Catholic Spirituality, liturgical living, Marriage, motherhood

Silver linings of a small budget Christmas

December 7, 2016

All around us there is a rushing, frenetic, pulsing energy that seems to gather steam as the weekends roll by. In kid-time, 3.5 weeks out from Christmas is basically an eternity, still. In parent-time, however, it might as well be December 23rd.

Last night I cooked dinner in my beloved cast iron skillet, now the single pan I own. The other two were finally scrapped the week of Thanksgiving in a perhaps ill-considered fit of sadominimalism. (n. the practice of getting rid of something that is objectively awful, ill-fitting, or broken only to find that actually, you were kind of stuck with it until you replaced it.) I had to time things so that I could cook both the sweet potatoes and the salmon cakes (would you believe my pickiest eaters will gobble these happily, with ketchup? Cheap, too.) since both wanted a pan. I suppose I could have roasted the sweet potatoes in the oven, were the oven still performing its required domestic duties.

I told Dave later that evening that I felt very Ma Ingalls about the whole thing, cooking my dinner over an open fire electric range (thankfully still functional) in a single pan, taking 35 minutes to accomplish what could have been done in 10.

The thing is, we’re extraordinarily wealthy by almost any measure. We have a house with 4 toilets in it, which makes us literally royalty according to some cultural standards. I know this because last week I spent 20 minutes at a cell phone recycling kiosk recycling some of my growing collection of outdated smartphones for pennies on the dollar, and was forced to enjoy such mental stimulation flashing across the screen as “did you know more people in the world own a smartphone than have a toilet?” to which I had to confess, no. No I did not.

And the reason we’re having a tighter than usual end to the fiscal year in the first place is precisely because we purchased a toilet-encrusted castle of our very own, which is an extravagant privilege in and of itself. Broken ovens, leaking showers, rotted sheetrock, and all.

I’ve felt a little frustration watching the contents of my Amazon cart appreciate in value, waiting for a forthcoming payday to be liberated, but surprisingly, I think it’s helped keep the focus on Advent laser sharp. Removing the possibility of getting all the shopping done ahead of time or throwing in last minute impulse buys has been a freeing mental experience. And in lieu of expensive outings and dinners out, we’re having simpler, slower nights at home. Candles, books, board games, Netflix episodes. I don’t want to give the false impression it was all bottle service and velvet ropes in years past, but certainly, life is different now. Fuller in some ways, leaner in others.

advent candles

The leanness has filled out Advent beautifully, though. Because I’m such a planner and anticipator by nature, it has been a hard stop for the cycle of buying, wrapping, hiding, preparing, impulsing, indulging, etc. etc. And I guess I’m grateful for that. Last night I slipped away at bedtime (St. David of Denver: coming soon to a liturgy near you in 2087) and ended up dropping by our parish’s perpetual adoration chapel for a half hour. The snow was just starting to flurry around the darkened windows but the chapel was warm and bathed in light, heated by the radiators and a half dozen or so of my fellow parishioners. As I was walking to my car I dug around for my keys and counted out the quarters in the bottom of my purse, collecting enough for a hot chocolate from the coffee shop on the way home. A luxury! And I don’t know that I would have seen it that way a year or two ago.

We’re incredibly blessed, even in tighter financial times. And praise God the times are tight because of blessings, not because of the burden of a job lost, a medical battle fought, or a relationship broken. But the tightness is showing me areas of real flab that were kind of perpetually being glossed over or taken for granted as “normal,” when in fact it isn’t normal to be so frantic, so caught up in planning and executing and getting it just right (and on time) that the holidays go off without a hitch.

christmas mantle

We don’t do Christmas. Christmas comes to us, whether we’re ready or not. Whether we bought a single gift, or have to work an overnight shift, or can’t imagine facing the day alone without the person whose absence is a gaping hole in our heart. Whether our kids are getting 4 presents based on a rhyme we saw on Pinterest, or 42 because their grandparents all live out of state and have a Fisher Price addiction. Or no presents at all, but maybe an extra nice dinner with enough for everyone to have seconds, because that’s what’s realistic this year, and thank God there’s enough.

And maybe Christmas comes and there isn’t enough. Maybe it doesn’t wrap up poetically like a Dicken’s novel or a Hallmark movie, and there are still broken hearts and empty cupboards, or a pile of wrapping paper mounted to the ceiling but cold, cheerless revelers dissatisfied with their loot.

He comes to us at Christmas. Whether we are ready to receive Him or not. Whether we’re open or not. Whether we’re tired or busy or angry or broken or deaf to His newborn cries. He comes. And for the next 3 and a half weeks, I can choose to focus on that imminent deadline and continually redirect my distractible nature to the reality of the season. He is coming. Gifts are great and giving is beautiful, but gifts are periphery to the bigger event at hand: He is coming. I forgot to buy something for my son’s teacher and I need a Starbucks gift card. He is coming. We haven’t bought a tree yet. He is coming. I haven’t been to Confession in X months. He is coming. We can’t swing the plane tickets to visit X in X. He is coming.

There is still time to prepare. There is time to do what is essential. And when the essentials are covered, the peripheral seems to fall more gracefully into place. I have to constantly remind myself of this. That my sweet, round-faced children will neither know nor care (thankfully, still so true at tender ages) whether they get the hottest new toys or have an impeccably decorated house to relax in wearing coordinating Christmas outfits. They squealed with delight over their Dollar Tree ornaments and the candy canes they found in their shoes yesterday morning. They fight over who gets to light the advent candle every night at dinnertime. It is enough. It is enough. It is more than enough.

christmas manger

And if I can present to them a well-prepared and spiritually nourished mother come Christmas morning, how much more powerful will their experience of the deep, true meaning of Christmas be?

But, you know, no pressure.

