About Me, Family Life, motherhood, Parenting, reality check

Life in the HOV lane

June 22, 2017

(Thanks a million for the outpouring of kindness yesterday. Undeserved and overwhelming.)

Since my vehicle is almost always highly occupied, I enjoy the perk of the far left lane when cruising some of Denver’s increasingly congested major highways, a privilege I can thank my numerous children for.

This morning found me boldly venturing to the nearby splash pad with zero snacks or sunscreen (which I applied before we left the house and will be patting myself on the back for all day long), the full crew clad only in swimsuits and sandals and no thought for the return trip home because I live on the edge, where I proceeded to only mildly helicopter from a bench perch while the splashing commenced. I had some time to reflect on how different mothering a larger family looks and how much more sustainable, if only based on sheer exhaustion, this version of me is. I made a mental note of this as I changed a filthy diaper in eyeshot of the woman sharing my picnic table perch who beat a hasty retreat to an adjoining bench, realizing that perhaps my standards, in some categories, have slipped too far.

Here are things I no longer do as a mom.

I don’t worry about structured play time/crafts/activities. I was never super into this to begin with, but there were definitely a few ill fated Pinterest crafting sessions when my older boys were toddlers that ended in glittery tears. I don’t even buy art supplies any more, save for the requisite twice yearly crayon and marker restocking. Maybe this makes me a monster. Maybe it makes me a genius. But when my kids want to get artistic, they have to make do with paper and crayola and that’s about it. It’s amazing the things my especially artful 5 year old has crafted from scotch tape, tin foil, and ziplock bags. Life finds a way.

I also don’t really do activities yet. Library story time, sports, lessons, etc. It’s just not the right time for us yet, and nobody is clamoring for it, so why rock the boat? We’ve had a couple rounds of swimming lessons so some people are approaching water competency, but apart from that I can’t think of a compelling reason to further complicate our schedule until it’s necessary.

Cook real meals. Sort of. 80% of the time it’s some chicken/veggie/starch encore or breakfast for dinner. Lunch is turkey, hummus, pb&j and carrot sticks. Breakfast is oatmeal or bacon and eggs. Nobody’s hair is falling out yet.

I realized a couple years into motherhood and marriage that I actually don’t enjoy cooking, and even less so when half the crew is rejecting the entree night after night. So I perfected a dozen menus that I can cook from memory and with zero motivation (chili, soup, curry, chicken parm, burgers, korean beef, fajitas, etc.) and I just…make those. Over and over again. I honestly prefer laundry to cooking and would rather be folding clothes than working on a new recipe, so I figured until I get an aspiring Julia Childs coming to me wanting to test their wings, our cuisine will be simple and our evenings will be more peaceful.

Let my kids play with screens. I have more street cred here (and they have definitely noticed) with my dumbed down smart phone, and they know there’s nothing interesting on there but maps and the camera. We don’t have a tablet and we have a strict no video game policy until further notice. Our 6.5 year old would happily play 4 hours of Minecraft a day, he has let me know in no uncertain terms, but not in my house, buddy. They get an hour or so of tv most days, but they’re limited to PBS kids or maybe something on Netflix if mommy is willing to lend the laptop. It’s been a good transition to scheduled programming via PBS where they have one choice during any given time slot, because if it’s not a show they like, they just don’t watch it. The grownups in the house only watch tv/movies once or twice a week, so it’s easier to enforce behavior we’re already modeling. It’s not that we’re particularly virtuous is this area, it’s just that without Downton Abbey or Madam Secretary to look forward to on Sunday nights, we don’t actually find anything worth watching. Football season is another story, however.

Care about what other people think. My tolerance to this was already pretty high when we moved back from Rome, because after navigating the city bus system with two toddlers I felt like I could pretty much handle anything. And since I’m home most of the day by myself, if I cared what a circus parade we look like when we’re out and about, I’d basically be a hermit. But I don’t care. And when Dave is home at night or I get to go out by myself, the last thing I want to do is grocery shop. Let all of Costco stare, I don’t care. I’m too distracted by the hunt for where they moved the La Croix to this week to notice if anyone is looking at us anyway. And when the “you’ve got your hands full” comments start coming, I just respond blandly and mildly with “yep.” or “Sure do.” and maybe since it’s Denver and there are plenty of free spirited weirdos around, nobody really seems all that gobsmacked honestly. Or maybe I’ve reached the magical number of no comment.

Feel bad about making siblings share/play together/serve each other. As an oldest child I am mindful of not wanting to burden my firstborn overly much, but as he is a sanguine boy and not an overachieving choleric female, I think we’re in safer territory. We frequently ask the kids to do things for us to help serve a younger sibling, whether it’s running for a diaper, reading a book to someone, or pointedly including your sister in your game because you can’t say “no girls allowed” when she’s the only girl, punk. But nice try.

They also share rooms and toys and clothes (gender permitting) and have few truly personal possessions. There are a coterie of stuffed lovies which are true private property and thus sacrosanct, but otherwise, the booty is communal, and must be respected as such. When birthdays or Christmas roll around, the new gift is given with a 48 hour grace period before sharing will commence. Usually they void the 48 hours on their own accord and freely offer their new treasure to their siblings to experience as well, because (I tell myself) they like to share. Or they’re at least very used to it.

I can think of a handful of other less virtuous achievements, mostly involving not requiring people to get fully dressed most days (ahem, Luke) and cleaning lots of things using diaper wipes, but I think you get the idea. More kids is more work, but it’s also more streamlined. There is less stress (most days), more joy, and there are much, much dirtier floors.

