Abortion, Bioethics, Catholics Do What?, Evangelization, guest post, infertility, IVF, pregnancy, Pro Life

IVF regrets: one mother’s story

March 27, 2017

Today I have the distinct privilege of bringing a unique voice to the discussion about in vitro fertilization (IVF). Katy* is a wife, mother, Catholic, and a regular blog reader who emailed me a few months ago with a story to share. As I read the email, I was humbled and rocked to the core that she would entrust me with a part of her story, and I knew immediately that it deserved a wider audience. She was gracious – and brave – enough to agree to share it with you here today.

I am requiring that all comments and discussion on this piece, both here in the combox and on social media, be of the highest caliber of respect and civility. This is an emotionally fraught topic, and this is a charged political and moral landscape we are navigating. And … this is a real family’s journey, and a real woman’s story. She deserves our attention and our respect. To that end, I will be moderating.

Now I’d like to invite Katy to tell you her story, in her own words:


“Hello, my name is guilty”

I truly wish I had read your posts about IVF four years ago.

For a few months now, I’ve been reading/following/loving your blog.

I feel compelled to share my story, because even though you don’t know me, I feel that certain kinship that can only come from reading someone else’s blog and becoming somewhat acquainted with their life. So here it goes.

I was raised Catholic and my family is devout, but not in a forceful way, so I never even got to go through the typical teenage rebellion. Religion was always just part of who we were, and I was glad to carry on the Catholic tradition in adulthood.

I had a boyfriend whose family was VERY religious to the point of homeschooling and rejecting the Novus Ordo mass entirely, nightly rosaries, etc. That time of my life helped my faith develop, but then after we broke up and I met my now-husband, a mostly disinterested Methodist, I drifted into a much less strict version of practicing Catholic. I still attended church, but I wasn’t involved.

Fast forward to finding out we were infertile. Of course, I knew the Church’s stance on IVF, but I chose to willfully ignore it.

A control freak at heart, I refused to believe that God had my best interest in mind.

I have felt called to motherhood since I was a little girl and I absolutely could not fathom a world in which I was not a mother.

I didn’t want to wait. I didn’t want to have faith. I wanted my way, and I wanted it then, because I was 27 years old and my biological clock was ticking so loudly it kept me up nights.

Only now do I see how ridiculous I was being.

Thanks to the severity of our infertility issues, we were giving a 1% chance of conceiving naturally (who comes up with those stats, anyway?) and were advised against wasting time and money on IUI. The doctor recommended that we immediately pursue IVF.

Now, I did sort of try to be sensible…you know, to “sin a little less.” I inquired about only fertilizing a small number of embryos so that there wouldn’t be “leftovers.” The doctor thought I was crazy, just another wacko religious person, but she agreed to work with me. Then the estimated cost made it so the whole thing had to be put on hold anyway.

A few years later I stumbled upon a clinical trial which provided IVF to participants for free. The big catch: you had to play by their rules, so no requesting a limited number of embryos be created. Blinded by my manic need to become a mother, I signed my name on the dotted line and entered the study.

I felt both elated and guilty.

It’s a guilt I’m still lugging around today.

As part of the study, we ended up with 8 embryos. I did one round of IVF and transferred two embryos. I was pregnant with twins for 8 amazing weeks before my first miscarriage. The second embryo transfer (2 embryos again) resulted in another pregnancy, but a single that time. I miscarried at 7 weeks. Of course I felt like I was being punished. I know it doesn’t work like that, but still, that’s how it felt.

I waited two months and then did a third embryo transfer with a single embryo. After the two miscarriages I was kicked out of the clinical trial and no longer forced to abide by the study protocol of transferring two at a time (a note for your article: most fertility doctors refuse to do more than two, and my current doctor along with many others strongly advises against more than one. The cases you hear like Octomom are thankfully not the norm. And those doctors usually have their medical licenses revoked. What they’re doing is still not OK… but it’s not like they’re all just throwing in ten embryos at once and then resorting to selective reduction, at least not usually).

I once again become pregnant. That one stuck. My beautiful daughter was born in June of 2014.

Motherhood has been everything I dreamed it would be. My daughter brought so much light, love, and happiness to this world that it’s impossible to put into words. Family members fight over who gets to babysit her. She is so smart, so kind, so good.

She is by far the best thing that ever happened to me, and it absolutely kills me that she was conceived in sin.

I struggle with this every day. The line I read equating the children of IVF to victims, like children of rape? Oh, that one stung, but it was so necessary. You’re right, of course, but the truth hurts. (She is referring to an older piece of mine where I was emphasizing that the dignity of the human person is immutable, that no matter the circumstances of one’s conception, the child is only and always the innocent victim.)

I’m sure you already know about God’s fantastic sense of humor, right? Right. So I had 3 embryos left after my daughter was born (3 miscarried, 1 never took, and she was the 5th one).

I knew I would need to have them all because despite my egregious disregard of Church law in doing IVF at all, I still fervently believe that life begins at conception and that those three little souls would absolutely not be destroyed or donated to science.

But then when my daughter was 8 months old, a surprise happened – a spontaneous unplanned pregnancy. That 1% chance of conceiving the doctors gave us? Yeah. About that…

My son joined our family 17 months after his sister. Sometimes the craziest things are true.

Now I am pregnant once again, but this time with the 6th embryo, while the other two wait in storage until we’re ready for another go-round.

No one will be left behind in the freezer, but I admit it’s so hard.

There are the storage fees, the constant worry… how will we be able to afford another round of IVF? (I had insurance coverage for a brief shining moment, which I used to get pregnant with this one, but now I’ve lost my job and that insurance lapses in February). How will we afford five kids? Am I getting too old? (I’m 32 now). Can I even have that many c-sections? (Both my kids were emergency c-sections, and this one will be scheduled).

I wish I had never done IVF.

I wish it so badly. When my faith was tested, I failed, and yet I was still given the most beautiful and miraculous gift that I surely don’t deserve.

I used to keep a diary but I don’t anymore, which is why I’m pouring this all out on you. I do have a blog, but since my readership is mostly fellow IVF veterans, they’re all left-leaning and would never understand my regret.

I’m terrified to write about any of this publically.

I don’t regret my daughter for a second, but I do regret the methods.

I wish I had known.

I wish I could rewind and redo all of this knowing what I know now.

I just hope that you’ll pray for me. It’s very early in this third pregnancy and I’m so nervous (especially with my history), plus I’m constantly worrying about how we will survive the future we’ve created for ourselves.

I am trying so hard to put my faith in God but like I said…I’m a control freak! It’s so hard to let go. I always feel like I’m the one who needs to keep this ship sailing.

Also, if you have any excellent reading or resources for “Woman who Regrets Doing IVF But is Also Joyous to Have Become a Mother”… please send it my way.


*(Katy, whose real name was changed for privacy purposes – is a brave and beautiful mother, and her courage in sharing this story is a testimony and a gift to us all. Please join me in accompanying her family and her current pregnancy with your prayers.)
(UPDATE 3/28/17: *update: FYI, our beautiful author Katy has been to Confession, thanks be to God. And y’all are wonderful missionaries of mercy to suggest it so enthusiastically. Pope Francis would be proud.)
Abortion, Catholic Spirituality, Culture of Death, Evangelization

Joining a chorus of voices

March 22, 2017

From an Endow press release this morning:

Today, we are announcing Endow Voices, an online platform connecting faith, culture and our everyday lives.

The goal is to engage our members with experts in various fields to answer questions from the philosophical to the practical to the mundane on how to be a Catholic woman in today’s crazy world. So far we have been amazingly blessed with the following women signed up as regular contributors, with more to come:

  • Alice Von Hildebrand: Philosophy and Womanhood

  • Marilyn Coors: Science, Medicine, Bioethics and Faith

  • Helen Alvare: Finding Truth in the Age of Relativism

  • Linda Grimm: Defending Dignity and our Legal System

  • Kathleen Domingo: Life Issues and the Public Square

  • Jenny Uebbing: Catholic Culture and the New Feminism

  • Michelle Chandler: Mom, Wife and the Interior Life

  • Jenna Guizar: Leadership and Ministry

Not exactly a shabby lineup, eh? Archbishop Jose Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has also agreed to contribute to this exciting new venture of Endow’s, which I’ve no doubt will do big things for the Church.

