Abortion, Bioethics, Culture of Death, politics, sin, social media, Suffering

Abortion {still} isn’t healthcare

June 27, 2016

It’s not. And in an ironic convergence of worldviews, I can see why SCOTUS would overturn a Texas law requiring certain minimum medical standards be met by abortion clinics.

Because abortion isn’t healthcare.

Which is why, I suppose, the Supreme Court refuses to hold abortion clinics to the same standards as other ambulatory surgery centers or, as it turns out, Botox clinics.

Makes sense, if what goes on behind closed (filthy, substandard, unhygienic) clinic doors isn’t under the purvey of actual healthcare, anyway.

Because abortion isn’t healthcare.

And since abortion isn’t healthcare, and women’s lives are less valuable than, say, the political capital to be gained in such a move by SCOTUS, overriding common sense and biological reality in the name of so-called reproductive freedom, then the ruling makes perfect sense.

Because abortion isn’t healthcare.

And it is more essential that we remove any barriers – even those pertaining to minimum standards for a surgical facility –  so that women may avail themselves of the opportunity to have their fetuses forcibly evacuated from their wombs, than that we pause in any manner of regard for the woman’s health.

Let’s put aside the immorality of abortion for a moment. Abortion, which isn’t healthcare.

And let’s speak of the procedure in a vacuum, as it were, leaving aside the obvious, ludicrously-demonstrable humanity of the baby, and focus solely on the invasive surgical procedure of a second trimester abortion.

And let us examine why it is that today, a friend I know will check into a major hospital for a dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure to evacuate her womb of the remains of her precious unborn baby, now deceased several weeks, in order that her body will  heal properly following a tragic miscarriage.

She will be attended by a trained, competent surgeon who passed her medical boards and is in good standing at an actual hospital. Her cervix will be dilated by unexpired medicine. A camera will guide her surgeon’s hands as the contents of her uterus are removed, carefully and methodically. Her vitals will be monitored by licensed nurses assistants, and an RN or perhaps a LPN will see to her post op aftercare. She will be accompanied every step of the way by licensed, trained medical professionals who, to the best of their ability, will keep her comfortable, will honor the dignity of her body and the body of her deceased child, and who will maintain the highest standard of medical care.

Because in her case, the surgery to remove her dead baby’s body from her uterus is healthcare.

But abortion isn’t healthcare.

Does SCOTUS recognize this on some unconscious level? That a D&C abortion procedure, unlike the medically-necessary D&C I describe above, is something harmful. Abhorrent. Relegated to a realm of hidden horror which sees neither the obvious humanity of the unborn child victim nor that of the mother herself. 

How else could such a ruling be justified?

How else could a 21st century judicial body – the highest in the land – rationalize the decision to strike down legislation requiring that an abortionist be an attending doctor at an actual hospital, should the procedure incur complications and the need to transport the patient arise. How else could the justification be made that an abortion clinic needn’t meet the same hygienic standards as an outpatient vein clinic, or perhaps a freestanding plastic surgery practice?

Because abortion isn’t healthcare.

And, in a twisted obeisance to reality, the Supreme Court of the United States of America acknowledged that today, by failing to require minimum standards of medical competence – laughably low as they were – that would have at least ensured a higher level of physical protection for women who engage in a practice both emotionally and physically catastrophic.

Because abortion isn’t healthcare.

scotus

Bioethics, Catholic Spirituality, Culture of Death, euthanasia, relativism, sin, Suffering

What’s wrong with the world today?

June 23, 2016

I am.

Me, me, meeeeeeee.

GK Chesterton was and is and will be until kingdom comes, right about that.

As any sense of sin and evil and wrongdoing has receded into the background of our collective consciousness, I’ve noticed an alarming uptick in the propensity for people to sling vicious mud at one another all the while maintaining that notions like wrong, evil, and immoral fade into antiquity.

How can a culture embrace atheistic secularism wholesale, jettisoning any shared code of moral ethics, and expect to remain cohesive? How, if there are no objective standards of reality, of common decency, of truth tethered not in fads and feelings but in time-tested knowledge about reality and human nature, can we go forward?

The past several months have seemed increasingly insane. Because the world is going mad.

How can we converse in earnest about women’s safety, bemoaning the rise in rape culture while all the while continuing to protect the “rights” of hardcore pornographers and pimps in the entertainment industry?

How can we pontificate on the horrors of modern day slavery and sex trafficking while continuing to champion – and publicly fund – Planned Parenthood, perhaps the largest corporate enabler in the West of underaged victimization?

How can we champion inclusivity and acceptance for some disabled persons, while actively campaigning for the deaths of others?

Easy. Because we’ve jettisoned our individual consciences.

When human beings outsource morality, which was designed to operate in accordance with a well-formed conscience, we get the tyranny of the now.

When we allow the larger culture to dictate morality back to us rather than speaking wisdom and life into the culture from the knowledge contained in our own soul, meant to be the dwelling place of Wisdom, then we are met with chaos. An anarchy of opinions and competing worldviews, and an utter lack of consensus on what it means to be good, to do good, and to refrain from evil.

If you carry relativism to its logical conclusion, you arrive at a world so totally unmoored from reality that there is hardly room for a conversation about anything of substance.

When we stop informing our own hearts and forming our own consciences with something – Someone – greater than ourselves, we become enslaved to sin. Even if we won’t admit sin exists. 

And only a world bereft of properly-formed consciences and selfish, small hearts (raises hand) could produce times such as those we are living in.

Rejecting the notion of sin has not liberated us, as was promised.