What standards have you found “adjusting” as you’ve grown into your motherhood gig? Does anyone else let their one year old eat cold hot dogs straight from the fridge? Asking for a friend.

Catholic Spirituality, pregnancy, reality check, Suffering

In which there is no hope

June 21, 2017

“The Russians have a saying: ‘The only whole heart is a broken heart.’ And I think what they mean is that when our presumptions about ourselves, about what life means, our aspirations for self-satisfaction, our concepts of success—whatever those may be—are shattered, whenever we experience defeat, defeat, radical defeat, in which there is no hope: THAT is the moment of potential beginnings of the real. We are called to go deeper and farther. This is our Lord Jesus on the cross. This is the genesis of the power of Christianity. The power of Christianity begins in absolute weakness. Weakness. Weakness on the cross. The defeat of everything. This is a story. This is a very big story.”

—Michael O’Brien, talk given on 12 June 2017 at Loyola New Orleans

I read the above quote from one of my all time favorite authors (get on it Christy, your book report is due soon) and that line in particular jumped out: “in which there is no hope.

I fall for the magical thinking version of Christianity again and again. That because I’m praying and because I’m trying life is going to come up roses. And if I’m oblivious enough to, um, pretty much all of salvation history, I can usually work myself into a pretty good pout when things do not, in fact, go according to (my) plan, are not clipping along at an efficient and satisfying pace.

But then I remember that God let His own mother give birth in a stable. That all of his best friends were brutally murdered, save the one who maybe died alone on a desert island. And I am struck anew by the radical otherworldly nature of the God I claim to know.

I don’t know Him all that well, after all.

I’ve been returning to this Mother Teresa quote lately, that “God does not call us to be successful. God calls us to be faithful.” It’s haunting me, and it seems applicable in nearly every situation I can conjure up.

This summer feels impossible. My oldest kids are old enough to be somewhat autonomous and yet also old enough to know that mommy lying on the couch for much of the day and smearing peanut butter on tortillas for sustenance is no way to live. I want to be joyful and present and available and grateful, but more days than not I am selfish and self pitying and nauseous and oh so sick of piling little bodies into car seats for yet another house showing.

Every time we submit an offer on a house that gets rejected, I feel it like a physical wound. Like God is turning His face away intentionally, blind to our needs and indifferent to my pain and rising panic. As I watch my waistline slowly expand with the surprising miracle of another new life, I mentally calculate how many weeks pregnant I’d be if this house goes under contract. Now this one. Now this one. The weeks whittle away towards an imaginary deadline and I panic, imagining the worst case scenario of living in my in-laws basement, of our generous friends coming back Stateside and needing their house back asap. Of the median sold home price in the Denver metro area rising another 10 percent between June and July, like it did from May to June.

I have very little trust in God right now. In the most melodramatic and hormonally fueled overstatement, I actually feel completely abandoned by Him.

So faith right now is an intellectual exercise. And don’t think for a moment I’m not ashamed that it is the mere removal of material comforts that has me here. I am ashamed. My kids are healthy, my husband is wonderful, we’ve been given a beautiful new soul to care for, and we have the most supportive and loving family and friends anyone could hope for. And I’m utterly undone by the relatively minor detail of not being able to find somewhere to live.

And it’s this: there is no room at the inn, and Christmas is coming sooner or later.

I’m clinging to the premise that when there is no hope, where there is only weakness, Jesus is getting ready to break through.

I don’t know what you’re dealing with right now in your life. Maybe a hurting relationship, a hard diagnosis, some sort of seemingly impossible situation. Dare we believe that in these moments of dark hopelessness, however objectively challenging or actually fluffy they be, the One who is hope is standing on the other side, ready to storm the breach?

 

I can’t say enough how embarrassing it is to find myself here. Not because I’m smarter or should know better, but because it is revealing to me how weak and self centered my faith is, and it’s humiliating.

It’s humiliating to admit that I see God as a kind of benign genie who grants wishes based on performance. It’s humiliating to think of Christians being martyred for their faith 6,000 miles away while I cry into my decaf over real estate. It’s humiliating to realize that I’m actually not willing to drink this cup, Lord. Because it isn’t the one I ordered. 

I don’t have a neat takeaway for any of this, just that it’s raw a hard and stupid all at the same time, and I’m sure it’s the pregnancy hormones and the heat and good old fashioned human weakness, but it’s embarrassing just the same.

I don’t trust you, Lord. And in spite of my treachery, You never let go. You are silent but you haven’t withdrawn your protection. I can’t feel you but I can see proof of your provision all around.

Whatever you’re facing this summer, know that you’re not alone, and that there are no perfect Christians walking around with unshakable confidence convicting their souls at all times. Reading through St. Faustina’s diary the past few months has demonstrated that to me in spades. If Jesus literally appears to you after communion and you’ve still got trust issues, then Houston, we have a problem. And we might actually be the problem: fallen, fallible human hearts afraid to trust and prone to fickle faltering.

Oh well, He loves us just the same. St. Peter, St. Faustina, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Joseph, and you and me. If He is the constant sun, I am the toddler screwing my eyes shut and crying because it’s dark.

God, please open my eyes.

The gorgeous patio from our AirBnB in Ventura. (Hello, remember that trip to California last month? Love, God.)

About Me

Promotions and provision

June 15, 2017

What’s better than a champagne toast at midnight on New Year’s Eve, you ask?

How about an epidural?

Go ahead and leave the button where I can reach it.