If you’re not already familiar with Endow, you need to be! They offer life-changing small group study experiences and have some of the best and deepest content out there, with studies covering everything from the encyclicals of St. John Paul II to Edith Stein and Thomas Aquinas. I have had the privilege to work behind the scenes with them on various projects over the years, and it is wonderful to see how God has called them to expand their physical community into the virtual sphere, the precise opposite trajectory of so many other ministries. It is truly an honor to be contributing to the mission of Endow in some small way, and I hope you’ll read along, and even better, join – or start! – an Endow group in your neighborhood or at your parish.

An excerpt from my contribution this month, Catholic Feminism:

“…I bother with the linguistic parsing because words mean something, and the proper use of language is critical to the building up – or tearing down – of culture. When I speak of Catholic feminism, what I mean is a total embrace of what it means to be a woman: self giving, creative, strong, and capable of profound sacrifice and leadership.

I think that modern feminism has become too conflated with Planned Parenthood’s agenda of sexual free for all and an angry, even violent rejection of motherhood and fertility. Feminism that calls a woman to reject and mutilate her body is only suppression and degradation by another name.”

Click here to read the rest.

Uncategorized

Disney’s new “Beauty and the Beast:” one mom’s take

March 18, 2017

First, let the record show that the 1991 original was, in my humble opinion as a then 9-year-old superfan, Disney’s animated magnum opus. So yes, I bought tickets about 2 months ago to see this new live action version on opening night, along with most of my siblings, adults though we may now be.

So, here are my thoughts, thunk in light of the controversy of the past several weeks and having now actually seen the film:

 *SPOILER ALERT*.

Gaston was the best thing about it. His character was awesomely done. LaFou was the second best.

The much-alluded to gay innuendo wasn’t really all that obvious, but what was there was tasteless and a little wince-worthy (the “wink wink” bite mark on the belly? Really? In a kid’s movie? Just gross.)

The worst part wasn’t some lurking gay agenda, but, rather, that the entire film is basically a line-for-line adaption of the far superior animated original. There were some charming moments and the Gaston song, in particular, was really well done and a rollicking good time.

Emma Thompson was great as Mrs. Potts. And can actually sing, which is a plus in a musical.

Emma Watson, however, cannot, and was flat, charmless, and came off not as “strong” (which is what they were desperately angling for) but bitter and cynical. She was clearly cast as (or at least instructed to be) some kind of updated-for-the-times feminist version of Belle who amplifies all the stereotypical “feminist” qualities written into the original character: strong, independent, intelligent, and courageous. (As if most women aren’t those things?) A woman should be all those things! I pray that my daughter sees those things in me in my best moments, and emulates them. But a woman who is only those things comes off as painfully one-dimensional and makes for an unsympathetic character.

The one glimpse I had of the real Belle  was the sweet moment when the Beast bequeaths the library to her. Otherwise, it was really pretty lame. Nothing like 2015’s Cinderella.

So, my vote? Wait for Netflix. This movie is probably suitable for kids 10 and up, but with some parental guidance about the sexual innuendo: LaFou’s cheeky flashing of his “bite mark during the Gaston song,” some cross dressing, a crude innuendo to Gaston having nursed his war wounds by getting cozy with a plethora of widows (ew), some dudes waltzing in the final scene – but isn’t that the case with most kid’s movies these days, particularly those made by Disney?

What it lacked, and what I look for in a movie that my kids can enjoy now, without reservations or frustratingly premature conversations, is a movie that communicates truth, goodness, and beauty to them. This movie had some beauty and moments of goodness, but there were also enough dark edges with the sexual innuendo, mean spiritedness, and some gun violence that took it beyond being a little kid’s movie.

Overall, this was not Disney’s best work by a long shot, and not one I’ll be taking Evie to any time soon.

And hey, movie executives, if by any chance you’re reading?

Don’t you dare touch the Little Mermaid.

“Beauty and the Beast” offial movie poster / Credit: Disney

And to think, this is why Matthew had to die on Downton Abbey…*

(*Dan Stevens, the actor who played the beast, was the beloved Matthew Crawley on DA who was killed off in season three because he “wanted to pursue other professional opportunities.” Which is well within his rights. But perhaps a CGI beast who comes to life wearing man capris was not an upwardly mobile move, professionally speaking.)

About Me, blessed is she, Family Life, house reno, Lent, social media, Trim Healthy Mama

Lately, in random bullet points

March 15, 2017

It’s full-blown spring here today. Blossoms about to pop into bloom, temperatures creeping up past the mid 70s, and so much wind. A month from now we’ll be buried in 22 inches of snow, I predict, so I try to keep my expectations low this time of year, because for every margarita-on-the-patio kind of afternoon Denver hands out in March, she predictably levies a devastating penalty in the form of spring blizzards come April and May. And sometimes (gulp) June.

But, it’s lovely. It’s lovely to be able to kick the kids outside after school, and to run around with them barefoot with a soccer ball. And oh, speaking of backyards, here’s a little glimpse of our new one:

Let them dissect my broken blowdryer. Very STEM.

That’s right, we moved. #again. It’s a temporary stint in a town north of Denver, in the home of some friends who are living oversees right now, whilst our pristine, staged and mostly packed home sits on the market (hopefully not for much longer, c’mon St. Joseph!) and we search for a new one.

The short version of the “why in the name of all that is good and reasonable would you move twice in 7 months with 4 children” is that our house, a fixer upper if ever the term were applicable, has been fixed. To the level of our competence, and then some. About 2 months ago, after a major construction project in the basement necessitating lots of professionals and lot$$$s of drywall and electrical work, we kinda threw our hands up and were like, um, what are we doing?

We are not handy people. Painting, laying flooring, some light caulking? Sure. We can handle that. But when walls started having to come down, it turned out we’d gotten in over our heads. Happily for us, the market is white hot here in the Denver metro area, and so when we finished up the last bit of work in the basement in February, we made the call to list it, because hey, we don’t love it. And we didn’t relish the notion of spending the next 4 years of weekends at Home Depot. We have had so much peace (after the initial “wth are we actually thinking about doing this???), and it was very providential the way the dominos all fell, including having this amazing home to stay in while we sell it, thanks to the generous hospitality of friends.

So, this whole situation may seem a little crazy to some people, but we’re okay with that. We’ve done plenty of things in the short 7.5 years we’ve been married that have been conventionally crazy. We figured, why stay in a house that doesn’t work for our family while we’re in the business of raising that family? We’d rather get into something smaller, if necessary, if it means we can have our nights and weekends back and can actually spend time together when we’re home. The house was less than ideal before the cascade of interventions, and so this time, we’ll look smarter at things that really do matter with a larger family, like a sleepy street with less traffic, a more suburban location, and a better floorpan that allows for common areas where the 6 of us (plus our large extended families) can gather.

Come on, St. Joseph. You’ve got 5 more days.

Looks good without people living there, doesn’t it?

*

There are some bonuses about this extended staycation situation we’ve entered into, including living in a totally different part of our area that we’d never spend time in otherwise (new parks, friends we don’t usually see, a new parish) and it’s interesting and fun and inconvenient all rolled into one. It has been fun to see familiar faces we only get to see at holiday events or big parties, and it is interesting to see life in a different parish, and to feel both welcomed and totally, totally off our game because our kids are struggling with the layout/lack of grandparent support/different Mass times. It’s given me a deep appreciation for how wonderful our parish really is, and how much of it we take for granted. Also? The drive. OMG THE DRIVING. We didn’t pull the kids out of school because we knew the commute was possible (the family whose home we’re borrowing were also students in our school) but hot damn, going from a leisurely 7 am wakeup and out-the-door-with-daddy by 7:40 am to reveille at still-dark thirty and a frantic scrambling of eggs, cinching of belts, making of lunches and slurping of espressos – and all before 7 am – has been shocking. I know that most grown ups live this way. I just never wanted to be one of them.

“Let’s all go grocery shopping in the snow at 4 pm, it’ll be great!”