Plugging our ears and closing our eyes to the reality of evil has not rendered for us a more humane planet on which to dwell. If anything, the less religious our society becomes, the more cruel and the more brutal – however masked by convenience and technology – our lives become.

Jettisoning traditional religious practices and a stodgy, smothering Deist worldview was supposed to make us more free. So why then is our society coarsening as we strip away traditional values and reject moral norms?

Because we weren’t made to work this way.

Because original sin.

Because everything that’s wrong with the world we’re living in, past, present, and future, has its locus in human frailty. And the moment I forget that and try to remake myself in some benign, secular post-modern image is the moment I begin to lose sight of my neighbor’s humanity.

Of her needs and her pain. Of her fundamental orientation to love and to be loved, in her entirety. Of the truth that certain rights belong to her, utterly separate from my opinions or ideas about her, by virtue of her human nature itself, created in the image and likeness of a Creator.

Otherwise, if her rights depend upon my capricious appetites and ideas? Quite frankly, she doesn’t stand a chance.

Listen, I believe people can be good and just and noble apart from practicing a traditional religion. But only when they behave accordingly: justly, nobly, and with goodness. And noble pagans such as these are practicing the essence of Christianity, whether or not they acknowledge it as such. And that’s how civilizations flourish. Because without it, there is only suffering.

Plato, in his Republic, said as much: “In all of us, even in good men, there is a lawless wild-beast nature,” and “there is no conceivable folly or crime which . . . when he has parted company with all shame and sense, a man may not be ready to commit.”

This thing we’re giving a go right now here in 2016, with individual “rights” rooted in appetites and passions and personal opinions unmoored from reason or reality, is not gonna fly. And to the extent that I can properly form my conscience and then (the hard part) behave accordingly, I can help to save the world.

Because we each of us, simultaneously, both “what’s wrong with the world,” and also the antidote.

Chesterton was right, And Plato was too. We are what’s wrong.

And we can become what is right, to the extent that each of us makes the effort to form and then follow our consciences, based not in passing trends, but in timeless truths, which are far less likely to be persuaded that some lives, after all, may be more valuable than others.

ocean mercy

Catholic Spirituality, Evangelization, JPII, motherhood

Support a Prodigal {Stefania Elsmore}

June 21, 2016

I’ve had a few lucky breaks in my career slash stay at home mom life slash ministry, which leads me to believe that much of what we call success in this life depends upon the goodness of other people and being in the right place in the right time, plus a dash of talent and more than a dash of hard work, repeated early and often.

I have the gift of this platform to share words and tell stories, and it’s always my goal to be worthy of the microphone I’ve been given. Which of course I am not. But it’s always good to have goals.

Since I hail from Denver, hotbed of the New Evangelization and home to approximately 220 amazing ministries, I get to attend church with, send my kids to school alongside of, and bump into at Costco some of the most passionate evangelists and talented speakers and musicians of the 21st century. Jason Evert (hi, fellow parishioner) recounted in his book “St. John Paul the Great, His 5 Loves” that my favorite Pole, greeted Denver’s Cardinal Stafford 2 months after World Youth Day 1993 with the exclamation “Ah, Denver! The revolution!” in a not so subtle nod to the role he believed the Mile High city would play in the New Evangelization.

Catholic News Agency, FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, ENDOW, the Augustine Institute, the Servants of Christ Jesus, Christ in the City, St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, and the career launches of Christopher West, Chris Stefanick, Jason Evert, Curtis Martin, Ted Sri, Tim Grey, Mary Beth Bonnaci, and dozens I’m probably forgetting right now would seem to underscore the Holy Father’s point; a revolution indeed.

And now another name that I’ve little doubt belongs on the roster: Stefania Elsmore.  A woman with a beautiful voice and a gift for speaking and sharing her heart. And one of only a handful of female Catholic worship leaders who plays, sings and speaks. And she’s from my parish. Lucky us.

Guys, this girl needs to cut an album. And we’re going to help her do it.

I’m putting the button for Stefania’s kickstarter campaign here in this post, and I’m kicking it off with a $10 donation. Because I can give the cost of admission to the pool down the block, and my kids can play in the wading pool for the day instead. If you can share $5, $10, or $100 towards this campaign, I encourage you to do so.

Let’s launch another voice for the New Evangelization, and help Stefania hit her goal of 20k towards a professional studio album that she can share with – and advance her ministry by the sale of – the teens and young adults she loves.

To learn more about Stefania’s music click here.

To fund Stefania’s kickstarter campaign for “Prodigal” click here.

Signed,

another prodigal.

stefania

Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, Evangelization, Marriage, motherhood, Parenting

Drowning in grace: why Catholics practice infant baptism

June 17, 2016

I have a 2 year old who is incorrigible, in the most generous application of the term. If she were a little Austrian boy, her finger would be forever in her teacup. If I tell her to stop, she runs faster. If I yell about staying on the sidewalk, she jumps defiantly off the curb, cackling over her shoulder. I’ve shown her markers on paper and emphasized their fundamental relationship of belonging. I find scribbles on hardwood floors (washable is an accurate descriptor) and on clothing (not so much).

In sum? She needs a lot of encouragement to make good choices. Which is a diplomatic way of identifying her as a class 1 terrorist.

I know she’s not actually bad. She’s just fresh to this planet, and she’s learning about right and wrong, dangerous and safe, and the best way to drive her mother straight up crazy.