The countertops and sink are literally invisible under breakfast dishes, I’m letting the not-quite-two year old nap dangerously late into the afternoon, and the basement is filled with the happy/destructive sounds of children at play who are mercifully far from my line of vision. Which means yes, we’re upgrading to a family of 7. Baby Bing number 5, headed your way December 31st, 2017. And no, that mini van poll on Facebook the other day was not a purely intellectual exercise.

Now that I have ultrasound evidence in hand, I can breathe easy that Cinque Bing is indeed traveling solo, and so perhaps our 7 seater Honda Odyssey will live to ride another year. Or two. Really depends on finding some skinny carseats for that back row, and training Evie to self buckle by Christmas.

Was this baby planned? Sure, by God. And yes, we have a vague idea of what causes that. Are we happy? Very. The feelings of overwhelm lasted a day or so for me, and were alleviated hugely by our wonderful parents (both sets – we’re blessed beyond belief) and our siblings who have pitched in with babysitting help and general morale boosting during what has been my hardest first trimester. But I don’t barf, so how can I complain? I can’t.

This will be our longest gap between kids (2.5 years, thanks Marquette!), and I thiiiink I’m having another girl because I feel so terrible, which was how I felt with Evie. Also, I haven’t really gained any weight, which was also how it went down with her. At least in the first 20 weeks. Cackle. We aren’t planning to find out the sex because the anticipation helps me endure the home stretch, and also because I enjoy shocking strangers by not knowing the answer when they ask “boy or girl?”

While I’m not showing yet (thanks, constant nausea), I’m comfortably rocking these under belly maternity jeans with stretchy elastic side panel things that I was certain were a terrible idea, only to find that they’re really, really comfy and really, really effective at taking any hint of pressure off a midsection that does not want to be touched at all. Also, vv on trend, which is important when you’re gearing up to be a grand multipara of advanced maternal age <— my new fancy official title as I will turn 35 about a week before bebe debuts.

Some thoughts. Pregnancy is hard, but it’s less hard when there are lots of other small people running around needing stuff from you. I’m tired allllll the time, and I’m climbing into bed at 8 some nights, about when the kids are down(ish), but I still think I’m less tired than when I was 28 and pregnant with Joey working full time behind a desk.

We are so blessed by our uncompromisingly pro life community of family and friends. We have not been met with a single negative comment, only overwhelming joy and excitement and support. So even if somebody should say something ridiculous in Costco 5.5 months from now, I have an expansive 3 months of goodwill and good cheer to bank from. Our school principal hugged me with tears in her eyes when I told her we were going to need to talk tuition discounts. Our doctor spent 20 unhurried minutes on my first ultrasound this morning, just because “I love seeing that first glimpse of these little guys, it’s just so awesome every time.” Both sets of grandparents are over the moon.

In short, we are abundantly blessed, and I’m very aware that to whom much is given, much is entrusted. Which is probably why I’ve been able to continue to write about fun stuff like NFP during these past few months, even while feeling like a grade A slug.

For those of you who don’t receive this kind of support and joy and encouragement when you announce a new life, who perhaps struggle month after month hoping to conceive and hearing “no” over and over again, enduring silent judgements and suffering a quieter martyrdom, please know this: you are my real heroes.

We’ve been immensely blessed by the presence of this baby, even in the midst of a kind of crazy season of life. And by crazy I mean living in a friend’s (mercifully empty) house in another city, commuting an hour to work/school(until last week) and our parish, and driving 4 wily kids all over Denver for about a dozen showings a week. And yeah, we’re having a baby.

But I’ve found, remarkably, that the baby is actually the bright spot in the chaos of a season of unpredictability, which either makes me crazy or makes the world very, very wrong about what actually constitutes “ideal circumstances” for bringing forth new life.

And hey, if I haven’t answered your email promptly, it’s probably because I’ve been lying flat on my back tossing unwrapped popsicles out the back door and counting down the minutes to 6pm.

Sweet little baby, we’re so glad you’re here. Welcome to the circus.

Different pregnancy, different baby, same cravings. I’m nothing if not predictable.

About Me, Catholic Spirituality, motherhood, prayer

A mom who prays is a mom who stays (sane)

June 13, 2017

Sometimes I write posts for myself which is vv old school blogger of me, if you stop and think about it. Online journaling. But this is one such post, a reminder that hey, self, you need to up your game here, and if someone else out there gets something from it, brownies.

Summer is upon us. That glorious, unstructured, unfettered and creative expanse of bliss and memories and popsicle stains on rash guards and sunburns and piles of mysterious wet clothing everywhere. Everywhere.

The first week passed thusly. Me, relieved of carpool duty and much obliged, gracefully relinquishing the remote control for “just one more episode of Nature Cat” (why not?) and the kids, angels all, rejoicing in their togetherness and staying in various states of undress for much of the day. Around the middle of the second week, no schedule or system yet on the horizon, we all began to feel a little…on edge. The constant inflow of Red dye number 5 and the damp cling of neoprene fabric starting to chafe not just at skin but at psyches. I kept looking around waiting for someone to come and give us a shove in the right direction before realizing, as always with a bit of a startle, that it would have to be me.

I don’t know why it’s harder to play the role of competent adult in the summertime, but I imagine it has a lot to do with ingrained pavlovian associations of summer + freedom. But freedom for is a different animal than freedom from. Yes, we are free from the drudgery of carpool and the frantic tap-dance of 6 am lunch-and-breakfast assembly. But we are not free from a nominally appropriate human dress code. Not day in and day out, at any rate.