My Lenten practice has been to get up early and pray before the kids, which means something starting with a 5. This is not a happy reality for me, but surprisingly, my internal clock has adjusted and I have been waking up on my own around 5:40 most mornings. I have to go to be no later than 10 now, but I should be doing that anyway because, adulthood. It’s been a good practice in self discipline, which I sorely lack. But boy, by 7pm every night, I am d.o.n.e. with parenting, dishes, mopping, answering emails, all of it. So the standards of cleanliness are relaxing, and my need to sit and chill with the kids at night is taking precedence over the need to shine that empty sink or get one more hour or writing squeezed in.

Probably it’s a better way to live. But it has been hard. It’s like I was still coasting on the fumes of survival mode mothering and now I’ve been thrust into the bigger-leagues of “you no longer have any free time during the day unless you guard that 45 minutes of quiet time like a prison sergeant,” because without predictable nap times (hello, crazy school pickup commute and car naps) and without my beloved mother’s helper who is now a good 45 minutes south of us, I’ve been boots on the ground in it in a way I have become unaccustomed to. In some ways it reminds me of our year in Rome, minus the good coffee, the beautiful churches, and the astonishing loneliness. I guess it just reminds me of having to be more self-sufficient and learning to navigate a strange new place (but still, Target. And a mini van.) and not being able to call a friend or sister 5 minutes down the road for some back up babysitting or a quick La Croix.

And, speaking of La Croix. I have a problem.

*

 

Next week I’ll be doing a live teaching event for Blessed is She and I’m kind of nervous. I’ve got plenty of speaking experience under my belt from various mom’s groups, conferences, and retreats I’ve participated in over the years, but for some reason doing it remotely behind a computer screen has me a little more jittery. I mean, I don’t love public speaking to begin with, but I can do it. And afterwards there’s inevitably the huge smile and endorphin rush “I can’t believe I did that!” Anyway, if you want to follow along, you can resister here (and with a Blessed is She membership you have access to all this content, which is so good. I’ve listened to a couple amazing talks this month while I’ve been preparing mine – this one is especially good) and tune in next Wednesday night, 3/22, at 9 pm EST for “Grocery Store Evangelization: engaging in the missionary apostolate of your ordinary life”

*

I’ve spent the past year and some change experimenting with various dietary restrictions, having blood work and hormone levels checked, and adding different combinations of supplements to the mix. It seems like I might have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (I have been hypothyroid since my teens, and on thyroid meds) which is an autoimmune thyroid disease, and is a little overwhelming in terms of the lifestyle changes it demands, but, happily, for lots of people, it can be treated really effectively that way.

I’ve been gluten free for about a year (minus the inevitable gluten exposure from restaurant eating) and it has helped a lot, and now it seems that cutting out dairy is the next step. Which is …. uggggggggh. Just ugh. I love cheese and ranch. But not so much that I want to keep feeling like crap.

So, gosh, that aspirational stuff about God choosing your Lent and all that. Yes. (Did I mention that wine seems to be a terrible culprit too. 5 months off the mommy juice now, and missing it still.) Tequila and vodka seem to be tolerable, in small and occasional amounts, but I’m getting to be a really, really lame happy hour buddy. I have some girlfriends who are also exploring health problems right now and the persistent joke among us has been “welcome to your 30s, when everything falls apart.”

 

I’ve also crashed and burned with THM and have been trying to reincorporate the most helpful pieces of it (namely, the stable blood sugar levels that it delivers) but haven’t been following it religiously by any means. And that’s starting to show up on the scale. Or it’s stress that is showing up. But regardless, trying to get back in the habit of balancing out my meals with protein and separating fats and carbs by several hours. It really does help prevent crashy afternoon syndrome, and I still have about 18 stubborn “baby” (read: cool ranch dorito) pounds to shed.

#paleo

Anything else missing from this novella? Oh, yes, I’m back on Instagram. It’s much more addictive than I remember, so I’m trying to only use it certain days of the week, and to resist the pull of the stoplight/carline scroll. It’s hard!

Finally, any good reading recommendations that don’t involve World War II? I’m a little burnt out on the genre after a slew of fantastic reads, and I’d like to get into some other fiction. Currently reading THM (again), this fantastic book Ignatius sent me to review, and something about some guy in Moscow that Kindle recommended to me that I do not love, at least not enough to recall the title.

Happy hump day, may yours be filled with daffodils and spicy water.

Culture of Death, Evangelization, mental health

Walking each other home

March 14, 2017

This past week, my dad lost his best friend. Jim was 20 years his senior and could technically have been his father – my grandfather – but instead of assuming a parent/child interaction, a 23 year streak of baseball games, happy hours, cigars, Christmas toasts, rounds of golf and countless, countless political conversations around the firepit in the backyard ensued between two unlikely men’s men, guys who could each have run a small country on their own, and yet, still made time and recognized the value – in the most natural and unscripted manner – in cultivating a relationship spanning decades.

They didn’t do programs together. They didn’t meet for any kind of men’s group, nor would they ever have attended had they been invited. Some people, particularly in generations preceding my own, are not “program people,” and that’s just fine.

In fact? It might even be more fine, more natural.

Coming of age in the digital revolution, I observed the bizarre migration of the bulk of my relationships from the real world to the virtual world, and then, more recently, back again. By “back again” I don’t mean that I’ve jettisoned online finds, just that as the shine has worn off for all of us, I’ve started (and it’s really fits and starts in this season) to push myself to be more intentional about actual face time. Not the app. And I’ve observed a lot of other people doing it, too.

It’s a lonely world we’re living in. For all the blessings of technology and cheap energy, the cost ends up being perilously high in terms of overall social connectedness and health. We drive everywhere, spending literal hours “alone together” stuck on the freeway. It has become so easy to be absorbed in a screen at all times. So much less effort to pick up my phone and snap a video of what I’m currently doing and shoot it out to an audience of a thousand “friends” than use it to call one specific friend and connect with, directly. The connection costs something. Maybe I’m too tired. Maybe I’m not really looking for connection, but to scratch the itch of boredom. Maybe it’s too hard to sit with silence, too intimidating to cross the street and knock on the neighbor’s door.

We are a culture dying for a little love. Literally, figuratively, emotionally and spiritually.

Instead of meaningful, sacramental sex, we have porn. Instead of family meals, we have fast food and a screen for every nose to press against. Instead of a vibrant, dynamic parish where one can belong, be known, and be in relationship with others, we have a cold, disconnected group of strangers standing in line to receive their Sacraments, assembly line style, and filing out like a frantic fire drill before the closing hymn is announced, let alone sung.

We are so lonely. We have lost the ability to connect with one another. We say we’re more connected than ever, yet an article about people making eye contact or performing some basic act of human decency in public brings actual tears to our eyes when someone shares it on social media. My God, we think, can you imagine if everyone reacted with such kindness/bravery/compassion/honesty?

Well, what if we did?

What if instead of spending literally hours with our tiny screens opened in our laps, collecting comments and likes and mindlessly scrolling through other people’s daily lives (this is not an anti social media manifesto, said the blogger. Just, we do really have a problem here), we spend an hour or two every day drinking a beer with our next door neighbors. Playing soccer in the backyard with our kids. Invited our coworker to grab dinner as we each exit our soulless work stations for the night, each headed home to dark studio apartments. What if we took the moments at the stoplights to pray a silent Hail Mary for the person in the car next to us, asking the Lord to work in their hearts and meet whatever profound need they are currently struggling with?

Because we all are. We are all in this together, and we are all of us broken, struggling, and in need of saving. 

When I think of my dad and the friendship he’ll lay to rest later this week, I think of it as being sacramental in a way that means incarnate. That it was real, that it was the product of years of interaction and communication and recreation and real fellowship.

They didn’t share all their beliefs, but they shared their lives together. 

That is what we are called to do. To be in communion with one another. To love our neighbor. Not only the neighbor who looks, acts, thinks, and believes exactly as we do. But the neighbor who is vibrantly, unmistakably different. And who we love – and who loves us – anyway.

Real love doesn’t gloss over differences either, no more than it rejects them. Real love stays in the fight and wrestles, chews them over, discusses and debates and banters and walks away at the end of the night with a handshake, and means it.