Part of my job description as mommy is making sure she becomes a functional adult one day, and stays alive in the process. So as much as I’d like to let her learn everything via that helpful phenomena known as “cause and effect,” her reptile brain is frequently encouraging her tiny body to do things which are deadly dumb. See: stovetops, parking lots, adult-depth swimming pools, etc.

So I make some choices for her. I choose what foods are nourishing and safe, and I prepare them for her and make sure she has enough. One day, years from now, she might throw down her sausage link and embrace a vegan diet. But until then? I’m the one cooking her 3 squares, and they’re chock full of animal products.

Veganism is an imperfect analogy, but it illustrates the point I’m coming to, which is that children require their parent’s best efforts, on their behalf, in order to arrive safely in adulthood.

The most essential thing I’ve done for all 4 of my kids so far has taken place in the front of a church, tiny baby held aloft over a basin of water, candles burning and the tang of chrism oil in the air.

An inoculation of grace, administered to a helpless babe, with the aim of eternal life.

Catholics don’t baptize their children as babies simply because it’s our religious custom, or merely to satisfy the grandparents’ desire to see that hand-me-down gown on the next generation. We baptize them because it’s a transformative sacrament which initiates them into the very family of God.

My babies don’t need to wait until they’re 12 years old, or 18, to enter into the Uebbing family. They belong there, no matter what choices they make, and no matter what their future holds. It is pure, unmerited belonging.

And when we pledged our fidelity to one another and to God on our wedding day, those yet-unborn children were already present in the mind of God, woven into our wedding vows to accept, nurture, and bring them up according to His laws and the laws of His Church.

I’ve heard the case made for letting children choose their own way, waiting and seeing if the religion thing “sticks” once they’re fully grown. And I think that’s kind of crazy.

I mean, I’m not waiting until they’re old enough to choose whether they’ll wear underwear before stepping outside (always debatable) or if they’d like to practice oral hygiene each day (could really go either way).

Why, then, when I make dozens of choices for them day in and day out, always with their eventual happiness and health in mind, would I delay in extending them an invitation into eternal life?

That’s why we bring our children to the Sacraments, isn’t it? To strengthen them on their journey through this life and orient them toward life in the world after this one. I can’t think of a single reason I’d want to hedge my bets against my children choosing God.

(It’s helpful to pause and consider that the Church has always taught that, while we are bound by the Sacraments, God is not. So babies who die unbaptized, at any age, are entrusted to His unfathomable mercy.)

Infant baptism speaks beautifully of the reality of our helpless state before God, crying out, perhaps literally, in surprise and maybe a little fear as He pours out His grace. None of us fully “get” the reality of our neediness before God, or the staggering price He paid to redeem us. But redeem us He did, and He wants us for his own. And because He is God and we are not, He comes to us in little, ordinary moments of extraordinary encounter that even a child can understand.

Bread. Wine. A splash of water. A cross traced in oil. Bent knees and folded hands and a tiny red flame flickering beside a golden box. God speaks transcendent mysteries in baby talk, showing us His heart in a way we can comprehend it.

Kind of like how I’m trying to woo my wild toddler into civility. One teachable moment and shriek of resistance at a time. She’ll get there. And thanks to a cold morning in January of 2015, she has all the grace available to her little soul that she needs for the journey.

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Catholic Spirituality, Culture of Death, euthanasia, Evangelization, Family Life, relativism, social media, Suffering, Uncategorized

What can we do? Practical steps for living in an age of terror

June 13, 2016

God, I’m sick of this.

I’m sick of opening my computer in the morning and seeing the latest body count splashed across my newsfeed. Of my husband cautiously, almost furtively asking me over the din of a weekend breakfast table, masking the gravity of the situation from tiny ears, “did you see the news about Orlando?”

You don’t even have to wonder, anymore, when someone asks “Did you see …” Heart sinking, thoughts racing, inevitably, another terror attack.

Maybe it’s not any more dangerous to raise children in this age than in any other, and maybe that’s the illusion of an unceasing news cycle and the flat, digital world we dwell in, but it seems a hell of a time, just the same.

One week we’re agitating for more death, for death enshrined by law, slickly sterilized for public consumption by that convenient mechanism dubbed “privacy,” and the next we’re reeling from another mortal blow, more death, death in unprecedented numbers, death by ambush.

Death begets death.

And reading the news today makes me want to cry. To curl up into a ball and gather my children under my arms – not that they all quite fit there – and hide.

I didn’t sign up for this. For raising kids in a culture that is self destructing. For growing a family in an age of terror and hatred and so much uncertainty.

Except that I did.

Yesterday at Mass, before we’d had news of Orlando, our parish welcomed two new Christians into the family. As their parents held squirming toddlers over the baptismal font and their godparents clutched newly-lit flames kindled from the Easter candle, from Christ Himself, the adults promised on behalf of those squirming babies to reject Satan, and all his works, and all his empty promises.

To reject the glamor of death, the allure of evil.

Because it’s real.

And, for reasons God felt sufficient to merit the decision, our free will allows us to choose evil.

I choose evil every day. I give in to a surge of anger at a traffic light, tapping my horn in frustration, muttering under my breath about a texting driver (like I’ve never done the same.) I raise my voice to my children. I spend too much time surfing the internet and not enough time on my knees. I have a moment of pure rage towards someone well up in my heart, and rather than reject it outright, I nurse it, just for a moment or two, relishing the feeling of being angry. Of being right. 

The only real answer to the problem of evil in our world is the very same answer to the problem of evil in my own life: conversion.

Continual, frustrating, and sometimes humiliating conversion. Because life without Christ is hopeless.