Pulling myself mentally together, I marshaled my limited interior resources and admitted that the worst part of the current state of affairs was surely mom’s lack of peace and recollection. Sure, I was getting more sleep in the mornings (and the essential nature of sleep CAN NOT BE OVERSTATED), but I had traded away my quiet coffee+scripture ritual in so doing, and failed to replace it with anything much of substance until long after bedtime. We have been attempting with moderate “success” the family rosary/decade for a few weeks now, and that has proven to be a winning group devotion. But it is not sufficient for filling mama’s deeper adult tank, not on it’s own.

Daily Mass was a staple during the school year, to the degree it could be achieved on the days with just the younger two kids home. Daily Mass with all four, in Luke’s current state of nascent two-ness, is … intimidating. The nearest parish is a welcoming and kind place, staffed by earnest and indefatigable “greeters and seaters” who very much want my entire brood to sit in the front row, but is one of those architectural disasters that beckons screaming toddlers to escape at full tilt down the gentle 25% slope leading towards the altar. Don’t ask me how I know this.

So that leaves…a void. A gaping expanse of spiritual nothingness between a quick morning offering, a glimpse at the daily Blessed is She devotion + Mass readings, and a seemingly endless expanse of long, hot daylight hours between me and God connecting.

But when I don’t pray, I am the worst mom ever. (When I do pray I’d still only give myself about a 74% on Rotten Tomatoes, but I digress.) So I have to figure out a way to get more prayer time in. For that, I turned to some more experienced moms and to a priest friend who does a lot of spiritual direction for women. Here are a few of their suggestions, plus a few things that have worked particularly well for me in my current state of mild chaos:

“Pray while you work out.” I have never been a fast runner, and that works to my advantage in this instance, as staying under 5 mph on the treadmill is generally not mutually exclusive to praying a rosary. I bring my kindle to the gym, but I tell myself I can’t turn it on until I’ve said a rosary first. It’s not deeply contemplative prayer time, by any means, but it’s better than nothing.

“Adoration. As often as you can make it, and ideally alone.” I love stopping by with my kids for a 3 minute strafing run on the perpetual adoration chapel at our parish. Most of the other adorers think it’s adorable (I tell myself) when Luke screams “JESUS!!!!!” while clawing his way desperately out of my arms to get to the monstrance, and I know it’s important to familiarize them with the Blessed Sacrament from an early age. But again, it ain’t quality time. When I can go for a half hour or an hour alone, it’s heaven. Even if I mostly just doze in the pew and kind of “sunbathe” in His presence. It used to bother my formerly busy intellect that I couldn’t conjure any decent mental prayer when I finally made it to Adoration as a mother, but now I just accept that He wants to saturate me with graces and allow me a space to rest with Him. It’s wonderful.

“Get up before the kids and spend 20 minutes with the Lord.” Easier said than done, depending upon the season of life. If I’m pregnant or nursing, fugaddaboutit, Otherwise? It’s always worth the effort, even at the cost of sleep. During this past Lent I started doing it as a penance and it quickly became the best and most important part of my day, wouldn’t you know it?

This one from Fr. J: “Make an offering of your daily tasks continuously to the Lord.” Write out a sign and put it up in the kitchen, or wherever you spend most of the day, that says “I offer you this…” and refer to it over and over again throughout the day. “Lord, I offer you these dishes. This meal prep. This diaper change. This admin task. This hard phone call. This parental referee session.” We also talked about the reality of sort of “banking up graces” for particular children during their little years to access during their possibly more challenging later years. As in, “Lord, I offer you this load of laundry for so and so, who wet their bed again last night. I pray for their vocation, for their teen years, for their future spouse.” I loooooove the idea of banking up graces garnered by weathering toddler tantrums and potty training woes for that particular child’s future, and for our ongoing relationship. I’ve actually come to cherish? Maybe too strong a word. But…appreciate those opportunities for grace when a particular child is giving me hell (or not sleeping which is the same thing) and I’m like, “thank you Jesus for the opportunity to suffer a little bit for this child now, please apply these graces when they will most desperately need them.

Puts the stomach flu in a whole new perspective, anyway.

Finally, “go on a silent retreat.” I’ve heard this from so many experienced moms, many of whom have larger than average families and who make an annual silent retreat sans kids. They tell me it is essential to their ability to parent their children, and has become a critical component of maintaining their relationship with Jesus in the midst of the hard investment years of parenting. I’ve yet to take this advice, but I’m eager to put it into practice.

I love that the Church has saints from every walk and station of life, and the longer I’m at this mom gig, the more amazing mother saints I seem to run across. I read quotes like these and I’m like, great, somebody gets it. And it’s not mindless or meaningless, all this domestic duty.

“God walks among the pots and pans” – St. Teresa of Avila

“Sometimes she must leave God at the altar to find Him in her housekeeping.” – St. Frances of Rome

“I long for rest. I have not even the courage to struggle on. I feel the need of quiet reflection to think of salvation, which the complications of this world have made me neglect” – St. Zelie Martin

“Why do you not succeed in doing good? It’s because you do not pray enough” – St. Gianna Beretta Molla

Catholics Do What?, Marriage, NFP, Sex

What I learned from the NFP survey

June 9, 2017

A lot of people are hurting, and a lot of people feel alone. That was easily – overwhelmingly – the takeaway from all the discussion we’ve been having around here about NFP. About the failure to learn NFP adequately. About the failure to talk about NFP realistically. About the lack of community, of resources, of support, of success…

And it doesn’t surprise me. We live in this world, all of us, and we are all to some degree impacted and informed and undone by the ravages of the sexual revolution. Even if you’ve never used contraception, even if you live in the most amazing and supportive and life-affirming Christian community on the planet, since you’re still a citizen of planet earth in 2017, chances are you’re still deeply impacted by what the world believes about sex, and to a certain degree, how that has shaped your own beliefs.