When did we stop shaking hands? The self-selecting isolation we’ve chosen for ourselves is killing us, destroying our culture, and birthing a generation of profoundly lonely, alienated people who think that to be accepted demands a uniformity that isn’t possible, isn’t necessary, and isn’t in keeping with the profound dignity of the human person.

Never stop working for the conversion of your own heart, and for the heart of every single person you encounter. You never, never know how much work God can achieve within the sacred boundaries of true friendship which wills the good (the authentic good) of the other.

And never for a moment think that real conversion can happen apart from real, complicated, dynamic, sometimes messy relationships.

God can work with that. But He can’t work if we won’t go.

After all, we’re all just walking each other home.

Catholics Do What?, guest post

What’s in a (Catholic) name? {an interview with Sancta Nomina}

March 10, 2017

I had the great pleasure of “meeting” Kate from Sancta Nomina, the completely rad Catholic baby name blog, back when Luke the Duke was still an interior baby. She did a consult for us and correctly identified the Marian and Skywalker significance of the moniker he ended up with, and I knew right then and there that she was good people.

A couple months ago, as I was picking up our 4 year old from his sweet Catholic Montessori classroom, I noticed that I was about to abscond with a lunch cube of a different color. But it did say JP? Oh. But ours said John Paul. I rifled in the mini fridge amidst a sea of lunch cubes and spied  Giovanni Paolo, Juan Pablo, and, aha, there in the back of the pile, plain old John Paul. I stuck JP back in and retried John Paul. 4 different Wojtyla iterations in a single preschool class. My thoughts immediately turned to Kate, and I knew I wanted to have her on to share her craft with us, and to delve into some of the background and the significance of names and what the Church has to say about them.

So, without further ado, I give you the lovely Kate.


The Church is concerned with the names we give our children because names are important! I recently read something our Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (or Papa Benny, as I like to think of him) wrote about the Patriarch Jacob wrestling with God in the book of Genesis, and the subsequent bestowing of his new name (Israel), and BXVI explained that “in the biblical mentality the name contains the most profound reality of the individual, it reveals the person’s secret and destiny. Knowing one’s name therefore means knowing the truth about the other person.”

That’s heavy stuff! And we certainly see names given a lot of attention in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, from God allowing Adam to name all the animals, to name changes that signified a change in identity and mission (Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Simon to Peter, Saul to Paul—we see this even today with Confirmation names, religious names, and papal names), to God Himself choosing certain babies’ names (John the Baptist, Jesus). Some of the most moving verses in the Bible, to me, are from Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:9-11): “God greatly exalted [Jesus] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”—every time I read them I feel a swell of emotion, they’re so full of the awesomeness and power of God.

Outside of the Bible—and certainly taking example from it—the Church has had a lot to say about names! According to The Catholic Encyclopedia “the assumption of a new name for some devotional reason was fairly common among [early]  Christians” and was usually associated with baptism, especially from the fourth century and later. Examples of new names included those of apostles, martyrs, and even peers who had helped effect one’s conversion to the faith. And St. John Chrysostom advised parents in the fourth century:

“So let the name of the saints enter our homes through the naming of our children, to train not only the child but the father, when he reflects that he is the father of John or Elijah or James; for, if the name be given with forethought to pay honor to those that have departed, and we grasp at our kinship with the righteous rather than with our forebears, this too will greatly help us and our children. Do not because it is a small thing regard it as small; its purpose is to succor us.”

The Catholic Encyclopedia offers several more references to the practice of Christian names being bestowed at baptism throughout history, including pronouncements by the Church (local and universal), and in the old Code of Canon Law, which was in effect from 1917 until 1983, parents were *required* to give their child a “Christian name” (which didn’t necessarily have to be a saint’s name—virtue names, for examples, were fine) or the priest would bestow a saint’s name upon the baby at baptism.

It wasn’t until the new Code of Canon Law took effect in 1983 that the wording was changed to say: “Parents, sponsors, and the pastor are to take care that a name foreign to Christian sensibility is not given” (Canon 855), which, as you can see, allows for a lot of names that might not have been okay before (see my CatholicMom article on names that are foreign to Christian sensibility). Basically, these days most names are just fine, and I feel like the change of wording in Canon Law is further evidence of the wisdom and foresight of the Church because modern parents love individuality and creativity in naming! According to name expert Laura Wattenberg, “it took a list of six names to cover half of the population of children born in England in 1800 (U.S. Social Security Administration records don’t begin until 1880). By 1950 in the United States, that number was up to 79. Today, it takes 546 names to cover half of the population of U.S. babies born.” To parents naming babies in this environment then, the names that are traditionally thought of when “saints’ names” are considered—John, Mary, Joseph, Anne—often feel restrictive and uninspired. Couple that with how many people seem to leap at any chance to dismiss the Church’s teachings as outdated or out of touch, and you can see how the new Canon on names came at a perfect time—now you can be a 21st-century namer AND a good Catholic!

I love how you phrased your question: “Why should we think with the mind of the Church when naming?” We’ve just discussed the Church’s history of understanding how important names are, and I also really like this explanation given by Cathy Caridi, J.C.L., at the Canon Law Made Easy blog:

“This is not merely a question of personal taste … if a priest is to baptize a child, there must be a well founded hope that the child will be raised in the Catholic faith … If the parents wanted to give a bizarre, unchristian name to their child, it would be altogether natural for the parents’ pastor to question their intentions! Are they serious about rearing their child as a Catholic? Or do they regard the whole baptismal ceremony as an empty tradition or even a joke? It is the pastor’s duty to find out.”

And I love how St. John Chrysostom pointed out that the purpose of giving one’s children the names of saints is to help us, and that by doing so we allow the name of the saints to enter our homes and strengthen our relationship with those holy men and women, and encourage our reliance on their example and intercession. That’s how I think of all the names that I consider to fall within the sphere of Catholic names (saint/biblical/virtue names, and names of prayers, Marian titles/adjectives and apparition sites and other holy places; other ideas here)—they all allow our faith to enter our homes and families and stay top of mind and heart.

What uniquely Catholic naming trends have you observed in the years you’ve been following/studying? Any crazy things stand out to you? Any commentary on the insanely wonderful JPII situation in my preschool, for example?

I really love seeing the variety of tastes among devout Catholic families! Among the families I’ve connected with through my blog and name consultations, I’ve seen children with really classic, traditional names, and children with totally outside-the-box names, and everything in between. I’ve gotten loads of ideas and inspiration from the names of the babies I’ve encountered—beautiful names connected to both little-known and well-known saints and other holy people (Servants of God, Venerables, Blesseds), and creative twists like double first names (Anne-Catherine) and names that recall prayers through their sound (Sylvie Regina, Agnes Daisy). Marian names are some of my very favorites, and there are so many! I’m also a big nicknamer, so I think it’s really fun to see a serious, sophisticated formal name with a playful nickname (like Romy for Rosemary or Bash for Sebastian).

I like to spotlight families on my blog who have done something different and eye-opening with naming their babies, in order to show others the wide array of Catholic naming possibilities—names like Vianney, Clairvaux, Kapaun, Lourdes, Bosco, and Tiber and combos like Indigo Madonna and Hyacinth Clemency Veil. Each one of those names has impeccable, uber Catholic ties to holy people, places, or ideas while still being unexpected. I also love encountering real-life babies with hardcore old-school Catholicky Catholic names like Perpetua, Philomena, Gerard, Augustine, and Clement, as well as sibling sets with a mix of names—traditional and modern, unusual and familiar—like brothers Michael, Benedict, Kolbe, and Casper.

I really really love the “insanely wonderful JPII situation” in your son’s class! I definitely see a lot of love being given to our St. John Paul the Great through names—your son and his classmates demonstrate perfectly the various ways to use his papal name, and I know both boys and girls named after him using his pre-papal name, Karol (Polish for Charles), as inspiration: Karol, Carol, Charles, Charlotte, Caroline, Karoline. I’ve even seen some Loleks, after his childhood nickname! I’ve also had several conversations with parents who want to use the name John Paul but aren’t sure how to handle it: is it a double first name, and therefore they should choose a middle name? Is it a first name and a middle name? Should they spell it John Paul or John-Paul or Johnpaul? I spotlighted one family who solved the issue of a middle name for John Paul in a really interesting way, and I really love that families are willing to wrestle with it for the ultimate goal of giving their boys such an amazing and beloved patron saint.