This world is a mess, and truthfully, it always has been. And yet He saw fit to redeem it.

But we must participate in that redemption, because He loves us so much He drew up the contract along those lines: active participation.

So here are some practical ways we can fight terror in our own homes.

1. Mother Teresa will be canonized this Fall, and one of my favorite one-liners from her is the best medicine for our age: 

“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”

Love begins at home, in the family. It is where our children will learn – or will not learn – their intrinsic value. It is where they will learn to share, to give and receive a sincere gift of self, to witness sacrificial love, to be heard and to be seen, to be convicted of the inestimable value of every single human life. Give your children, your siblings, your family members more love than you can bear to give. Ask God for more patience, more humility, more courage, and love your children and your spouse with a love that is truly outside your self. I fail at this every day. I must keep trying.

2. Frequent confession and reception of Holy Communion.

Look, the world we’re living in, even if the internet is contributing a bit to the impression, is bat.shit.crazy. It’s not okay that I think about terrorism when I’m queuing up for my next flight, when I take my kids to a museum or a baseball game. But the number one thing I can do to protect them – and myself – is to live, as much as possible, in a sacramental state of grace. That means daily Mass when possible (note to self: even when 2 year old is kicking me in the throat), Confession every couple of weeks, and making a daily examination of conscience.

Not only does this contribute to a higher likelihood that I will die in a state of grace, please Lord, but it makes me a better person.

Without Jesus and the grace of the Sacraments, I am, as I’m sure is evident in some way from this blog, a fairly miserable loser. That’s just me being honest. If I can continually be redeemed and recreated as a better, happier, holier person, how far might that go in influencing my immediate neighbors for the good?

3. Devotion to the Rosary, and to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

We’ve been meaning to get our home enshrined to the Sacred Heart for a couple months now. We bought a beautiful icon, hung it in a prominent place, and have since somehow failed to have a priest come over for the official “enthronement,” despite knowing, oh, 2 dozen or so, personally. (If that’s not commitment to laziness, I don’t know what is. But I digress.)

We do plan to do it soon. But just having the image in our living room has me stopping multiple times per day to place a finger or a kiss across Jesus’ heart, reminding myself as I look at His image what I’m supposed to be doing, and for Whom. (For a quick explanation of how keeping pictures of your loved ones in your home is not idolatry, click here.)

I try (and mostly fail) to pray a Rosary each night. We’ve had off and on success praying a decade with the kids at some point during the day, this season being more on the “fail” side. Our kids sleep with rosaries at their bedsides for easy access during the night. They’re comforting sacramentals – tangible reminders of the real graces available to us through prayer and devotion – and, as my 4-year-old likes to remind us, “Mary kicks the devil’s butt.”

Yeah she does.

4. Smile.

Smile at strangers. Stop and help someone who’s car is broken down, if you’re in a safe area and you’re able to do so. Give that guy a dollar. Buy someone’s coffee behind you in line. Call your sister or your friend and offer to pick up some extra milk and diapers while you’re at Costco. Tell your husband to sleep in while you get up and make the oatmeal. Call your mother in law and tell her you love her. Put your phone away and talk to the checker, the barista, the girl sitting next to you at the pool. Tell your server if you like her nails, his glasses, her hair cut.

Reach out, reach out, reach out.

We live in a lonely world. We can each be a little light in the loneliness, and give someone else the gift of knowing that, at least in that moment, they aren’t living in an age of terror.

Hatred needn’t have the final word.

age of terror

Bioethics, Catholics Do What?, Contraception, infertility, IVF, Marriage, motherhood, NFP, pregnancy, Pro Life, Sex, sin, Women's Health

Why not just use birth control? {some possible “right” answers}

June 8, 2016

I field a good number of questions along the lines of “how do I explain to my boss/neighbor/mother-in-law/college bff why we don’t use contraception?”

This tends to be an especially sticky conversation when the questioner in the scenario happens to also be Catholic. That being said, with fewer and fewer Catholics (and Christians of most denominational stripes) actively practicing their faith, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to toss out the simple “Because we’re Catholic” line out there, period, no matter who’s doing the asking.

You’re Catholic? So what? So’s my brother/hairdresser/uncle/pastor, and they all have no problem with the Pill.

And then there’s that persistently-pesky misappropriation of Pope Francis’ own take on the matter. (And no amount of pointing people to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or even Francis’ own latest encyclical, will do the trick. Because they read something on CNN he reportedly said on an airplane, so boom, 2,000+ years of Magisterial teaching, torched.)

In my own experience, my best conversations about how and why we have so many kids have been more personal than “because we’re Catholic.” But of course, that is one reason: We have more than a couple kids because we believe, with the Church, that marriage and babies are tied together in a sanctifying, delightful, and often overwhelming way. And for our marriage, that belief and the resultant openness to life has yielded a larger than average family size in a modest amount of time.

Remember though, this openness to life and docility to God’s will can look vastly different for different marriages. I have friends whose heroism far exceeds what I can hope to offer with my life, even if afforded several more decades of time on earth. Their “yeses” have yielded tiny caskets, months of painful longing, and years of frustrated hopes and dreams. We should never assume that a family with fewer than 5 children “must be using contraception,” or isn’t “open” to what God has for them. He gives and takes away.

We don’t actually get to call those shots, which is utterly confounding to the modern concept of omnipotence-by-science, where fertility is concerned.

Another possible good answer for inquiring minds can be a quick crash course in Theology of the Body, no advanced degree required: God’s plan for sex is better than ours.

