streets and in hospitals and schools. They can be doctors and lawyers and social workers and professors, but who are married to Jesus and His Church.

These specific sisters, the Little Sisters, have a commitment to serve the elderly poor. It’s the entire mission of their order, and they run homes and hospices and clinics all around the world providing dignified, life-giving care to those who have no one to care for them, and no means to pay for it.

Some of their employees are not consecrated religious women, but laypersons. And the federal government is taking exemption to the Sisters – the Catholic, celibate, married-to-Jesus sisters, not subsidizing contraception and abortion-causing drugs for their lay employees.

And if the good sisters refuse? A crushing fine, somewhere in the neighborhood of $70 million dollars, annually, effectively destroying their ministry.

I’m going to try my hand at an analogy or two, but they’re all going to fall short in one way or another.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are an avowed atheist, and a school teacher. Your entire career is dedicated to opening and instructing the minds of children. You find the notion of God abhorrent, and even destructive to young imaginations. But the government disagrees with your personal position, and even though you’ve chosen to serve in a public institution of learning, you will now be forced to provide government-subsidized Bibles and rosaries for your students. And you’ll be asked to distribute them personally.

But, the government assures you, you won’t be directly responsible for the promulgation of religious mythology in your classroom, because they’ll see to it that a portion of your annual salary for is directly subsidized for “proselytizing materials.” Also, they’ll stock a shelf in your classroom with the religious materials for you, so you won’t have to touch them.

“But, you might rightly protest, “I’m still being forced to participate in something I fudnemtnally disagree with and find morally reprehensible!”

“No, don’t be silly!” Say the Feds. “We’re providing the money and buying the sacred items ourselves. You can just pretend it’s not happening.”

You: “but that’s not how reality works…”

Perhaps the Hallel butcher shop down the block being forced to accept SNAP and, as such, being required to carry non-hallal meats and food products is a better example?

Here’s the thing, and it’s essential that we keep this foremost in our minds: we are all the Little Sisters of the Poor. 

And while we may not yet be called before a court of law to defend our rights and livelihoods before a government intent on seeking increasing control and punitive intervention, make no mistake, the day is coming.

If the Little Sisters of the Poor can be forced to choose between their life-giving mission of utter self denial and service to some of the poorest and most vulnerable among us, and their conviction to follow their properly formed consciences and the law of God, what makes any of us believe we won’t eventually be asked to do the same?

The irony of a bunch of celibate women being forced to plead their case before the highest court of the land over their refusal to fund condoms and Depo Provera during Holy Week is almost farcical. But we who dwell in the land of reality tv know that truth has indeed become stranger – and cruder – than fiction.

I am reminded of two quotes that I want to leave you with. The first, often attributed to Voltaire but more probably coined by a biographer of his, Evelyn Beatrice Hall:

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

And, this from Pastor Martin Niemöller, who did time in both Sachsenhausen and Dachau:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Will you speak for the Little Sisters? Get on social media and get the word out, using the hashtag #letthemserve.

And may God deliver to them a swift victory, and protect their mission to the elderly poor.

Little_Sisters_1_outside_of_SCOTUS_March_23_2016_Credit_Addie_Mena_CNA