Another name that’s been really hot with Catholic families is Zelie, both with and without the accent on the first ‘e’ and in all its forms, including Azelie, Zellie, Zaylee, and Zaley, and also used in combos like Zelie-Louise, thus really reinforcing the connection to the Martin saints, Zélie (born Marie-Azélie) and Louis. (I wrote more about the whole phenomenon here.)

What advice do you give parents when they’re naming a new baby? Any do’s or don’ts you care to share? (don’t involve family/do involve family/social media silence/etc.?)

Hm, interesting questions! So many things that I believed in the past to be naming “rules” have shown themselves, through real-life examples, to not be so hard and fast and to be really changeable on a family-by-family basis. I really love hearing the song in a parent’s voice when he or she tells me the story of their child’s name, and sometimes the name they’re telling me about goes against all the “advice” I might feel like giving! I do have my personal preferences though, based on my own experiences—I like hearing feedback on our name ideas from friends and family, to be sure we aren’t missing some huge negative association of which we’re unaware. I think floating names in online discussion boards or running them by a name blogger (ahem) can be a good way to get feedback if going the friends and family route is going to cause rifts in relationships. At the same time, I think it’s important to feel free to dismiss others’ negative reactions if they’re based on pure opinion—we’re all allowed to like and dislike names, and in the end the parents alone have the gift and responsibility of naming their baby.

Pope Francis touched on this in Amoris Laetitia, saying: “For God allows parents to choose the name by which he himself will call their child for all eternity” (no. 166). The Catechism reminds us that “God calls each one by name. Everyone’s name is sacred. The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it” (2158). There’s reassurance in those statements (“For God allows the parents to choose the name”) and also responsibility (“for all eternity”; “Everyone’s name is sacred”; “The name is the icon of the person”). Keeping all that in mind, as well as approaching the naming process with maturity and prayer, will surely help lead parents in the right direction when choosing their children’s names.

And really, anything else you want to answer that comes to mind

I really like to remember that God meets us where we are—for example, a name chosen without regard to the faith might end up being the name of a saint that one comes to have a devotion to later on (I wrote here about how sometimes patron saints find us—sometimes through names!). Name norms also vary depending on cultural considerations and points in history, which is important to remember. Also, regarding the strife I see in families and online discussions surrounding a baby’s name, a good rule of thumb for all concerned is to be kind and reasonable.

Also, please share your social media locations and where my readers can read you, whether it’s on your blog or any recurring features you run.

My blog is http://sanctanomina.net, where I post several times a week on whatever namey thing’s on my mind—questions from readers, name spotlights, birth announcements, random thoughts. I also do name consultations (info here), and post one every Monday for reader feedback, which are a lot of fun.

You can find me @SanctaNomina on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I also write a monthly column for CatholicMom.com (they can all be found here) and have had several pieces on Nameberry’s Berry Juice blog (all found here).

I have a couple of exciting things coming up: I’ll be on the Go Forth with Heather and Becky podcast, airing March 21—we’ll be discussing name ideas for Heather’s baby-on-the-way! Also, I contributed to the Catholic Hipster Handbook, compiled by Tommy Tighe (*the* Catholic Hipster) and published by Ave Maria Press, which will be available for pre-order this spring and released in the fall (2017). Here’s a little blurb about it: “Coming this Fall from Ave Maria Press, The Catholic Hipster Handbook is going to rock your world.  This book is going to cover everything about the Catholic Hipster life and features contributions from an amazing lineup  including Jeannie Gaffigan, Lisa Hendey, Arleen Spenceley, Anna Mitchell, Sarah Vabulas, and many more!” I’m thrilled to be included in an actual published book, and with such amazing people!

All in all, I’m humbled and honored at all that God’s allowed me to do with my funny little interest in names! Reading back over my answers, I see that I wrote, “I really love” quite a few times—I was going to try to change up the wording but it just expresses so exactly how I feel about the gift of my blog and my readers that I decided to keep it in.

Catholic Spirituality, deliverance, prayer, spiritual warfare

When the devil gets you down (and why Christians need to talk about him)

March 7, 2017

The most annoying thing about the Devil – aside from the “rebellion against God and all that is good and holy” part – is that, for the most part, he is invisible. His fingerprints are all over this broken and sin-wearied world, but it’s so cunning (“the most cunning of all the creatures,” it has been said) the way he arranges things so that he’s never the one you suspect, rarely the first one you’d point a finger at. He slips in and out of broken relationships and bloody conflicts all but invisible, even to followers of Christ. Maybe especially to followers of Christ, in this present moment in history, as talk of Satan and Hell has fallen off many an Christian denomination’s radars in our techno-centric age.

CS Lewis does a phenomenal job drawing some of his more sinister qualities out into the light in his masterpiece “The Screwtape Letters,” helping us poor, spiritually blind post-Enlightenment materialists see that one of the great illnesses of our age is our stubborn disbelief in anything that is immaterial. If it can’t be poked and prodded, we have a really hard time believing it’s actually there. (Except for gravity, which we’ve somehow resigned ourselves to.)

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”~C.S. Lewis

This is a super effective technique for a being who is spirit and not flesh, because it makes his job so much easier when we don’t actually believe he’s there. At all. Alternatively, we can find ourselves locked into a preoccupying fixation on seeing him everywhere. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground where he’s concerned.

Most of us, at least in the North American circles I run in, find ourselves squarely in Camp Materialist. If we can’t photograph it, measure it, take it’s temperature or squint at it under a microscope, it may as well not exist. And this is a very effective technique under which the Enemy can operate. I’ve found it to be true in my own life on almost a daily basis. And just around the time the fleeting thought “have I prayed yet today? Is there perhaps something spiritual going on with this hideously difficult day we are living out?” no sooner will the immediate “nope. Not possible. Stupid. You’re just tired/lazy/incompetent/disappointing/awful.” soundtrack start looping in my tired brain.

Whose words do those sound like, anyway?

One sure tell for me that it’s the Enemy I’m engaging with and not my own inner monologue or the Lord’s voice, is the tone.

Taunting. Mean spirited. Discouraging. I used to think – and maybe this is not an uncommon Catholic problem – that if something was hard or objectively painful, it must be God’s will for me. Maybe that’s a peculiarity of my choleric/melancholic temperament, but I think it’s also a flawed understanding of God’s mercy. So, for example, during my last semester in grad school I spent some time discerning a religious vocation; not out of generosity of spirit or any real desire for this particular path in life, but out of the dreadful fear that God must be calling me to it, because it filled me with so much anxiety and fear. Also, I’d just gotten dumped. #again.

But did you catch that? I thought that religious life might have been God’s will for me because it filled me with fear.

And where there is fear – where there is a lack of that perfect love which casts out all fear – the Enemy can sink his hooks in deep.

And boy did he. A group of Nashville Dominicans (love love love them!) were visiting a parish I attended when I first moved to Denver, and I volunteered to help them with the youth program they’d designed for the week. They invited me out to Sonic afterwards and as we licked our vanilla soft serve, they started grilling me on my vocational plans. My heart sank as my sad ice cream cone melted into chemical soup, because this must be it. The jig was up. I was going to have to become a nun. (Which would have been amazing if that was God’s will for me, btw.)

Filled with terror and anxiety, I tossed and turned in my bed later that night. I’d met my (future) husband exactly 2 weeks earlier and had gone on 2 perfect dates with him, and then these nuns (sisters, I now recognize the difference) show up and of course, of course, that would be God’s plan for me. To taunt me with this amazingly perfect guy and then bam! Nun-bush. 

Dave was (and remains) chill enough to field a frantic email from his freshly minted girlfriend the next morning that was probably written in all caps (actually, I just checked, because I still have the print out shoved in my Bible and there were many caps) that PROBABLY I WAS GOING TO HAVE TO DISCERN A MISERABLE RELIGIOUS VOCATION A LITTLE HARDER BECAUSE NUNS HAD BOUGHT ME ICE CREAM AND ASKED ME ABOUT MY FUTURE, AND GOD IS CRUEL LIKE THAT.