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about what we hope for in our marriage, and about what marriage is. We want to be consistent with our actions and our words, and for our love to be holistic. It seems unhealthy to separate the potential for creating new life from the potential for deep communion through sex. So we don’t try to. And enough conversations with friends and acquaintances who do have convinced us that using contraception isn’t going to bring more pleasure or more unity into our marriage.

If anything, the anecdotal accounts we hear from couples who are using birth control seem to point to more strain, more sexual frustration, and more opportunities for miscommunication and conflict.

Another big reason for us, personally, is simply the casual observation that our culture sucks at sex.

Divorce, estrangement, frigidity, sexual assault, disease, abortion, adultery…all this stuff was supposed to be solvable via contraception. Or at least tamped way down. It’s gone the opposite direction, though. And what’s toxic for the culture at large isn’t something we want in our master bedroom.

Finally, there’s something to be said about wanting what you can’t have. Abstinence is not, it turns out, the end of the world.

And I will admit, after almost 7 years of practicing NFP, there is an inherent element of healthy self denial (not to be confused with the mind numbing insanity of the postpartum period) that I’m throwing in the “W” column. It can be good to have to wait. It’s good to sometimes want what you can’t have, or at least, what you can’t have without rolling the dice on another butt in diapers 10 months down the road. It’s good for our marriage, and for our development as adult Christians who are capable of suffering out of love for God and for one another.

So, in summary, there are reasons beyond “the Church told me no,” “I don’t know where babies come from,” or “I don’t want to put more hormones/chemicals in my body.”

(Though those are all perfectly sufficient answers, too. Particularly in line at the grocery store.)

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Family Life, motherhood, Parenting

A lightly active childhood

June 7, 2016

This week marked my first official foray into the world of “activities.” My big boys, ages 4 and 5.5, are in a semi-private swim class together with another little girl, and they are head over heels for their instructor, Mr. Bobby. He teaches them how to “make pizza,” tricking them into proper breast stroke positioning by spreading the sauce on pool’s surface. I sit perched in the shade – or sun, as I will sorely regret in the morning – and glance at my phone and the book I brought, but mostly I watch them, bobbing up and down, and swimming – honest to goodness swimming – after only 2 short mornings in the pool.

It helps that the section they swim in is only 2.5 feet deep, their patient instructor leading them deeper and deeper until they hardly realize their feet are off the ground, they’re buoyant, and their little doggy paddles are effective.

As we leave the pool area and head for the car, my 4 year old, twice in a row, has looked up at me with shining eyes and uttered a hearty and heartfelt “thank you, mama, for taking us to this pool!” And I think to myself, how sweet is this kid for thanking me so specifically? 

He’s a good boy, but it’s more than that. He also has delightfully low expectations. And not by accident. I’ve long admired, from afar, the idea  of children’s activities, but I’ve hesitated to pull the trigger on anything until this summer. Mostly because I’ve either been too pregnant or too recently-delivered to think about loading up the van for a commute to fun when there’s a perfectly good backyard (or balcony, as it once was) right outside the door, and here’s a cup of ice water and a bowl of grapes, have fuuuuuuun!

I’m the anti activity mom.

Not because I don’t think my kids are capable of athletic greatness (though some are looking more likely than others to sit the pep band bench) or because we can’t afford to do a single thing extra aside from feed and clothe them (though, ahem, the produce bill alone this summer… Man.) but because I question the value – to me, to them, and to their sibling relationships – of doing all the things. And definitely of doing all the things at once.

As I sat in the sun, squinting at my burgeoning Olympians and trading small talk with my neighborhood mom friends (to whom I am a strange and confusing puzzle. 4 kids! And you’re not that big! And you don’t seem crazy!), they started to launch into their litany of summer happenings: swim lessons – not just one session, but back to back sessions, all.summer.long. From 9 am till 11. Different siblings in different class times – museum learnings camps, science camp, t-ball, soccer, vacation Bible school….I dumbly wondered aloud how quickly the swim lessons would “catch” for my boys, meaning, how soon could we expect to go to the pool and have them be swimming on their own? Blank stares and then giggles. One mom pointed to her 6-year-old and said she’d been in year round lessons since age 2.

As they compared notes, the frenzy of their competing schedules increasing as June melted into July and then August, I realized that I’d benched myself from this mom game entirely, almost without knowing it.

And I’m fine with it.

I do not envy the schedule juggling, the phone calls, the booking out months-in-advance. We have enough of that going on already with doctor’s appointments, dentist visits, and school registration deadlines. To add leisure activities to that when my kids can tumble around it the backyard with a bucket of Legos and the hose seems, to my already heavily loaded brain, sheer insanity.

This is not a critical evaluation of parents who choose activities for their children, or some kind of judgment on when and whether your little ballerina gets her tutu. For me, personally, I’ve seen rich fruit in allowing our little brood space to explore, to be together, and quite frankly, to be bored together. And it helps the baby get a nap in, too.

Right now our backyard looks a bit like one of those hipster “adventure playgrounds” that were sweeping Europe a few years back. You know, burning tires, real wood and tools to assemble into forts, rotting rope swings into mud puddles.

Something along those lines.

We lost a section of our fence to a tragic Xcel Energy repair last spring, and the orange mesh that sprang up in the place of wooden slats allows ample espionage oportiunites for the kids to creep on Mr. Lino next door while he mows his lawn and answers endless questions about his compost pile and snow blower. The blown-out boxspring frame that somehow made it’s way from the trash pile into the corner of the yard, now riddled with spy holes and water stains, makes an excellent fort and hiding place. The tiny vegetable garden may or may not produce actual carrots and cucumbers at the end of the summer, but it’s tiny green shoots are fodder for speculation and excitement, creeping incrementally higher each morning.