(Also, let this be a lesson to us all to temper our KonMari-ing to a reasonable pace, lest you too end up with salmon-scented sweet potatoes.)


Catholic Spirituality, Culture of Death, Evangelization, Homosexuality, JPII, relativism

Conform or be destroyed {but be not afraid}

December 2, 2016

No matter your political stripe, ethnicity, religion, or sexual proclivities, this one should concern you.

It’s the story of a family. Of a couple who have built an empire together, and whose concepts and innovation have almost single-handedly spurred the revitalization of a local economy and an entire community.

And their kids are pretty cute, too.

I’m talking, of course, about HGTV’s darling it-couple of the moment, Chip and Joanna Gaines, and of their wildly popular show “Fixer Upper” and the Magnolia empire behind it.

Their show, if you are unfamiliar with it, centers around showing prospective home buyers “the worst homes in the best neighborhoods” around Waco, Texas, before deciding on one crumbling property which they renovate and redesign on camera with a dramatic “reveal” at the episode’s end. The show is entertaining because while everything about reality tv is carefully scripted, the real star of their concept is their goofy, sweet, mutually respectful and supremely attractive marriage.

They like each other. They like each other a lot, it would appear, from the viewer’s perspective. And they like their children, and they like the life they’ve built together. There is friendly banter, there is teasing, there are eye rolls and sighs of exasperation, but there is no harsh cynicism. No passive aggression. No threats of divorce of ultimatums about behavior “or else.”

It’s just so refreshing.

The thing is, I think it’s as refreshing as it is because it’s real. I think they really do like each other as much as they play on TV. And it’s a beautiful witness to the joy of marriage.

Which is probably the precise reason they were targeted by a bigoted Buzzfeed writer with an anti-Christian axe to grind and a platform from which, she decided, was hers to lob grenades at unsuspecting victims from. Victims whose only crime, as far as I can decipher, is to hold a differing belief system from hers. And to hold it privately.

So basically tolerance in action.

The story gets a little weirder, though. Because the writer in question didn’t have a personal complaint about the Gainses themselves, but about the church they attend, and specifically about something their pastor preached in a sermon.

It’s pretty crazy what he said, though.

He said that God created men and women. And he quoted this radical text from antiquity called “the Book of Genesis.”

I know. Lock that guy up.

Here’s the thing. We live in a time of supposed plurality of beliefs, but some beliefs are more “free” than others. We give lip service to the concept of diversity, but the only diversity that is truly acceptable is narrowly defined and usually trending on Twitter.

Because the Gaines family attends a church that holds a biblical perspective on marriage (in line with the majority of Evangelical Christianity and the entire Roman Catholic Church, so not exactly a fringe-y minority), they are automatically cast as bigots. Excoriated for not vetting the guests on their show for their sexual behavior. Dragged into a career and life-altering witch hunt because a woman with a microphone can’t stand the idea that not everybody shares her belief system.

The Gaines family are probably hurting right now, but I very much doubt they are surprised. To be a Christian is to be a sign of contradiction in a confused and sometimes darkening world. And none of us are going to get out of it with our reputations or our egos intact. Which is a good thing. It really is!

What the Gaines family could use, however, from their fellow Christians is support. Vocal, enthusiastic support. Write a friendly message on one of their social media accounts (Unrelated: Chip retweeted Papa Francesco earlier this week.)Say a prayer for them. Drop HGTV an email saying how much you enjoy their show, or if you’ve never seen it, tune in for an episode this weekend and enjoy.

Hatred, bullying tactics and public lynchings are as old as the human race. In the era of the internet, the megaphone is bigger and the stakes are higher, perhaps, in terms of public notoriety and the heat being turned up, but in a week or two the news cycle with move on to a new victim, and they’ll be left to pick up the pieces and decide if it’s worth it to them as a family to continue to tell their story publicly.

I hope they do. But I completely understand if they don’t.

The stakes have ever been high to proclaim belief in anything, but particularly to proclaim belief in the One who made all things. Because the moment you stake your claim for Christ, you become an enemy to the world that “will hate you because it first hated Me.” We who dwell in reality, living in the world as it actually is, dwell in a place marred and scarred by actual sin. Sin, which in our time is a bigoted concept in itself (look for that storyline to play out in the not-so-distant future, coming soon to a headline near you) has actual consequences. Like pain. Division. Violence. Loss of friendships and reputation. Suffering.

But sin does not have the final word in this story. Not in the Gaineses story, and not necessarily in the angry Buzzfeed writer’s story, either. Wouldn’t it be a cool footnote in the annals of internet scandal one day to read that all this craziness ended in forgiveness and maybe even a change of heart?

Wilder things have happened.

In the meantime, do not be cowed into silence or surrender by the angry rhetoric or the public fallout being heaped upon this family. They are suffering, but they are suffering for Christ. And He can make something beautiful out of that. To be Christian is to suffer. Not because of a lack of love, but because of an abundance of it. Look to the cross.

And do not be afraid of what the world can do to you or take from you. The world took everything from Christ first, after all. And that ended rather well.

And seriously, pour yourself a peppermint mocha and get your shiplap on this weekend. A good family doing good work could use your support.

“When freedom does not have a purpose, when it does not wish to know anything about the rule of law engraved in the hearts of men and women, when it does not listen to the voice of conscience, it turns against humanity and society.” – JPII, State visit to Netherlands, 1985.


About Me, Catholic Spirituality, mindfulness, social media

Connected to what’s real

November 30, 2016

Lately when I sit down to write, it feels a little stilted. Things feel a little off. I don’t feel quite up to the task of writing instructive, catechetical stuff right now. When I get questions about why the Catholic Church teaches this or that, or what to say when confronted with such and such pressing social issue, I sigh and close my inbox and want to answer that person in person, looking into their eyes over a cup of coffee, having a conversation.