And he gently reminded me, using St. Ignatius’ advice for proper discernment, that when God acts on a soul He does so gently, and for that soul’s eventual good, while the Devil acts violently and uses fear and anxiety to turn that soul’s desire to do the good against him.

That stopped me in my tracks, because it revealed not only a terribly effective technique of the Enemy, but it also revealed a major plot hole in the romance that was God + Jenny: I didn’t actually trust Him.

I didn’t actually – not deep down, and not usually in the moments that mattered – believe that He had my best intentions at heart. I didn’t believe He wanted me to be happy. Holy, maybe, but not happy.

And isn’t that the oldest lie in the book. In the” Book, even? “He is holding out on you.”

So now when I hear that taunting tone of voice, that subtle suggestion that “maybe this really is the way things will always be for you” or “perhaps there isn’t anything more to hope for” or “a holier person than you – like her, yeah, right over there – would accept this and not struggle with it at all” I know that God isn’t about to be whispering lies to me in my ear, sowing discouragement and asking me to doubt and despair.

And I know what to do when I figure out who it is.

I don’t entertain dialogue with the Enemy any more. Not once I figure out it’s him. Just like it would be ludicrous to let someone come onto your social media page or into your living room and scream insults and threats at you, so too it is stupid to go rounds with the devil in the inner sanctum of your mind, letting him suggest to you who you really are, and what you’re really worth.

And if it sounds crazy to suggest that yes, the devil is so real that he can speak to us, can whisper just as surely now as he did back in Eden that maybe that’s a good idea – yeah, that, right there, grab hold of it. That monstrous lie. That sinful judgement. That hideously dark though – then Houston, we have a problem.

When Christians stop believing that there is an Enemy to be engaged, then where does that leave us in the spiritual battle we are waging for our very lives?

Don’t fall for it. Because it makes his job way too easy. (Don’t fall for the opposite temptation of being overly interested in him, either, because like good old Clive reminded us earlier, he can work that angle, too.)

Some of my favorite tactics for deflecting old red legs are as follows:

  • The Rosary. She crushed his head. He hates her and fears her more than any other creature in all of eternity. When you get Mary involved, she obliterates. Every time.
  • The St. Michael Prayer. I’ve been having a hell of a time with the small ones in Mass lately. A well-placed St. Michael prayer, uttered silently and fervently right around communion time when I’m getting head-butted in the nose and snotted on has been terrifically effective in helping me to keep my peace sufficiently so that I can actually, you know, receive communion not in a state of mortal sin.
  • Invoking the name of Jesus. Or a quick “Jesus, I trust in you.” His is the name above all names, and the Enemy has to flee from it.
  • Holy water and blessed salt.
  • Daily prayer in your home – personal prayer and family prayer. Pray a morning offering together as a couple. Include your kids – or don’t – but get it done in the out the door shuffle. Pray a decade of the Rosary out loud when everyone gets home from school. Even if they scream about it. Maybe especially if they scream about it. Sanctify the holy ground of your domestic church through regular, intentional prayer in your home.
  • Passive aggressive prayer (I made that up) but seriously, sweetly gritting my teeth and saying “oooookay, guess if I’m going to lie here freaking out about such and such or writhing with insomnia, I’m going to pray unceasingly for this person or that intention” has been surprisingly effective in dispatching the tormentor.

P.s. For any of you who are Sirius XM subscribers, I’m going to be talking more about this on the Jennifer Fulwilwer show tomorrow, March 8th at 2:30 pm EST.

Catholic Spirituality, deliverance, guest post, mental health, PPD, Suffering

Two Hearts for Healing counseling (and a special giveaway)

March 3, 2017

Today I’m honored to have my beautiful friend Karen share a little bit about the incredible work she is doing in the world of counseling and mental health. Karen and I have been dear friends since our FUS days, where we lived in a literal (former) crackhouse and, fun fact, her older brother, Fr. Bryan, witnessed our marriage. (Technically theologically incorrect to say he “married” us, so. #theologynerd.)

I pray that Karen’s words will be a gift to you all, and that you are able to take advantage of the generous giveaway she has offered to 20 of my awesome readers.


Hello to Jenny’s amazing readers! My name is Karen, and I am so honored to have the opportunity to share with you all some of what God has been putting on my heart. I am a licensed professional counselor by trade, but to put it more simply, I am someone who just has a burning desire to see people healed and living the abundant life Jesus promised to give us (John 10:10).   But before I jump into that, I wanted to just give you a little background about how I know Jenny.  🙂

Jenny and I have known each other now for about 10 years.  We first met when I was lucky enough to be her housemate while I was getting my MA in counseling at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Immediately, we connected and understood each other because we both had similar less-than-pious undergrad experiences and were longing for that deeper encounter with God that Franciscan seemed to provide.  Together we began a journey of faith and healing where our hearts and lives were completely transformed by the grace of God, and a life-long friendship was formed. We continue that journey together today, and that is honestly what brings me to write to you here.

God has given me a burning desire to bring healing in the lives of His children. For about as long as I can remember, I knew I wanted to be a counselor, but to completely honest, once I finished my Masters degree and began the actual work of counseling, I became very discouraged.

Despite all my desire, efforts and training, I was not seeing much real or lasting transformation or healing happening in the lives of my clients.  And what I came to realize after working for a few years in a community-based practice, was that not many of my colleagues were seeing much dramatic transformation – or even really even expecting it to happen – either.

The predominant expectation was just that symptoms could be “managed” well with counseling and medication. The problem was, I didn’t sign up to be a counselor in order to lead my clients to a life of “symptom management”.  Of course, I see the great value in learning coping skills and how to manage the emotional crises that are intrinsically part of the human experience, but deep in my heart, I knew that God had more to offer his children.  Since modern psychology has pretty much divorced itself from God, it’s not  surprising that healing wasn’t happening when the Author of all healing had been removed from the equation.

I decided to take a break from full-time counseling after having my first child in 2009. While I did take on a few part-time counseling jobs, none of the work really resonated in my soul because it still seemed to be more-or-less “symptom management,” but then in 2013, everything changed…

It was during this time that God allowed me to experience first-hand, for the first time, what so many of my clients had struggled  with.  Shortly after giving birth to my third child, I had my first major battle with depression.  It was a very strange experience for me of being “on the other side,” but it is exactly what led me to the work I am doing today.

Through my own experience, God led me to uncover the root causes of what I was feeling, and by the grace of God I received profound healing and transformation.  As I was facing my own struggle with self-worth, failure, rejection and abandonment, I was filled with this certain knowledge that God had the answer to these struggles, and that He truly wanted to heal me. Through prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I was introduced to a “new world” of counseling, led by the Holy Spirit, where the head meets the heart and deep healing truly happens.  I found a lasting freedom, rooted in Christ, and now I am on a mission now to share it with others.

I want to take a moment to elaborate here on one of the main things that sets this kind of Christ-centered, Holy Spirit-led counseling apart from the secular counseling experience. One of my biggest obstacles as a counselor in the past was that my clients typically had a huge disconnect between their heads and their hearts. Modern psychology talks on and on about the connections between one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors. You hear endless talk about how you need to change your thoughts in order to change your, feelings and then change your behaviors, and that is absolutely true. The reason many people are depressed and anxious is because they have anxious and depressed thoughts and beliefs, and IF you are able to help them change those anxious and depressed thoughts, they will feel better and make better decisions about their behavior.

But (and this is a big but), how does one “talk themselves into” believing the truth?

My clients would always confess that they knew intellectually that all the negative things they were believing about themselves were probably not true, but they didn’t know how to change those beliefs in their hearts.

No amount of positive self-talk about how wonderful and beautiful and special and worthy they were seemed able to penetrate their hearts and “take root” so that they could walk in true, lasting freedom.

This, my friends, is what I believe is the absolute work of the Holy Spirit. I (and any other counselor for that matter) can talk until I am blue-in-the face about the truth of someone’s identity, but only the Divine Counselor can actually make that truth take root in the heart, and it usually happens when God leads that person to the root wound where that lie about their identity first took hold.