I expect NFP to work a lot like (wink, wink) Church sanctioned contraception sometimes. And so it’s shocking sometimes, more shocking than I care to admit to you here, when a pregnancy test turns positive. “But I did the math. We used the right days. I knew exactly where I was in my cycle.”

And yet. Sometimes God overrides the system. So that’s hard. But it’s hardest when I’m fixated on the (false) notion that I am in complete control of my fertility. When I forget that in our marriage vows I gave that over, too, along with my freedom to walk out the door when things get tough, my options to look elsewhere when the road gets rocky.

NFP is not natural contraception. It’s dangerous for us to equate it as such, touting that “97 percent effective when used perfectly” stat, and I think that’s what can get us so frantic over the “failures.” Because while we’ve been trying to make it attractive enough to convince people to use it, maybe we’ve lost sight a little bit of the reality that it’s hard. That it will always be hard. That it will always be less convenient than popping a pill or putting in a diaphragm. That it will always require a degree of sacrifice. That it, in fact, means something entirely different from contraception. Instead of self indulgence, self denial. Instead of self gratification, self mastery. Instead of wild spontaneity, meticulous discernment. (This while a couple is hoping to avoid a pregnancy. If a baby is what you’re hoping for, then by all means, get spontaneous).

What I’m trying to say is that I think by selling NFP as an easy! natural! beautiful! alternative to the sexual stupidity of the culture at large, we’ve done a disservice to the couples who are actually brave enough to use it. I know I’m not alone in having my “divine vending machine” concept shattered by being blindsided by surprise pregnancies, the utter failure of the notion of “child spacing by breastfeeding,” and the particularly cutting blow of post partum depression.

But, God, I’ve wanted to say. Have said. I’m playing by your rules. I’m trying to follow your will. Why is it so hard? So painful? So lonely?

And He points me to Calvary.

He points to the Cross, that gentle yoke if I shoulder it alongside Him, and whispers I know you better than you know yourself. I know what will make you whole. I know what will make you holy.

And it doesn’t feel good.

It doesn’t look so good to the outside world, either. It looks like a mess. It looks life failure. Like struggle. Like all hope is lost and all was foolishness.

But then. The Resurrection. That impossible reclamation of all that was lost. The undoing of reality. The rejection of what was sensible and practical and possible.

God’s ways are not our ways. And if this is a difficult thing we wrestle with in our marriages, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re doing it wrong.

I am happy to have sent along all our frustrations, suggestions, pleadings and prayers to the USCCB convocation, and I do hope the working group finds a lot of gold in what I mined from your comments. But l am also praying for all of our hearts to be transformed – clergy and laity alike – by Jesus. By His plans for our marriages, and perhaps in ways that diverge radically from our own.

Unrelated photo of my center console: the champagne of mom beverages.

benedict option, Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, Evangelization, Family Life, motherhood, prayer, spiritual warfare

Make America *good* again (with Mary)

June 6, 2017

Lately (as in the past 6 months or so) I’ve been feeling nudged?shoved?pushed? to start praying a daily rosary as a family. I have a whole laundry list of reasons why this is a terrible idea, but then again, most days I have an hour long Netflix or PBS kids playlist I can refer to and see that yes, my children do possess an attention span capable of sustained engagement – albeit perhaps formal spoken prayer being less fascinating to the toddler brain than Curious George.

But. We have to try. I look around at the increasing violence in the world, whether on the news or just on Netflix, at the seemingly endless human appetite for cruelty and vice, and I look at four small faces turned up at me, asking “why are you sad, Mommy?” when I gasp out loud at a text from a sister announcing (another) terror attack somewhere not so far away in the world.

I’m sad because I won’t always be there, baby. I’m sad because no matter the sweat and effort and grace and plain old fashioned hard work I put into forming your little minds and souls, I can’t guarantee a good outcome. I’m sad because free will, and sin, and hatred, and racism, and abortion, and honor killing, and suicide bombings, and fanatical gender ideologies.

I’m sad because I’m handing you over to a broken world, and that I can’t protect you from what’s out there. The clock is ticking down to the moment you’ll walk out the door and the shot will cut to your dad and me and the golden retriever on the front steps, heartbroken and hoping for the best like a good Subaru commercial. (But we are never getting a dog.)

I worry a lot about the future. It’s part of the reason I’m in the line of work I’m in, because it’s important to tell the truth to a world that would pretend it is only a construct, and because it’s worth the time it takes (even sometimes time away from my kids) to proclaim the Gospel, whether on the digital page or up on a stage, or just in a restaurant over cocktails with a friend.

But all the worry in the world can’t save this weary world. And all my efforts and all my good works are nothing in the face of that fantastic and mysterious force that is human free will. We make the best choices we can with our kids and work to lay a foundation of truth, goodness, and beauty…and they are free to walk away. They are free to turn around one day and look us dead in the eye and say “I hate you. I don’t believe any of this. I’m leaving.”

As we are free to do the same to God.

So, as a mother prone to natural anxiety to begin with, the only rational thing for me seems to be to entrust these little people who are en route to adulthood to the maternal care of a mother who will always be there. I picked up this book, “The Rosary: Your weapon for spiritual warfare,” more than a month ago and flipped through the introduction. Then, a couple weeks ago, I picked it up again and actually got down to the business of reading it. And all those little nudges in my heart to pray it more often and more faithfully coalesced in an upwelling of desire, strengthening my resolve to actually just start doing it.

I won’t always be there for my kids. But Mary will.

I can’t always be able to come when they call me. But she can.

I’m not able to soothe away some of the pain that this world will inflict on them. But Her Son will.