As I’ve pulled back more and more from social media, my tolerance for human interaction has increased in a manner that this sleep-deprived introvert finds a little bit shocking. Even scandalous. Like, what have I been doing with my time these past years, that I would hide away from my neighbors and let phone calls go straight to voicemail, so anxious was I for solitude.

But it wasn’t actual solitude I was usually practicing, hunkered down in the trenches of early motherhood and round the clock feedings.

I was always connected.

Always one more click, one more scroll, one more follow. I was exhausting my entire capacity for social interaction in a way that is – if I’m being honest – social in name only. And in the practice of consuming social media, I think it was consuming me.

Do you know the feeling I’m talking about? That dazed, eyes-burning startle of guilt and confusion over the clock now reading 10:39 pm, and you were just going to log on “for a quick second.” And that was around 9:30. You don’t feel any more satisfied or any more connected, necessarily, but you might be mentally cursing your fate of now fewer than 8 hours of sleep because of one happy little rooster who will not be put off past 6 am.

I’ve missed some life events and birthdays and milestones this past couple months of ignorant bliss, but nothing so big that it couldn’t be rectified with a phone call or a personal inquiry. And the things that I truly dropped the ball on? What kind of a friendship requires digital notifications to maintain? Busy as we all are, that’s not a real relationship, in all honesty.

I’m not condemning social media or the use of it. I’m just processing and exploring what it means to me and what being unconnected now means for me. About how my brain is quieter. And in that sometimes uncomfortable quiet, there is room.

That’s the biggest difference. The busy, over-connected and always-scanning brain (mine, anyway) was noisy. Statuses I’d read, articles I’d consumed, videos I’d watched, updates I’d taken notice of. Images I’d seen and liked and assimilated into my interior landscape.

What we put into our bodies matters. I can hardly hope to eat burritos 3 times a day and avoid looking like one, however much I desire (and truly, I pine) for that not to be the case. What we put into our souls, the same. “Whatever is true, whatever is good, whatever is beautiful.” Should it come as a surprise that what we take in through our eyes matter, also? The words we read, the images we consume, the entertainment that captivates so much of the day and so much of my internal space.

I guess I’d been keeping pace with technology and consuming a moderate amount, by most standards, gradually accumulating accounts on the newer platforms and using the apps and basically just the norms of the culture around me. Without stopping to consider, truly, is this good for me? Is this healthy? Is this sustainable? 

But everybody is on Facebook. Everybody shares their lives on social media. Jenny, you are a blogger.

Yes. This is a confusing and not entirely clean-cut knot I find myself trying to untangle.

But is the ambient culture an effective litmus for what is good for the human person? Is it a good standard against which my happiness can be measured?

I don’t think it is.

I see more and more time being spent online (she types on her blog) and increasing social and emotional estrangement in real life. I see sadness and unrest and such a hunger for real connection and so much loneliness. We live with such a poverty of love. And social media has the potential to alleviate that poverty in the right doses and used in the right ways. But overall, when I asses my own usage of it and my endless appetite for more!clicks! I have to be honest with myself and admit that 90% of the time, I am not being enriched by it. And not just in a “you could be using your time better” sense, but on a deeper level.

I am not enriched by the hours I spend distracted and separate from my actual life.

I would venture to say that you are not, either.

And oh, I say this with so much compassion, so much trepidation, so much awareness that for many, many people, community is few and far between, whether by limitations that are geographic or stage-in-life or shared belief in nature. I remember myself in that little 2 bedroom apartment in Rome, looking out the balcony window at the majestic rise of the Dome of St. Peter’s with hot, homesick tears running down my cheeks while my small babies napped in the room next door. That was a season of Skype and this computer was like a portal to another world, one where I had friends who loved me and family who knew me.

But I did miss out on a lot that year, too. If I could go back and do it again, in hindsight, I wonder, would I have made the trek over to the Borgo to see my friend Susana more frequently? Would I have braved the trundling city bus – stroller and all – to go see JoAnn at the U of M campus across town? Maybe I would have hosted that ill-fated American moms meet up at my apartment more than one single time. Perhaps I’d have taken the trek down river to Trastevere and spent more mornings with Kristi on that really surprisingly nice playground, cappuccino in hand.

Or maybe not. But I like to think that if I’d had more emotional reserves in the ‘ol tank or could have known how truly fleeting that season was, that it could have been different.

That’s the thing about hindsight, though. It’s only ever an exercise in imagination. And it can’t undo what was.

But now, in this time and in this season, I can apply that exercise in imagination and allow it to inform the choices and allocations of time and energy that are being made daily. And I’m finding more and more that I’m picking up the phone, not to scroll or to distract, but to call someone or send a text. I’m walking over to the fence and talking to my neighbor. I’m sitting in the silence of the post-bedtime hurricane, surveying the damage of the living room and feeling the tug towards a screen, but choosing often to forgo another episode of such and such, to plug in the phone for the night and walk away.

I can’t say that those nights are particularly exciting, or even productive, but there is a peaceful stillness to the way a brain naturally shuts down, maybe after a bath or a half hour with a book or a newspaper. Or maybe just in quiet, companionable silence mingled with conversation with my husband.

I don’t want to miss my life because I’m trying to escape from it. I want to lean into the hard, boring, painful parts and find out what He has for me there. Or I want to curl into a ball and cry out to Him that I can’t handle the pain, that I need Him to fix it, to answer me.

But I don’t want to be distracted from it. That’s not good enough any more.

Entertained sometimes? Sure. I still want that. But want to be the one to make that call.