This is the difference between what man can do and what God can do… Only God can read the heart and speak to its depths in a way that brings real and lasting change.  And this is what God is allowing me to lead others to through my practice. He has SO MUCH MORE for us than we can even imagine (Eph 3:20).

I want to say quickly here too that I am not at all disregarding the reality that there is a physiological component at work when it comes to mental health struggles. Science has proven that the neurotransmitters in our brains – like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine – all play a major roll in mood and emotions. I have witnessed the profound ways that medication has helped my clients, so I the last thing I want is for this to come off as a dismissal of the crucial advances of science in this area in the past 50 years. I definitely advocate for the use of medication when it is needed and helpful.

My main point, however, is to make the case for the Author of all healing, the Divine Counselor, who truly knows the causes for our heartache, and who I believe truly wants to bring healing and freedom to EVERY mental health struggle we face.  I have a very hard time believing that our loving Father determined that any person would struggle with something like depression or anxiety for a lifetime.  I believe these struggles are permitted in our lives to help point the way to the wound that needs be healed, in the same way that the pain in our leg points to the broken bone that needs be reset.

Without the pain focused in a certain place, we wouldn’t know where or how something needed to be healed.  

I believe with all my heart that God wants ALL of His children to walk in freedom. Every one of us.

So many people are walking around in prisons of fear, sadness, and shame; and when they look around at someone else who doesn’t seem to have those struggles (hello, curse of social media!), they believe a LIE that God just doesn’t have a plan for their happiness.

It’s as if people believe that God has a good and joy-filled life for some people, and a difficult and miserable existence for others. But this is not the truth. He wants to grant the gift of his joy and peace to all of his children (John 14:27; 15:11), but the effects of sin in our world have stolen this gift from so many people today.

But the GOOD NEWS is that Jesus died on the cross to grant us the restoration and freedom that we so deeply long for! In the next life, yes, but also in this life.

He longs to grant us this healing so that we can become WHOLE – the person He had in mind for us to be when He first created us – before sin took hold and wreaked havoc in our lives.

It is the pursuit of this WHOLENESS that is the key to the truly HOLY life that we are each called to lead.

So, my prayer for you is that if you find yourself struggling in a certain area of your life, whether or not that carries a clinical diagnosis (maybe you struggle with anger or self-worth or any number of other issues), I pray that instead of beating yourself up about your struggles, you instead turn to God and ask him to shed light on those areas in need of healing in your heart so that you can continue to persevere in JOY and PEACE on the path of sanctity.

Peace I leave with you, My own peace I give to you; a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled or afraid. John 14:27

Karen has generously offered a free 30 minute introductory virtual counseling session (via Skype, FaceTime, or by phone) to the first 20 readers who contact her at [email protected] mention this post.

Connect with Karen on Facebook and visit her online at www.twoheartscounselingandhealing.com.

Catholic Spirituality, Family Life, Lent, liturgical living, prayer

Into the desert that is your actual life

February 28, 2017

Lent is upon us. A cursory social media scroll reveals the imminence of this penitential season, even as the shamrocks and easter eggs lining my supermarket shelves insist otherwise. “Nothing to see here, grab an armful of those 70% off valentines and gear up for the next holiday buying cycle.” (this is not a commentary on those wise parents who stock up ahead of time, or even a year in advance. You are smart people. This is merely a cynical eye roll at the frenetic urgings that YOU NEED TO THINK ABOUT THIS NEXT ESSENTIAL THING RIGHT NOW c/o the mass retailers of the world. Get behind me, easter bunny. Your day will come.)

Anyway, Lent. I have my ideas, and I’ve heard my people’s ideas via an informal roundtable discussion at the dinner table last weekend, during which certain members were not fully clothed and other members were hysterical. I will leave the specifics to the imagination.

I decided to spring for a princely portion of humility by querying the children as to what mommy’s good practice taken up (with the intent of continuing on beyond Lent) ought to be, and imagine my delight when 3 out of 4 (the dissenter being nonverbal-ish) unanimously ratified the motion that I “stop yelling all the time” with mere moments of deliberation. Would that the Supreme Court could achieve such concise unity.

I read something great last week about how as parents, we are our children’s spiritual directors, and so I figured it would be a good practice to encourage my directees to make some recommendations of their own for me, for transparency’s sake. I was not wrong.

Imagine my surprise, though, when my much-holier-than-me husband (not even a slight hint of sarcasm there, as anyone who knows Dave irl can attest to) remarked during our powwow that he wasn’t adding anything for Lent, because his – our – present circumstances are plenty penitential as is. And better to lean into that suffering and bear it well than to pile on top of it.

My choleric list making side was indignant, because what is Lent for – I mean, aside from the Church’s proscribed prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – if not embarking on ambitious purgatorial self improvement strategies?

I’m being only a little facetious. My understanding of Lent has graduated ever so slightly from liturgically-observant weight loss program so something, most years, a little more focused on Him and a little less focused on what’s in it for me.

But only just.

As I sat with Dave’s declaration rolling around in my brain later that evening, I realized how much wisdom and holiness it contained. There is some real merit to the idea of leaning into the sufferings already present in your life, whether it be a difficult season – and maybe a long one – in your marriage, a sick child, a defiant toddler, a sleepless newborn, a move, an illness, a loss, a frustrating “no” when yes was so desperately sought after… And maybe in leaning into that suffering of the life that God has actually given you, not the life you’re praying and longing for, but the life you’re living in this moment, there would be abundant grace not only to bear it, but to bear it with the potential for great fruitfulness.

I can definitely make time for more spiritual reading and less social media scrolling during these next 40 days. And I can stop yelling at my kids. And that one? That is a worthy and appropriate resolution because, yeah, I have 4 kids ages 6 and under. Very few people sleep all the hours all the nights, and diapers and pull-ups still abound. There are messes and chaos and endless cries for needs that I routinely fail to meet with charity, without grumbling, without resenting and seething and mentally counting down the hours till bedtime. And maybe in leaning into those long, hard afternoons, I can offer the Lord a more pleasing sacrifice than forgoing chocolate or coffee or the occasional nightcap.

So I guess this is the least inspiring and least proscriptive Lent-post ever. Because we are in a hard season – not the hardest, but one that stretches and pulls and wearies – and I know that a dozen tiny fiats to another load of laundry, another meal prepared, another moving box packed, another bag of trash to carry out, another hour spent reading bedtime stories and rubbing backs when I want to be watching an episode of something or reading my own book – I know that those are the gold nuggets in the mine of motherhood where I currently labor.

So that’s my Lenten plan. Stop complaining about everything, even interiorly. Especially interiorly?

Because they aren’t going to sleep reliably. Somebody is always sick – this week, it’s me. There will always be an unexpected bill, an unforeseen scheduling conflict, a frustrating door slamming shut, a toy room wrecked and a minivan wrecked-er. And God knows that. Gosh, it’s almost like He custom tailored it just for me. So Lord, here’s to a Lent of Your design and not my own.

That being said, I do have a couple external aids in place, should the REM cycles align and allow me some free time in the evenings or early mornings.

I had the chance to review an advance copy of this book by Heidi Hess Saxton on the spirituality of Mother Teresa, and I really, really love it. I normally don’t prefer books of the “day-by-day” variety, but maybe because Mama T is so rich in profound simplicity, these little readings stand on their own, and I find myself returning to them throughout the day, and skipping defiantly ahead to the next day. I am hoping to go back and read it day by day during Lent, as it was designed, probably first thing in the morning, maybe even before coffee because that seems like a super MC move.

I also preordered the gorgeous Blessed Is She Lenten journal “Put on Love” and am dying to get into it, and have in fact given myself absolution from writing in my normal journal at all during Lent to try to drive my own mental traffic there. (I pretty much have to be exclusive with one journal at a time, which is why prayer journals usually fail me, but this one is so beautiful and the layout is so good that I think I can do it.)

I just happened to have this succulent lying around to incorporate into this otherwise completely natural and unstaged photo.

What are your plans for Lent this year?

What are the Lord’s plans for your Lent, this year?