The further our culture – and the rest of the West with it – veers off the rails of the crazy train, the more convicted I become that the only thing I can actually do is change my own heart. Is beg God to change it for me.

It is our own personal holiness that matters. Not the way we vote, or the boycotts we participate in, or the arguments we win. Those things have a place, but in the grand scheme of things, it is conversion that matters, that makes real progress in this sin wearied world. Conversion leading to compassion. To conviction. To a desire to suffer out of love for the other. Even the stranger. Even the enemy.

And I can think of no greater aid to the process of conversion than spending time in conversation with the Mother of God.

Our school had a motto this past year, a quote from Mary to St. Dominic: “One day, through the Rosary and the scapular, I will save the world.”

When I saw it on the little prayer cards at the beginning of the academic term I thought it was cool. I also thought maybe a bit of an overstatement? But then again, if Mary wants to use these small, tangible acts of faith and humility to bring us to her Son, who am I to question her methodology? Surely we’ve proven ourselves (repeatedly) to be fairly incompetent in larger matters.

After reading about the Battle of Lepanto in the opening chapter of this book, I think that just maybe, Mary wasn’t messing around when she said those words. And when I think back to my lost college years – the few leading up to my reversion in particular – and the improbability that I would ever come to my senses and return to myself, I can’t help but think of the hundreds of rosaries my mom prayed for me, the nights she must have spent worrying over my soul, crying over my terrible choices, wondering why God was seemingly deaf to her prayers.

And I am grateful.

So we will pray the rosary. We will arm ourselves for battle and engage in the tedious, inglorious, and often strenuously resisted practice of tithing a small portion of our day to God. Praying not as we’d always prefer personally, perhaps, but as His mother has asked. Repeatedly. In this 100th anniversary year of the apparitions of Fatima, it seems only right that we take up our weapons and engage in battle.

However much wearied and however many whining toddlers we must persevere in the face of.

The rosary isn’t magical, but it is powerful. And it’s a bet I’m willing to make, staking my own selfish heart and my personal preferences on the hope that this faithfulness in small matters will transform our hearts and plant seeds in the hearts of our children that will blossom in eternity.

Let’s make America good again. How about the whole world, while we’re at it?

Let’s pray the rosary.

Uncategorized

7 Quick Takes: Summer break, kid wardrobe purging, Low Dose Naltrexone, and endless house hunting

June 2, 2017

Oh, heeeey summer, nice of you to drop by after dumping snow all over the month of May and generally slinking in like a dirty dog, dripping wet from endless afternoon rainstorms and keeping the sump pump gainfully and eternal employed.

(Starting to rain as I type. Bangs head on keyboard.)

It’s fine though, it’s fine. I mean, fire season will be milder for it, and that’s a thing we worry about in Colorado, so damp silver lining.

-1-

In theory, summer is awesome. Pool time, day camp (anyone done Totus Tuus? Worth the 45 minute drive each way?) popsicles, bonfires. In reality, there is a lot of unstructured begging for additional meals and a lot of laundry. I’ve actually been quietly purging their wardrobes down to basic 5 t-shirts per kid and a big stack of shorts and hiding everything else up high in the closet as it comes out of the wash. I’m aiming for a 40% reduction in size by the end of the week, which I figure will cut my 12 or so weekly loads down to seven. Am I good at math? We’ll find out

-2-

I’m considering a fridge lock for Luke the stout, because if I had a dollar for every time I’ve found him upside down in a container of deli meat or a pint of blueberries, I’d have enough to buy one. I’ve never had a toddler who eats like him, and at 32 pounds and 21 months old, I’m not sure “toddler” is an appropriate term any longer.

-3-

About 3 months ago I started taking LDN, or low dose naltrexone, as a kind of “I give up but am not quite ready to go back to an SSRI” for getting my anxiety under control and to hopefully make a dent in the crazy, cyclical insomnia I’ve been struggling with for the past year or so and wow. Just wow. This little drug, only 3 measly milligrams, has been a total game changer for me. It has a fascinating rap sheet of results for everything from nudging auto immune disease into remission (endometriosis, celiac, Hashimoto’s, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.) to reducing anxiety levels in people with PTSD or general anxiety disorders, and it even helps with insomnia. I can’t speak to the auto immune piece confidently since I’ve made a ton of concurrent dietary adjustments over the past year and a half, but I do feel amazing and I’m sleeping in long, uninterrupted chunks at night with no wakings and no problem falling asleep, which is huge. I started at 1.5 mg and stayed there for about a month before going up to 3. I feel so good here that I’m probably not going to progress up to 4.5, which was the initial dose my doctor targeted.

You guys, if you’re struggling with anything like PMDD, cycle-related depression or anxiety or any of those autoimmune diseases, totally look into this. A lot of NaPro (Creighton model) doctors are prescribing this for everything from low fertility to the aforementioned conditions, and have been for about the last 10 years. Best of all? No serious side effects. Zero. And it’s cheap as dirt. There are a few weeks of intense dreams and some ironic insomnia when you first start taking it, but other than that, there’s nothing documented. And it supports immune function since it encourages dopamine production. That’s the working theory behind why it has an impact on all those autoimmune diseases. Worth a little time on this website, at any rate. (Painfully obvious disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional, so please consult with someone who is.)

-4-

Is this a safe place to admit that I’m still not drinking coffee? Gulp. Also about 3 months and going strong, so about the same time I started the LDN. Guys, I was desperate. I was having such terrible anxiety, especially post peak leading up to the start of a new cycle, and I could.not.sleep. I tried everything short of Ambien (I have an avowed fear of hardcore pharmaceuticals since my most recent birth and a bad Percocet trip) and so finally, finally, I had to pull the espresso plug in a desperate Hail Mary.