I don’t want my default setting to be “numb, zoned, consumed, detached.” I’m too aware of the sharp pains and pleasures now of real life, and that every minute I spend disconnected from it is a gradual atrophy of the muscles I need in order to stay in the present when the going gets tough. Motherhood is hard enough when I’m not handicapping myself by training my attention span back down to that of my very sanguine 6-year-old’s. Distraction is a poor master but a good occasional servant. I don’t need to constantly employ it in the checkout line or the car. Or when I’m in pain and tempted to turn away from real life.

It’s not cut and dry, and I’m not disavowing technology or digital engagement. But there is peace and clarity in pulling back, in assessing and evaluating and making conscious and intentional decisions about how this short time on earth is spent, and what it is spent on.

Sometimes I’ve joked in the past that I’m going to have to answer to God one day for every hour spent on Facebook. And while it was said tongue in cheek, that’s actually a terrifying prospect. Not that I used social media, per se, but how much time was spent there, and doing what.

The tools are neutral. Our actions with them are not. I don’t want to get busted having buried the talent.

Not because of any servile fear of God, but because what a waste. I wonder, when I think about Mother Teresa’s now-famed schedule, would she have found time to build a platform and grow a brand and get the MCs online, even if it would have been great for their fundraising efforts?

And I do sincerely wonder this. We have few saints to pattern our behavior after in this new digital frontier. I have a hunch that she’d probably err on the side of social media minimalism, just because she had such insight into matters of the heart. She’s a good saint, I think, to petition for prayers in this landscape of human loneliness and discontent. I think she would be happy to become a sort of patroness against isolation and loneliness. I think she’d like that a lot.


Catholic Spirituality, Family Life, feast days

A Simple Advent Plan

November 27, 2016

And I do mean simple. In years past I’ve delved deep into the Church’s liturgical traditions and a mish mash of my own childhood to begin piecing together what our little family’s observation of the season would look like. Last year I even hosted an Advent series detailing other families’ traditions. It was awesome.

This year I have no tiny baby. I am not 10000 weeks pregnant, or pregnant at all, in fact. My kids, at 1, nearly 3, 4 and 6 are mostly sleeping through the night. And I am still tired.

It’s not the same kind of tired, but it’s of a quality that has me slowing down and looking for ways to scale back. To relax into the small t traditions of our own family, to discard what hasn’t worked in the past, and to adopt practices that will be truly helpful this year, in 2016.

It has been a long, hard year. I think the Year of Mercy was aptly named and excruciatingly effective. I know countless people for whom this has been true. Now that it has drawn to a close and we’re on the threshold of a fresh liturgical year, today in fact, it seems like the right moment to exhale deeply, to look around and see what might be simplified, and what might simply be superfluous, and to show it to the door.

This afternoon I spent some time decluttering our kitchen and living room. I loaded two large trash bags with unused dishes, unwanted vases, mismatched plates and too small snow boots. I know friends who could use some of this. I know the thrift store down the road could use the rest. Might I someday regret not having saved a pair of girl’s snow boots, size 4, should God send another daughter and should she be that size come wintertime?

Perhaps. But I doubt it. I doubt that holding onto the excess – even if it isn’t excessive by any stretch of the imagination – will bring me more peace, or bring more beauty to our small home.

I find myself craving silence, both visual and auditory. We played Christmas music on Thanksgiving day and it was warm and wonderful. And now we’re waiting until those big feast days in December to turn Kosi 101 back on when we’re driving. My James Taylor holiday playlist is sidelined. Not because it’s morally wrong to listen to Christmas tunes in Advent. But because I don’t have the stamina to carry that football from November through mid January. And every year I tell myself “this year we’ll celebrate all 12 days of Christmas. I won’t kick the tree to the curb on December 27th.” And every year I fail. Because I really don’t have the stamina for it. I’m not my sanguine 6 year old son, whom we’ve actually nicknamed Kringle, who gins up enthusiasm for Christmas lights come Labor Day. And since it largely rests on me to set the liturgical tone in our home, I’ve gotta do what works.

So limited Christmas music before the big day. St. Nicholas Day (Dec 6) for sure will see me cranking the Pentatonix. And the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec 8) will be bumping, too. And Our Lady of Guadalupe on the 12th. And St. Lucy’s on the 13th. And, and…there’s no lack of feast days in December. The Church is good to her children like that.

In addition to shunning the tunes, I’m going to try to keep to a strict grocery budget these next 4 weeks, planning simple meals and resisting the temptation to stop for Chipotle or run through Chicfila. It will help our bottom line and waistlines, and it sets a more subdued tone for what is a season of sober preparation, if not penance. The readings from Mass today were sober, somber, and warning. If the master knew the hour the thief would come, he would be prepared. So too must we prepare for His coming – as a little baby, and at the end of time in glory, and in each of our lives at the moment of our own deaths. Forcing myself to plan and execute dinners that don’t involve ripping open a back of tortilla chips is a level 1 mortification I can practice that keeps my head in the “pray and prepare” game and doesn’t let me get too far into the “already party let’s party” game.

Finally, the tree. O Christmas tree. What a point of contention you have been in our young marriage. 7 years my husband has made the bigger compromise and let me acquire you early. And 7 years you have almost (and, once literally. Long story.) caught on fire, so dead you are come Christmas Day. This year we’re getting the tree on Evie’s birthday, which is December 15th. Still probably too early for some of the liturgical rigorists out there, but seems like an eternity to me, coming from a family whose tree was proudly twinkling over the Thanksgiving spread more years than not.

But I’m seeing as I settle into my 30s – well into them now, I might add – that I don’t have to fight to force traditions to appear, and that it isn’t necessary to duke it out over our respective family of origin practices. We’re never going to have a Thanksgiving tree, neither are we going to be running from tree lot to grocery store parking lot on Christmas Eve, looking for Charlie Brown’s foliage. We’re somewhere in the middle, and it’s working out pretty well.