And that’s all before a single bug has been caught, a rabbit spotted, or a popsicle consumed.

I do have to engage in a fair share of “get back outside/go find something to do/use your imagination” directives, but I refuse to cave into the mental guilt that I should somehow be entertaining them for 12 hours a day, or that the tv should.

We don’t have to go anywhere for our kids to be happy. In fact, I want to make the argument that there is happiness to be had particularly in the staying-at-home, the little years spent mostly hidden, popping out here and there for a trip to the library, to the grocery store, to the museum or zoo, or even to another country.

But those forays into the larger world are the exceptions to our little rule of home life. They’re not the stuff everyday is made of.

I know I’m a young and inexperienced mom still, and that the adolescent years may well be filled with swim meets and baseball games and football practices. But I hope I remember that I have the power to make the schedule, and it needn’t be vise versa.

I’m not judging my super active mom friends. But I do wish you could catch your breath and sit with me for a coffee while we watch our kids destroy my lawn with snow shovels and screwdrivers. Motherhood is hard enough on it’s own, and even if you don’t sign up for the recital this year, I’m pretty sure you’re still killing it. Let yourself off the hook.

Because these kids? They’re pretty content with a box of chalk and a soccer ball in the driveway, no uniforms required.

lightly active

Bioethics, Catholic Spirituality, Culture of Death, euthanasia, Pro Life, relativism

The unsexiness of death (or what ‘Me Before You’ is missing)

June 3, 2016

One of these days I’m going to write a nice, fluffy post aaaaaaall about my favorite organic non-hormone disrupting eco-friendly non-GMO spray sunscreen. Or something like that.

Today is not that day.

This weekend marks the opening of Hollywood’s latest offering in the relatively new genre of “death porn,” and it’s a doozie.

I haven’t (and probably won’t) see the movie, because I prefer to remember Finnick losing his life in a heroic act of self sacrifice in the fetid sewers beneath the Capitol, not (spoiler alert) committing suicide while his approving-yet-heartbroken girlfriend holds his hand, and the bottle of pills.

But I did read the book.

And this story, this little love-story-that-actually-wasn’t, is, I think, more dangerous than some of Hollywood’s earlier attempts. Million Dollar Baby sent a depressing message about the value of an elite athlete’s life post-major-trauma, but the confused message of “loving someone enough to kill them” at least wasn’t mixed in with romantic love. It’s a small “at least,” but a notable one, I think, for our culture which has sexual love on a perilous pedestal indeed.

This story is a little different, because the main character is already paralyzed and clinically depressed when he meets his would-be lover and eventual suicide accomplice. It wasn’t a tale of knowing the man before the profoundly life-altering trauma, but knowing – and falling in love with – only the man he was afterwards: the crippled man in the power chair.

So it’s possible, then, to fall in love with a human being who has been profoundly damaged by disease or accident. Because his essence, his intrinsic value, is unchanged. But what this movie gets so wrong is it’s seminal manifestation of love. The climax in this love story isn’t a sex scene, but a suicide scene.

Hollywood has sex pretty backwards, as it is, but things take a complicated cultural turn when we move from letting our feelings be the sole barometer for our sexuality (check) to letting our feelings be the criterion against which we measure the goodness of our continued existence.

Do I feel like I’d be better off dead? Do I have a plan for how I’d like to make this happen? Could I get my loved ones to endorse and even participate in this plan? (This used to be called clinical depression with suicidal ideation, and I’m pretty sure it’s still in the DSM. For now.) Great! Cue next major Social Movement of Great Significance, which you’d better get behind or else you might be a Bigot with a capital-B.

Eons ago, the year before last, Brittany Maynard was catapulted into global fame for her own battle for “death with dignity.” Physician-assisted suicide enthusiasts “Compassion and Choices” jumped onto her bandwagon and road it hard and fast to her eventual suicide death, on November 1st, 2014. It was, by that point, such a Truman Show-esque spectacle, one wonders whether she was able to exercise complete freedom, in the end, or if the intensity of nearly worldwide scrutiny and a nasty public debate signed her death certificate months before the actual event. It was a tragedy.

Telling clinically depressed, chronically ill, and paralyzed people that their lives are not worth living is a tragedy.

Inviting millions of viewers into the complicated, imaginary love triangle between Lou, Will, and his quadriplegia and driving home the message the the charitable, noble, and humane solution to his suffering is death, is a tragedy.

I hope this movie’s legacy is that it gets people talking about the chilling double standard which exists between disabled people – cripples, as one feisty wheelchair-user prefers we call her – as opposed to us able bodied “regular” folks.

Is a human life only as valuable as the sum of a body’s working parts? To the extent that it’s wanted? The right color? The preferred age, weight and gender?

Either all human life is valuable, or none of our lives have value. Not yours, not mine, not Barack Obama’s or Pope Francis’ or Taylor Swift’s.

Our value does not fluctuate with age. Ability. Wealth. Employment status. Health.

Stand up for life this weekend by having a conversation with someone about this movie, and about the idea that a person with a disability is somehow exempt from being assessed against the same mental health criterion as an able-bodied being. Be prepared for some discomfort. But don’t be surprised if, 5 years from now, we’re not watching romantic dramas about euthanasia between consenting adults, but about parents dispatching terminally ill children “out of love.”

Ever read The Giver?