Well, now I’m coffee abstinent except for the occasional weekend cappuccino, and I feel fine. (Lowers voice) Maybe better than I ever felt on my regular 2 cups a day…

At first I was drinking decaf espresso in the morning to honor my beloved ritual, but after a while the lack of caffeine caused me to actually lose interest. It’s so weird. I doubt I’ve gone 2 consecutive days without coffee in my entire adult life, but here I am. And perhaps in need of a little rebranding? Yikes. Give me all the kombucha and sparkling water instead.

-5-

I posted this on Facebook and I’m sure it was an act of social media arson, but I urge you to take a listen no matter what your feelings on Harry Potter. And I figured if I can write about yoga and still maintain 90% of my friends list, we can probably talk about anything. Up next: circumcision, vaccines, and breastfeeding! (jkjk)

As an avowed former superfan, I’ve seen both sides of the argument. (And if you think you are a bigger fan than I was, ask yourself if you ever stood in line at Barnes and Noble at midnight on a Thursday wearing a construction paper wizard hat made by your very own 22 year old self. I’ll just let that one sink in.) Minute 58 is where the HP conversation picks up.

More or less

-6-

We made an offer on a house, 5k over asking! They took an offer $30k higher than that. We made another offer! They had a full cash buyer. We made another offer! The house had mold problems. We made another offer! Oops, the foundation is cracked and moving…

Such is the summer we are having. We’re currently a few hours from an acceptance deadline on yet another house, this one most beautiful and perfectly located but in need of some major cosmetic TLC, but I’m not holding my breath. I wonder if I’d have shingles again right now, where it not for the LDN? 😉

Pray for us. Please beg St. Joseph for his prayers for us. We’re averaging more than a dozen showings a week with all the kids in tow, and it’s grueling. We’re so grateful to have a beautiful home to live in while we hunt, but we’re so tired, and I would really, really love to not be here still when the school year starts.

-7-

In need of a new couples show to watch now that M Sec is done for the season. We like period dramas (well, Dave likes me so…But Downton Abbey was a real house favorite) and we like action-y stuff…kind of. Political dramas, yes, but minus the porn and super graphic violence. So far every show I’ve tried on for size recently has missed the mark on some level or another. Tell me what’s out there that doesn’t suck! Amazon, Netflix, or one of the streaming cable networks.

Hope you have a nice cold margarita waiting to welcome you into the weekend. Stop by Kelly’s and say hi.

Catholics Do What?, Contraception, Culture of Death, Evangelization, JPII, Marriage, NFP

NFP survey headed to the USCCB (more or less)

May 30, 2017

Sometimes you just need to crack the door and God kicks it the rest of the way open.

It is my distinct pleasure to tell you, dear readers, that your enthusiastic and heart wrenching and cheering and inspiring and sometimes totally depressing responses (in the neighborhood of 500+ emails, comments, Facebook comments) to last week’s NFP survey are being curated into a helpful guideline for discussion for a panel discussion at the upcoming USCCB’s Convocation of Catholic Leaders on the challenges of living the Catholic vision of sex and marriage.

Which is exactly what we’ve been talking about these past few weeks around these parts.

Catholic author and psychologist Dr. Greg Popcak reached out to me last week asking if he could take a selection of these beautiful, difficult, and numerous responses with him to Orlando where he and his wife Lisa will be leading a panel discussion on the very challenges and scenarios we’ve been delving into in the comments section. Best part is, the convocation will be attended by representatives from every diocese in the United States.

So it was for sure the Holy Spirit who nudged this conversation out into the public square, as it is. I felt a little ridiculous asking “what do you need from the Church?” because, ah, I’m not the Church. But clearly, God had something in mind.

I have so many other ideas for what to do with this tidal wave of interest, with this tremendous wealth of feedback and some of the incredible ideas and suggestions. One thing that really crystallized for me in reading so many of your responses is that in so many areas, my very own parish is already implementing a lot of what is being asked for. And so I need look no further for best practices and implementation strategies than next Sunday. The real question is one of scale, of resources, and of how to light fires that burn brightly in parishes all across the US and the globe.

I want to especially thank the couples whose stories were particularly difficult to tell: the children who have left the faith, the failed marriages, the heartbreaking experiences of being denied by the very Church you are valiantly struggling to love.

I am nobody, just a mom with a blog, but on behalf of every Catholic, please accept my sincere and sorrowful apology that you were not seen. That your family was cast aside. That you went searching for the truth and were given rocks or a snake instead of the bread you desperately needed and deserved.

I’m sorry.

I know it’s nothing coming from me, except that I’m a fellow Christian and I wish I’d have been able to cook you a meal or take your kids for the afternoon or read through an Endow study with you in a small group. I wish that the sexual revolution hadn’t decimated an entire two generations, leaving behind a growing body count of ruined marriages and families and the landscape of utter “go it alone-ness” for so many couples.

We have so much work to do. The past couple weeks as I’ve been reading and responding and conducting interviews with many of you, George Weigel’s words have been ringing in my ears, his sweeping prediction on the importance of the Theology of the Body, and the growing realization that he maybe wasn’t being dramatic enough:“{Theology of the Body} is one of the boldest reconfigurations of Catholic theology in centuries…a kind of theological time bomb set to go off with dramatic consequences, sometime in the third millennium of the church.”

Y’all, he said this in 1999. It’s been close to 20 years, and we’re now ankle deep into the third millennium, and I’m like, “let’s make sometime NOW.”