Meanwhile, our kids are concocting traditions out of memories that I didn’t even realize they were making, that I wasn’t even aware were that important. The Jesse tree that I’ve failed to complete every year is gathering dust in the garage, and there it will remain. But the little manger and a box full of straw beside it, almost an afterthought last year, elicited shouts of joy when I brought it into the family room this morning.

I forgot to buy Advent candles or, um, a wreath, but we’ve got 4 black candlesticks lined up on the dining room table waiting to be filled, and somehow we have four separate nativity sets sprinkled throughout the house, all sans Bambino Gesu till the big day, and the kids are so excited about them. Again, not a tradition I painstakingly planned or executed to perfection. Just something that has sort of happened, and now they treasure it.

I hope this Advent season is a chance for spiritual recalibration and rest. And for you and yours, too. And if I am tempted to drum up a newfound devotion to St. Lucy so that I can put a crown of candles on Evie’s head, which is an adorable tradition but hasn’t found it’s way into our family liturgy, I hope I can chill instead. Sit on the couch with some candles lit and pray a Rosary. Read the Blessed is She devotional for the day and spend 4 minutes in silent mental prayer. Close some browser tabs on the computer and admit to myself that probably that thing I was thinking about buying isn’t really necessary. That maybe we can drop a meal off for someone or buy a coat for a kid who needs it with the money I would have spent.

I want to have the chillest Advent ever.

Who’s with me?

(But for the record, we’re still totally going to sit on Santa’s lap. He’ll be expecting us, after all.)



Breaking Bread at a Broken Thanksgiving Table

November 23, 2016

America, are you ready for this? After a long political season fraught with conflict and tension, after a year filled with heartache and geopolitical unrest, and in a culture that seems increasingly hellbent on divide and conquer, you are cordially invited to celebrate the great national feast of giving thanks and breaking peaceful bread with your neighbors.

They might be your actual neighbors, from down the street. Or they might be the neighbors you share a mortgage and a last name and a dishwasher with, a little closer to home. You’ll probably be seeing a few neighbors who share some of your genetic makeup and perhaps inhabit a zip code far from yours, and there’s a high probability you’ll encounter your least favorite neighbors during this blessed occasion…

(Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.)


Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, mental health, mindfulness, self care

Mindful Mondays: vol. 2

November 21, 2016

I’ve been falling further and further behind in my online viewing of the mindfulness courses I’m enrolled in, but I’ve been exercising more and more compassion towards myself about the fact that in this season of life, I can’t keep up with everything I’ve set my hand to. And sometimes that includes not being able to honor commitments I’ve made, even if only to myself.

I’m counting that a huge win.

Maybe you know this about me from reading for even a little while, but I’m a leeeetle bit of a perfectionist. Which is not a particularly healthy way to live. And, with 4 young children stacked fairly deep, nor is it a particularly realistic way to live these days. (<-I question the grammatical accuracy of that sentence structure, but not intensely enough to google it.)

So yes, self compassion. A an essential piece of the practical application of mindfulness. Does it ever happen to you that you’re sitting down listening to a homily, trying to pray a rosary, maybe even having a conversation with someone and you catch yourself zoning out and then the negative self talk starts…great, you totally missed the first 15 minutes to that. Why do I even bother. What’s the point of trying to pray. Ugh, if she knew I was thinking about the grocery list when he’s pouring out her heart to me…and so on.

I’m stopping myself now when the spiral starts and gently, with compassion (kind of crucial and not necessarily natural to me!), redirecting my attention back to whatever it is I’m doing in the present moment. I can’t explain how much this has helped with the practice of prayer, and even in going through the mindfulness course itself. I catch myself wandering, see the wandering thoughts as “mental events happening in my brain,” and then bring that attention right back to the present moment. No judgment, no angsting over what I missed or what it says about me as a person. And it’s great.

The other observation I have now that I’m halfway through the 8-part course offered by CatholicPsych Institute is how much more present I am to my children, and how much more possible (note: not easy) it is to stay there. I’m finding myself more attuned to their needs and emotions throughout the day, and I’m a little ashamed (but not a lot, because compassion!) of how often I was tuning them out before, especially when being “tuned in” to them required me to suffer in any way, not least of all, by being bored.

So, in the past, it has not been unusual for me to do a lot of parenting, especially in that delightful 4-6 pm time slot, on autopilot. Kind of numbing myself out to the stress/effort of the task by not really focusing on them, but by robotically doling out after school snacks, assembling dinner, barking orders for peaceful sibling play, and usually succumbing to at least a show or three as they wheedled and whined and honestly, were just trying to get my attention. My authentic attention.

Now that I’m being more mindful of what they’re saying and doing, especially during the witching hour (if ever a name were apt, that’s the one), we’re experiencing a more harmonious home life. I wouldn’t say their behavior has improved in any significant way, but that my behavior (which is the only thing I can actually control, control freak) has improved noticeably. I’m not as productive as I was a month ago, but my kids are getting more of me. And I know I’ve heard some wiser parent say it before, but the more I intentionally lean into those hard moments of motherhood, the stronger those muscles grow. When I zone them out for an hour while I’m pulling a Gayle Waters-Waters on the kitchen and dining room floors and leave them to their own devices,  scrapping verbally over the Magic School Bus verses Lego Friends, we both re-engage at the dinner table in decidedly less than pleasant demeanors.

Finally, I’m observing my own limits and capacity for what Dr. Bottoro refers to as “the shallow waters of pain” both mentally (as demonstrated above) and physically, and not running from every experience of discomfort. An oncoming headache doesn’t need to be immediately medicated as something to avoid at all costs, but might be a sign that I’m dehydrated or overly caffeinated. A stubbed toe doesn’t mean that I need to scream obscenities and drop my basket of laundry in a dramatic scene, but that I can lean into the small moment of suffering and observe in myself the feelings of pain, discomfort, surprise, and anger that actually won’t end up killing me.