If they’re already synched up, then you’re golden. If this post threw you for a loop like Dave’s pronouncement did for me the other night, well, then you’ve got a solid day or so to better align the two. Good luck.

Abortion, Bioethics, Culture of Death, NFP, planned parenthood, politics, Women's Health, Women's Rights

Defund Planned Parenthood and Give Women Real Power

February 27, 2017

Today we interrupt this little blogging sabbatical to bring you a guest piece from Janet Garcia, a smart, tough-minded nurse and mom of two, who has seen from the front lines the cost of our all-in cultural infatuation with Planned Parenthood and all that it entails. I hope you’ll pour yourself a cup and give her words a thoughtful read. She’ll be over on the Mama Needs Coffee Facebook page moderating the civil, respectful discussion that I invite you to participate in.


Last month, Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) introduced the “Protect Funding for Women’s Health Care Act” to the United States Senate. The bill would transfer federal funding from Planned Parenthood to other women’s health centers that do not provide abortion services. And, just a few weeks ago, the House of Representatives got rid of an Obama-era regulation which didn’t allow states to pull their funding from Planned Parenthood, allowing them to defund Planned Parenthood individually if they so choose. This movement to defund Planned Parenthood across our current Congress is in alignment with the views of most Americans: a poll released last month by Susan B. Anthony List revealed that most Americans are in favor of defunding the abortion provider, 56% in favor to 40% opposed.

Additionally, on February 11th, rallies advocating for removing federal funding occurred at over 200 Planned Parenthood locations across the US.

Sens. Ernst and Lankford’s bill needs to become law in the United States, and Planned Parenthood must lose its federal funding due to the organization’s involvement in several different ethical scandals and the way that our tax dollars are continuing to fuel the cycle of incomplete, or even incorrect, sexual education of our young people.

In case there was any doubt about this Administration and sitting Congress’s need to pass legislation such as this, recently LiveAction, the non-profit organization led by pro-life pioneer Lila Rose, uncovered yet another scandal involving Planned Parenthood. This time, the abortion giant’s utilization of “quotas” for abortion services within their clinics was brought into the light. (http://liveaction.org/abortioncorporation/ ) Employees or clinics who meet or exceed these numbers have been rewarded with perks such as “pizza parties.” And yet, the Democratic Party that has insisted for years that they want abortion to be “safe, legal and rare,” claims that we would be doing a great disservice to the women of our great country by taking away federal funds from Planned Parenthood.

The disconnect between what these politicians claim they desire for America and how, in reality, our tax dollars are being utilized by Planned Parenthood is staggering. Furthermore, last year, thanks to the Center for Medical Progress and David Daleiden, we also know that Planned Parenthood clinics across several states were involved in the trafficking of infant body parts.

We have in America today a profound disconnect between what politicians claim to want regarding funding for women’s health care, and how this end is ultimately being carried out.

Practically speaking, Planned Parenthood is directly responsible for a large portion of the sexual education received by recent generations. Young women today who have been brought up on the sexual education of our public school systems, oftentimes provided by Planned Parenthood and its affiliates, are seriously lacking in a basic understanding of how their bodies actually work.

They are unaware of the potentially abortifacient effects of hormonal contraceptives.

They are unaware that hormonal contraceptives can cause several forms of cancer, as well as dangerous, or deadly, blood clots.

They are unaware that there are times in a women’s cycle when she can become pregnant and times when it is literally impossible for pregnancy to occur.

Planned Parenthood is feeding our youth with the lies of unrestricted, consequence-free sex, and then when this isn’t what these young women experience and they become pregnant, Planned Parenthood is there to offer their abortion services and perpetuate the cycle.

As a registered nurse, I have had the privilege of bringing education and truth to the minds and hearts of teenage and young adult women about the beauty and the truth of their natural fertility, and the option of Natural Family Planning (NFP). I have seen the shock on their faces as they are told the truth of their own fertility as well the disgust, when they learn about the dangers of the contraceptives they have been told, by the likes of Melinda Gates, are a necessity for their success as modern women.

The same case must be made in defense of our international sisters around the globe. The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) decried President Trump reinstating the Mexico City Policy – something every recent GOP president has done within days of taking office – limiting funds to organizations that provide abortion services. IPPF, along with The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are champions of providing hormonal contraceptives and abortion access to third world countries around the world, in the name of bringing them out of poverty. Nevertheless, these dangerous hormonal contraceptives carry the same concerns around the globe as they do in the US. HIV/AIDS, various forms of cancer, and embolisms are all very real consequences of using contraceptives for these impoverished women.

These women, with less education and very little information at their fingertips, are at an even greater disadvantage and are more likely to be forced or coerced into contracepting and abortion as well, without any sort of “informed consent.”

We need not look any further than the recent “One Child Policy” of China to know that Pope Paul VI was chillingly accurate when he predicted in Humane Vitae that contraceptives would become a, “dangerous weapon… in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies.”

Is this kind of coercion the empowerment that modern day feminists want for themselves and their sisters around the globe?

So, where does this lead us? Obviously, women both here and abroad, deserve comprehensive sexual healthcare and education. If Planned Parenthood loses federal funding, there will be a hole left by the lack of their services. The most wonderful result of defunding Planned Parenthood will of course be the precious unborn lives that will be saved, by eliminating our tax dollars from the largest abortion provider in the US. However, I am hoping for a secondary consequence that will be the responsibility of the Women’s Health Centers, and in reality all of us who are advocating for defunding Planned Parenthood.

Mainstream, liberal, feminism claims to want female empowerment. One of the main principles of the recent Women’s March was “reproductive rights,” under which they ask for “medically accurate sexuality education.” These women claim that Planned Parenthood is a major champion in providing this sexual education; one need not look any further than Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s chic pink scarf to know how infatuated they are with Cecile Richards and her clinics. However, I would like to ask these women if their healthcare providers at Planned Parenthood ever gave them true informed consent regarding their artificial contraceptives: including the risks, alternatives and how exactly these hormones or devices work inside their bodies. I would like to ask them, “Has your healthcare provider explained to you the risk of very early-term abortions which are inherent to nearly all hormonal contraceptives?”

Of course, a portion of women will be unaffected by this information, however, what about those women who believe that when their unborn child’s whole genetic code is determined at the moment of conception, that the child is worthy of protection? Do these women not deserve “medically accurate sexuality education?”

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when women were not given a “seat at the table” or a place in the ballot box; we were not given information, so as to not burden us with it. If we are not teaching women the full truth about contraceptives and fertility, are we really so much better off than we were?

Women’s Health Centers need to become places where women can be educated about their fertility and its awesomeness. Of course, I know it is naïve to believe that a large portion of American women will become users of NFP as the result of the defunding of Planned Parenthood, however, my hope is that more women will be able to see the beauty in their fertility and feel empowered to make a truly informed choice, with complete education and understanding.

Because if our goal is to empower women, we need to explore ways to educate minds and sustain health. NFP can not only assist with preventing or delaying pregnancy, it can also help to achieve and sustain pregnancy through facilitating targeted hormone support ( http://time.com/4629589/miscarriage-progesterone-pregnancy/ )and identifying hormonal or dietary insufficiencies, among other things. Personally, I learned NFP while engaged to be married. Through charting my cycles, I was diagnosed with both hypothyroidism and low progesterone in the luteal phase. Both of these diagnoses carry with them a risk of infertility and miscarriage. I was able to reach maximum wellness in these areas through practicing NFP and do what I could to minimize these risks; how is that for female empowerment?!

All feminists, rightly so, demand that women have equal standing with men in our society. If knowledge is power, I hope that Women’s Health Centers will step up to the plate and help women reach this new level of true empowerment that Planned Parenthood has failed to provide for generations.

 

Janet Garcia, RN, BSN, is a “retired” registered nurse turned SAHM. During her nursing career she cared for extremely premature infants, patients on hospice and every beautiful soul in between. She enjoys sharing the truth of honest femininity, defending the most misunderstood teachings of the Church, being a political news junkie and binge watching The West Wing and Fixer Upper with her husband. Janet lives in northern Minnesota with her husband and two young children. 
Find her on Instagram and Twitter.