Things always sounds crazy and far-fetched until suddenly they start to sound a little more like common sense. Maybe because we’ve heard them repeated loudly, and frequently, enough.

Me_Before_You_CNA_size

Bioethics, Catholic Spirituality, Culture of Death, euthanasia, Evangelization, Pro Life, relativism, sin

Gorillas, internet mobs, and the culture of the living dead

May 31, 2016

“The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual . . . what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.”

So reads an excerpt from a 2012 study from the Journal of Medical Ethics, edited by Prof Julian Savulescu, (the director of Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, who will presumably have his ass kicked by CS Lewis at the moment of his death. But I digress.)

Rather than being “actual persons”, newborns were “potential persons,” the study explained: “Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’.

Simcha Fisher wrote a piece last month that resonated deep, and wiped the last vestiges of hope from my brain that Western civilization could be rehabilitated, wholesale. We’re beyond that. Once death becomes an option, Simcha reasoned, then it becomes the only option. For there will always be a perfectly reasonable explanation for culling the herd of humanity for someone else’s sake.

When our lives cease to be acknowledged as divine in origin, the claim to any sort of inalienable right falls on deaf, progressively aloof ears.

How can a clump of cells be valuable, except to the host who carries it in her womb, and even then, only to the extent that she desires it?

How can a tangled, palsied mess of stiff limbs and a vacant stare be valuable to parents who signed up for a baby, doesn’t matter boy or girl, “as long as it’s healthy,”?

How can a defiant, aggressive, self or sibling-harming 2 year-0ld (most of whom are borderline feral, as any honest parent will admit) be anything other than a mistake we could perhaps scrub from the roster and make another go at?

How could an ailing, demented parent with glaucoma and the first stirrings of Alzheimer’s be worth keeping, to the tune of $20,000 a month, in an assistant living facility, fading in and out of twilight and burning through the grandchildren’s  inheritance?

How, indeed.

How, any of us?

Who among us is universally convenient. Useful. Pleasant. Smart. Sweet-smelling.

Who among us has never been a burden to another human soul, and can solemnly swear to avoid the near occasion of burden for all their days, so long as they live?

People have become so very disposable. And real love, the 21st century reasons, means learning to say “I’d kill you” should the circumstances demanded it.

(Oddly enough, real, live disabled people – or differently abled, as it were – don’t seem to share that opinion.)

A 4 year-old falls into a gorilla enclosure because his reckless, negligent mother had the audacity to lose him in a crowded zoo, and the world falls to pieces over the death of, wait for it … the ape. The mother of the nasty little boy who I presume ought to have been left to face the consequences of his own poor choices, Hunger Games style, is now receiving death threats by the hundreds and angry, internet-fueled hate missives by the thousands.

The two leading presidential candidates for the United States of America have either tacitly or explicitly endorsed the wonderful work done by Planned Parenthood, that behemoth of death, again and again.

We’re not sure if we want to live any longer.

We’re not sure if it’s worth living any longer.

Welcome to the dictatorship of relativism. Welcome to an existence so tentatively fixed in reality that one rough semester of junior high could determine whether you live to see your high school graduation, and which locker room you’ll use to change into your cap and gown, should you begin as Brad but end up as Brittany.

Everything is fluid, nothing is certain, and a subjective emotionalism seems to have swept into the vacuum left by our collectively-vacated common sense. Can a society survive the complete abdication of reason? And is it possible to maintain peace without an objective standard of goodness to which we all of us citizens aspire and cling?

I’m not talking about multiculturalism or pluralism, because of course, civilizations have flourished in their diversity, and precisely because of their diversity. But even pluralistic societies tended to be composed of citizens who hold to objective moral truths and adhered to a shared moral order, something along the lines of “don’t kill, don’t cheat, don’t steal.”

We’re beyond that, now. We’ve thresholded to a new echelon of humanity, where the old stodgy moral norms of the Abrahamic religious traditions can at last be swept away like so much patriarchal tartar, built up over millennia of brainwashing.

We have new gods: convenience and technology. All the rest can be jettisoned.

This is depressing as hell to read, isn’t it?

Because it is hell. This is actually what hell is like: an utter disregard for the good of the other, a complete rejection of God, and profound, terminal selfishness. So when you look up, bewildered, from another spiraling news cycle and wonder what in the hell is going on in the world, you’re on the right track.

Hell is precisely what is going on, in the world.

And that is why He came. That is why He’ll come again.

Jesus is the only possible solution to a world as broken as ours. And whether or not it’s broken any worse than Nazareth circa 2 BC is up for debate. But He is and has always been The Only Possible Solution.

It’s not a nice story. He’s not a happy, aspirational character from the annuls of history. He came so that we might have life, and life in abundance.

Because without Him? There is only death.

Look around.

zika

Catholic Spirituality, Family Life, liturgical living, Marriage, motherhood, reading, sin, Suffering

A liturgy of laundry

May 27, 2016

Last week in my rantings about impersonal social media and the vile temptation to permascroll, I may have insufficiency highlighted the upside. But the upside of the digital age – and there are substantial benefits – is that I do have honest to goodness friends I’ve only met once, or never, from all over the world.

Take my friend Christy, who hails from the wilds of Canada. Sure, we did meet once in real life summers long ago in Texas at Edel: ground zero. But besides that it’s been all Voxes and emails. And one, thoughtful Amazon-flung package of amazing lipstick and one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. And which I would perhaps never, ever have picked up but for Christy’s urging.