I haven’t totally unpacked what it means to be mindful in moments of pain and suffering, but from the light dabbing I’ve done, I can see why mindfulness was initially created as a tool for pain management by patients with chronic, unnamable conditions. We’re talking people who morphine couldn’t help. But their own minds, thoughtful and observant and curious about the sensations and circumstances they were experiencing, very often, could.

It’s pretty mysterious and awe-inspiring stuff, what our brains and bodies can accomplish together.

I’m not sure this week of holiday busyness and travel and festivities will bring a lot of time for me to catch up on my missed lessons or travel much further into the course, but I am 100% certain that the skill of “leaning in” will come in handy when Thursday roles around. 🙂

I’ll leave you with the opening lines of what Dr. Bottaro calls “the sacramental pause,” at least as I am understanding it. It begins with a prayer:

“Ever present God, here with me now. Help me to be here now, with You.”

Isn’t that beautiful? May you feel His presence in the present moment today, too.


7 quick takes

7QT: I thought yesterday was Friday

November 18, 2016

This has been the longest day of the longest week of the year 2016, says I, typing from behind the flailing T-Rex limbs of a teething (omg! 3 molars in 24 hours) and feverish Luke, perched unhappily on my lap. All 4 kids have been sick at some point this week and Dave was traveling the first half of it, so I’m done. There is a shiny bottle of silver anejo tequila perched atop the fridge and I’m eyeing up 5pm EST for kickoff. And linking up with Kelly.


can you spot the not-tequila 2 pm appropriate beverage of choice?

So where was I?

1. For starters, this piece by my talented colleague Kevin Jones is fantastic. And provides a lot of meat in response to the (somewhat mystifying) question “what exactly was your beef with Obama all these years?” that my post-election post generated.

And that’s enough politics for the rest of the year, dontcha think? Oh, and totally not related to politics, but I’m going on week 3 of not checking Facebook comments or messages and Sorry that it makes me a little less accessible, but it’s so worth it for my family. (Feel free to email me anytime.)

2. Sometimes I rediscover/discover for the first time some music/artist that I’d previously overlooked or sort of assumed I knew about. Lately I’m jamming to my dad’s jams, and find myself listing to a Beatles/Fleetwood Mac station on Pandora. I’m listening to random Bruce Springsteen tracks on Youtube right now. (Which my younger siblings mock me for, bc apparently one does not use Youtube for listing to music, but Spotify. But I’m a tired old dog and setting up yet another account for something just makes me feel…tired-er.) Why not give this one a spin and kick off your weekend right?

3. I need new clothes, and it’s getting to a kind of desperate point, now that we’ve had our first snow. I’ve been pregnant and nursing for most of past 6 years, so now to be neither and to be down 21 official THM pounds means that nothing fits and that I don’t have a super strong sense of “style.” I’ve become accustomed to slinking into the fitting room at Old Navy with an armful of stuff from the clearance rack that is actually only there to begin with because it’s hideous, and then slinking back out again, defeated, when the hideous clothes looked hideous on. Where would you start if you were literally going to build an entire cold-weather wardrobe from scratch for not a ton of money? I’m thinking I should go to Loft or JCrew since I liked to shop there when I was single and thinner (oh, and working a full time job with no kids so $$$$), but I’m not sure they’re cool anymore. I know Anthropologie and Madewell are where the cool kids shop, but I’m not that skinny yet, and I’ll probably never be that rich.

Any Black Friday deals I should be peeping?

4. I am loving “the Crown.” I don’t love her husband. I have almost no love left in my heart for “Poldark,” at all. And “This is Us” is kinda take it or leave it. It found it super compelling the first couple episodes, but not so much now. What should I be watching while I fold laundry tonight?

5. I’m hosting a virtual Arbonne party Tuesday night so that I can buy myself some gluten free makeup at a great price. I’m not a huge fan of going to parties that sell you stuff, but I am a huge fan of Arbonne (and of my best friend Elizabeth, who sells it), and of sitting in my pajamas on my couch during said party, and so I’ll take the opportunity to get their stuff for a steal. Click the link to join the party: (Starts 7:30 pm MT/9:30 EST on Tuesday, November 22)


6. I’m planning to write up another summary of what I’ve been learning in CatholicPsych Institute’s “Catholic Mindfulness” course for next Monday. As a little teaser, I’ll just tell you that while Dave was traveling I didn’t into actual tears at any point during the hard times, which maybe sounds pathetic (and is not the point of the classes, for the record) but! generally I don’t do well solo parenting for multiple bedtimes in a row with 4 children. Plus, everyone woke up sick at some point in the week. But I was fine. I was tired and frustrated, of course, but I wasn’t like GIVE ME ALL THE WINE IN THE HOUSE I AM SO OVERWHELMED GET BACK IN BED every night.

Which was nice. This stuff really works, and it’s more effective than any of the many self help/pop psych books I’ve read over the years. I think Kelly, who is also taking the course, wrote a reflection along those lines a couple weeks back. That this was going to be sufficient in place of reading all the organizing/self care/de-stressing books, going forward.

I think I agree.

7. After answering (24 days. 23 days. 3.5 weeks) over and over again to a very eager soon-to-be Tae Kwon Do student hankering after his class start date, I sat down and made a simple calendar for the fridge for the months of November and December. Then I let Joey fill in all the important dates and feast days (and of course, Tae Kwon Do class nights) in the little squares, and now the best moment of his day is marking a big fat x on the finished day’s square and pointing out upcoming feast days or family birthdays.