I’ve found myself in tears, agonizing over this or that character’s backstory, and flipping eager pages well past an appropriate hour in the night, just to see what the girls would do next.

And, wait for it…It’s about nuns. Cloistered Benedictines in 1960’s England, to be exact. Sounds riveting, right? But oh, it is. Such poignant studies of human nature, such incisive observations on sin, on personality, on life and politics. If you can sleuth a copy on Amazon or eBay, you’d be a lucky dog with the first good read of the summer in your paws.

Speaking of summer, today’s the last day of school here, and it’s 53 degrees and raining, which means indoor children and indoor problems and I’ve got 99 of each.

I was thinking abut the good sisters of Brede while I was folding the one millionth pile of laundry for the week this morning, and I was so done.

Even after a fresh purge, spurred by this week’s conversation about decluttering and spartan living. Grumpily I folded an especially ratty t-shirt, imagining that it would probably still be a house favorite when boy #3 is old enough to have opinions about wearing something with a guinea pig dressed up as Spider Man morning noon and night. Also, it should be noted, Peru lacks any apparent licensing or copyright law. But “Spider Cuy” is a beloved wardrobe staple (thanks, Uncle Handro!) and shall remain so, I supposed, until my back goes out for good and my hands are crippled from decades of careful folding.

It doesn’t help anything that my kids are still basically incompetent at household chores, groused I. And the downward spiral descendeth. Never mind that my friend’s little boy is in the hospital awaiting his first round of chemo, or that a fellow Catholic blogger buried his tiny son this morning. I was going to be disgruntled over laundry.

But there’s so much of it. And while I can weep in solidarity and offer small, pitiful sacrifices in the hard nighttime hours of wakings and rocking and fetching water, it’s harder to see the beauty in the beast(ly) grind of housework.

While Sister Colette thrilled to the task of mending and creating rich vestments to suit the liturgical seasons, marveling over how her work kept her tied to the rhythm of that “great wheel of prayer” that is the liturgical year of the Church, I was – am – less than enthusiastic about the dishwasher I just unloaded. The freshly-mopped floor splattered with applesauce. The decomposing (I wish this were hyperbole) lunchmeat I fished out of the coach section of the mini van this morning.

But couldn’t I be just as connected, in contentment, to my daily work and the constant offering-up and offering back as a kind of prayer?

If marriage is really a vocation, and I believe that it is, then there are day to day responsibilities that aren’t just annoyingly “there” as the result of it, but maybe they’re actually for it; the means of continual sanctification and for sure mortification, by which I perfect my selfish and supremely-irritated-by-poop-on-the-floor soul.

Maybe.

Or maybe it’s less meta than that. But it definitely got me thinking.

“Benedictae!” the “waker of the week” would intone, rapping on the cell door and swinging it open at like 4:30 am. I doubt the sister on the receiving end of the salutation would growl “GET OUT GET BACK IN THE BASEMENT” in a terrifying rat growl in response.

Instead, no matter how exhausted, how overwhelmed, how chilly, how overburdened…she’d probably swing her legs over the side of her cot and get up. Because 4:30m am wakeup calls are part of what she signed up for.

I did not. At least, I didn’t know I did. I didn’t think a lot about sleepless nights, discipline heartbreaks, behavioral issues, traumas, and tantrums. When I was a besotted fiance planning my wedding and eagerly anticipating a Hawaiian honeymoon, I figured children would turn up within the year or so. But even after growing up in a family with 6 younger siblings, I found myself arrestingly unprepared for the ravages of sleep deprivation. And incessant touching.

I think it’s probably my fault if it’s anyone’s “fault,” per se, because I was an exquisitely selfish teenager and must have been blind to my own parent’s sufferings in this realm. But, whatever the case may be, here I find myself elbows-deep in a vocation I’m ill suited for at best, spectacularly unqualified for at worst.

And yet, it’s mine. And these kids and their tears and tantrums and smiles and sticky sticky so so so sticky fingers and their tiny souls begging for love and formation and security…are mine. And this daily litany of laundry and diapers and filthy floors and another – yes, another! – load in the dishwasher or the sink, is mine.

I don’t hear bells tolling at Nones, at Sext, at Matins. I hear screaming from the basement at 1 am. I don’t practice “The Great Silence” (AS ATTRACTIVE AS THAT SOUNDS, HINT HINT FOR NXT MOTHER’S DAY), but I can still my frantic pace for a divine mercy chaplet at 3, or for the Angelus at noon.

And I don’t lovingly lay out vestments in a candlelit sanctuary before an early morning Mass, peacefully arranging flowers and flipping open the missal to the right pages. But I pack lunches. I scrub the same disappointingly-aroma’d bathroom … at times. Which will remain unspoken. I change an astonishing number of dirty diapers in a day. And none of that need be surprising to me.

I mean, it really shouldn’t be.

And I’m really hoping this entire essay isn’t reading as some sanctimonious my vocation is love story. Because while I adore St. Therese enough to name my daughter for her, and while my vocation is, indeed, love, I’m kind of a mess still. And I’m sure Jenny in the future will look back on present day Jenny’s whining over dirty laundry (literally), she’ll maybe smile in compassion or recognition and remember how hard it is to get unselfish. Especially when the desire to do so isn’t terribly strong most days.

Ding, dong. Maybe that’s what I’ll hear when the 4 year old is in my room at 11 tonight, weaving me a tale of bedtime woes. Time to get up and serve my vocation. That’s my call to prayer.

Or maybe I’ll roll over and let daddy deal with it. The flesh is particularly weak on Friday of the last week of school.

brothers