I know you’ll come back here for all your future liturgical craft planning needs.

Yesterday he pointed to St. Elizabeth of Hungary’s square and asked me to tell him about her. And I literally joked that she was always excited for dinner, just like him. So. I guess I need to do some remedial studying up on the saints. Thankfully, his school, which yesterday sent him home wearing a bejeweled paper crown in anticipation of Christ the King this weekend, is nailing it in my stead.



When democracy happens

November 14, 2016

It was an unreal feeling to watch the results come in. The night started out in high spirits and ended with the 6 of us staring at each other in disbelief. This man with his dismissive rhetoric, allusions to violence and a truly heinous track record on healthcare – not to mention decidedly limited political experience – was going to be our new Commander in Chief?

It was even harder to swallow the second time around, in 2012.

But after 8 solid years of Obama, I can attest to the reality that it is actually possible to live and work peacefully as a citizen of a country being led by a man who you cannot find a single thing in common with, apart from human DNA and an appreciation for craft beers. 

And it doesn’t involve rioting in the streets.

It doesn’t involve screaming the F word and throwing up middle fingers and vandalizing private property with swastikas and profanity to show the degree of your outrage.

It doesn’t involve making assassination threats on social media, however in jest they may be.

It doesn’t involve deleting half your Facebook friends and making pledges to remain silent when you encounter your other-side-of-the-aisle relatives at the Thanksgiving table next week.

It doesn’t involve taking time out of classes to stage a “cry in” while playdoh and hardworking therapy dogs are brought in to comfort you and your classmates. This was not a natural disaster that killed your family. This was an election that didn’t turn out the way you hoped. Because half of your fellow citizens threw the lever for the other guy, and, as deplorable as you might find him – and them – that’s something you’re going to have to learn to live with for at least the next 4 years.

I know I did. And it wasn’t easy.

But maybe I can walk you through the process as I experienced it.

It looks more like signing petitions for better protections under the law for what is true and good.

It looks like consumer activism, boycotting with your pocketbook, but not with bricks.

It looks like turning off the constant news coverage when you’re sure you can’t handle another moment of his rhetoric, or even the tone of his voice. And then saying a prayer for him, and for yourself, that you could perhaps find a way to see the good in him even when he is radically opposing everything you hold dear.

It looks like calling your Senator or House Representative and telling them how to vote on a piece of legislation that he may be supporting but which you, his constituent, are surely not.

It looks like using your voice in the midterm elections, holding those who are currently in power accountable, and voting to change what isn’t right.

It looks like praying that he makes acceptable and – dare to dream – good nominations to the Supreme Court. And that they get blocked by Congress if they’re not.

It looks like doing your best to uphold what you believe is good and right and true about America, even when it “feels” like you have a President who couldn’t care less about the nation you love, or about the brave men and women who defend it.

It might even look like civil disobedience, if it comes down to it, when your conscience and your livelihood are on the line.

I know there are people who are really hurting after this election. And those people deserve comfort and respect, and for their differing viewpoints to be acknowledged and tolerated. 

But there are also people who have allowed themselves to be so whipped into a frenzy of hate and derision that they’ve completely lost sight that this happened because half  of the people they share a country with were frustrated, disenchanted, heartbroken, and scared, and so they voted for the other guy. The one you can’t stand. And I’ll bet you a dollar to a donut it had nothing to do with racism or hate and everything to do with rising healthcare premiums, the raging threat of terrorism and a stalled out economy choked by government regulation.

Don’t believe everything the media tells you about your neighbor. Go across the street and ask him for yourself.

love hate

Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, mindfulness

The Heroic Minute

November 10, 2016

Another lifetime ago when I was young and single and working for FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, we were taught to strive for several of St. Josemaria Escriva’s recommended daily practices in order to be truly effective in our mission as an organization and to pursue personal sanctity. Some of the bigger ones, like daily Mass and a daily holy hour, are momentarily unachievable for me in my present reality as a mom to 4 small children. We might make daily Mass twice in a really, really good week. which is fine! There’s a reason the Church doesn’t require laypeople to worship at Mass 7 days a week, and it has everything to do with the primacy of our vocations.

But that doesn’t mean I’m off the hook for having a spiritual life. On the contrary, I can only really keep my head above water as a wife and mother to the extent that I make time for Him in my daily grind.

One small, unassuming practice which St. Josemaria was fond of is nicknamed “the Heroic Minute.” Essentially, it’s taking the first few moments of wakefulness each day and “conquering yourself” by giving it to God and getting right up out of bed. He says:

“Conquer yourself each day from the very first moment, getting up on the dot, at a fixed time, without yielding a single minute to laziness. If, with God’s help, you conquer yourself, you will be well ahead for the rest of the day. … The heroic minute. It is the time fixed for getting up. Without hesitation: a supernatural reflection and… up! The heroic minute: here you have a mortification that strengthens your will and does no harm to your body.”

To which, I must confess, my very being recoils in horror. Because if by some miracle of nature my children sleep past 6:34 am, there is nothing I’d like better than to keep on snoozing, undisturbed by plaintive cries for Netflix and oatmeal.

But a little while ago I started setting my alarm for 6:30 and then, when it beeped, heaving myself out of bed and padding downstairs to sit in the semi dark with a hot cup of coffee and an open Bible. Sometimes I just stare into space and allow the time between sleep and wakefulness to be filled with a more mindful awareness of the presence of God. Sometimes I go over the day’s agenda in my mind, organizing my thoughts and bracing myself for the hurricane of activity about to engulf our household.

But without fail, every time I’ve responded to that Heroic Minute, (and I realize 6:30 is far from heroic for a truly virtuous soul, but this sleep-addict is baby stepping her way to greatness) it has paid out in dividends of peace and gratitude and a serenity that I would not have believed possible for mornings.

Rather than starting the day under siege and feeling robbed of precious pillow time, I’m trying to choose to get up and tithe the first few minutes to Him. And He gives it all back tenfold – of course He does.

It doesn’t always feel particularly good or virtuous or beneficial, but there is grace where there might not have been had I rolled over and hit snooze. And there is a peaceful pause at the starting line of the day that makes me feel more in control and less like a hunted animal.

Mortifications and self denial do not come naturally for me, as I suspect they do not for most humans. But there is a snowball effect of virtue when I choose from the beginning to deny myself this small thing, to make this little act of humiliation and inflict a minuscule amount of mental pain, which bears within it the potential to set off an avalanche of good choices over the course of the coming day. Did I really need that extra dollop of ranch dressing with my lunch? Could I resist that piece of chocolate from the freezer and make of that small sacrifice a quick prayer for a friend’s intention? Should nap-time perhaps begin with a quiet recitation of the Rosary rather than a frantic headlong dive into productivity? Not to mention the, ahem, questionable decision to stay up past 11 watching “just one more episode” on any given weeknight.

All of this and more has flowed from the simple, silly decision to steal my kid’s alarm clock and start getting out of bed at a set time each day.

In denying myself sleep, I am giving myself the gift of quality time alone with my Creator.

And at the very least, I get a hot cup of coffee out of the deal.

(Cross posted at Catholic Exchange)






election day, politics, reality check, social media

The greatest, freest, and most decent

November 8, 2016

It’s election day in America. Love the candidates or hate them, we the citizens of the greatest nation on earth have the dearly-won privilege of educating ourselves and partaking in the voting process.

It is not a right to vote, it is a privilege.

It is a privilege that woman did not always enjoy. That black men in the 19th century couldn’t have dreamed of. That people without significant personal wealth or land were once denied. That immigrants who arrived on our shores poor and hungry but finally free would work towards for years, obtaining their citizenship and then proudly exercize.

America is broken and bruised right now, but she is still good. She is still the best and freest and most decent nation on earth, and the greatest experiment in human freedom that history has thus far produced.

Although we are straining at the social constructs that we once all held dear – or at least true – all hope is not yet lost for this great country of ours.

I was thinking about that this morning while watching my one year old toddle around with newfound ambulatory expertise, his chubby legs and too-small feet barely providing him the ballast to cross the living room. The fact is, no matter how fractured our social order might seem or how angry the media voices bleating out headlines, no matter how much mud the politicians sling at one another, this place we call home is still exceptional. And my tiny son, blissfully unaware of the problems and various national crises that assail us in the year 2016, had the good fortune to be born into the happiest and greatest place on earth.

Walk into a grocery store and smile at a stranger. 9 times of of 10, they will return the smile. Interact with a barista or cashier or other service industry employee and marvel at their friendliness and courtesy. Walk into a church or place of worship and do so freely, unencumbered by government harassment or persecution. Be confidant in the ability to find a place of worship, staffed by a member of the clergy of your faith, to worship with you in your faith tradition.

Put your children into a school that you can volunteer in, where you can advise the school board over the curriculum. Or teach them at home, or in a private school whose values align with yours. You have unprecedented choice and control over your children’s education.

Get a job and work hard, with integrity and timeliness and to the best of your ability, and see if you don’t advance along that career path, maybe even enjoying a raise or two along the way.  Expect to be able to keep a significant – perhaps not significant enough, but still better than most places – portion of your income to spend and give and invest as you see fit. Take part of your paycheck and set it aside month after month and maybe in a little while there will be enough for a modest down payment on a little house you can own.

What I’m saying is that for all our problems, for all our difficulties and differences and the real ills that plague us as a people, America is still good. She is good and she is free, and she can continue to be good and even become great again, to the extent that her people do not lose sight of who they are.

America is not great because she is rich.

America is not great because of her many modern conveniences and all the newest technological advances.

America is not great because she is powerful.

America is great because she is good.

Because her people are good. Because there are millions of good Samaritans who inhabit this land between two shining seas who will still do the right thing when it is asked of them. Who will lend a hand and stop for an accident and report a crime and comfort a crying stranger. Who will take up the mantle of freedom won by generations past who sacrificed and bled for an unseen future and will carry it proudly and heroically into the unknown.

We must not forget that in this era of endless breaking news updates and fresh opportunities for outrage, that we are still good. That America is a good place. And that there are very few places like it on earth.

I have been to a few of them, and there is truly goodness and beauty everywhere. But America is something different. We have something special here.

Let us not lose sight of that. Especially tomorrow as our nation wakes in the light of a new administration, a new page turned in our national history. Whomever the heavy mantle of the Presidency falls upon tonight after the polls close, and however great the disappointment of half the country, we can still walk forward together in pursuit of a better, freer future for this great land of ours. We might have to work against our leaders and elected officials to realize these goals, but that does not mean they are unattainable. It just means we have to roll our sleeves up further and bend our knees in prayer more frequently.

Because America is still good. She is not perfect, but she is good. And she is worth fighting for.

On this election day, let us pray together in the words of St. John Paul II upon his visit to our great land 29 years ago:

Every human person – no matter how vulnerable or helpless, no matter how young or how old, no matter how healthy, handicapped or sick, no matter how useful or productive for society – is a being of inestimable worth created in the image and likeness of God. This is the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition for her survival-yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person, especially the weakest and most defenceless ones, those as yet unborn.

With these sentiments of love and hope for America, I now say goodbye in words that I spoke once before: “Today, therefore, my final prayer is this: that God will bless America, so that she may increasingly become – and truly be – and long remain one Nation, under God, indivisible. With liberty and justice for all”

May God bless you all.
God bless America!