So stay tuned. We’ve got a lot of work to do. And I thank you for your honesty, your transparency, and your faithfulness.

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

What do you want/need from the church in order to “live” NFP? (A reader survey)

May 22, 2017

Last week’s guest post struck quite a nerve for many of my readers (something to the tune of 30,000 views on Facebook, which is a substantial nerve!) As I read through the dozens and dozens of thoughtful, sometimes heartbreaking comments, I wanted to reach through the screen and ask every single one of you:

What do you need?

What do you need to help you continue in this radical, counter cultural, often thankless and frequently ridiculed but oh-so-worth it lifestyle?

What do you need to get started, if you’re fresh off the birth control patch and hoping to get your body healthy again?

What are you hoping to learn during your marriage prep classes that you hope will prepare you to live NFP as a couple?

What do you need from the Church right now, while you’re drowning (maybe in debt, maybe in post partum hormones, maybe in tears over a positive pregnancy test) and really, really close to throwing in the towel?

I’m wondering what it would look like, on a practical level, if there were more support for actually living NFP.

Not just ticking the box for marriage prep and daydreaming through half a dozen classes while you mentally arrange table seatings for your wedding, but real, ongoing and substantial formation in this critically important and, let’s be honest, make-it-or-break-it area of intimacy?

I think it would look like real pastoral support. Resources for continuing education. A parish position or at least diocesan position dedicated solely to walking alongside struggling couples – which any of us at any moment in our marriages are likely to be – and saying, hey, the Church is here. You’re not alone. You’re living this lofty call out in a secular culture that holds you in actual contempt in the grocery store, some days, but you won’t get that here. What do you need? To learn a new method? A scholarship to cover the cost of instruction? Help connecting with a licensed instructor? A referral to an NFP trained physician? A voucher for medical care at their clinic? A babysitter so you can attend the freaking classes and pay attention? A recommendation to a good Catholic therapist?

And how about a homily once in a while about the call to Christian marriage? A call on/smack down from the pulpit reminding us – and encouraging us – that this thing we all signed up for? It’s a cross.

And it is meant to sanctify and break down and consume and resurrect us into something more beautiful and more real than we could have imagined when we made our vows.

I’ve said before that I think it odd that priests and religious have ongoing formation and married couples have…what, emergency intervention? When I think of what most parishes do to minister to marriages, I think of the kind of last ditch effort big guns meant to help a couple on the brink of divorce. But what about the ongoing formation? The day to day, year after year encouragement and instruction as a couple grows and matures and encounters different stages of parenting and different seasons of married life?

My parish is an unusually dynamic and family-focused place. I know it is the shining exception to the rule. And yet, I’m not sure even we have concrete resources for couples struggling to live out NFP, or that I’ve heard many homilies going into detail about why the Church calls us continually to take up this cross of rejecting contraception and living out a different path in a world that says “you’re crazy.”

And I think that would be awfully good to hear. (Especially if you’re hearing lots of other places, like from your parents, your in laws, your friends, and your siblings that “you’re crazy.”)

So I’m asking you, lovely and heroic and generous and hurting and hopeful readers, what would it look like? What do you wish we had that doesn’t exist yet, and how do we go about building it?

Let it rip in the comments, or email me directly at [email protected] Or chime in on Facebook with your ideas/suggestions/frustrations/dreams.

I’m really glad we’re having the conversation.

Catholics Do What?, Contraception, Culture of Death, Evangelization, guest post, infertility, Marriage, motherhood, NFP, reality check, Sex

Waving my white flag {guest post}

May 19, 2017

A dear friend wrote something so important, so beautiful, and so honest for me, and it is my privilege to share it with you here today.  A wife of 10 years, a mother to 4 on earth and 1 little saint, and a Catholic convert, I’m so grateful for her transparency and her humility.

Because NFP? It ain’t no bed of roses. But the thorns can be wonderfully refining.


I’m 4 kids deep into this motherhood thing, 5 if you count our sweet guy in Heaven. We count him, and wish it was PC for the world to count him too.

I am open to life. Not because I always want to be. Not because I can handle it. Not because it’s the cool thing to do.

But because God calls me to be. 

Now that doesn’t mean that I don’t come into it most days kicking and screaming. I mean yes, in theory I can list all the incredible, awesome, fantastic ways that being open to life is God’s plan and even the theology behind it, but putting it into practice is a totally different matter.

So here I am, ready to waive my white flag and say that sometimes I wish I didn’t have to be open to life.

Ouch. 

It’s hard to say and even harder to admit the hardness of my heart that wishes sometimes that I could say that I am “done”.

But just like I know better then my six year old (even though he doesn’t think so), praise the Lord, God knows better for me, too. 

But y’all, that does not mean that this is easy.

And it does not mean that just because God wants this for us that the world, our communities, our churches, our friends or even our own families will support us.

And that is tough. How are we to live this “call” out alone, with no one cheering us on?

Maybe I’m wishing for too much. But doesn’t it seem like this journey would be a heck of a lot easier if more of us shared the “hard”, the “it’s not easy”, the “I feel like I can’t do this” with each other?  We need each other, y’all. We need others there to say “I understand”, “I’ve been there” instead of saying or thinking “well then why are you having more kids???”

Because to be honest, I could use some cheering on right now.

If I get asked one more time “are you done?” and I have to politely smile and say “probably not!” all the while secretly wishing sometimes that I could be, I’m not sure how I’ll handle it. It might come out more of a grimace.

Sometimes I don’t want to put on a fake smile and convince people that I’m not done and I am JUST TOTALLY HAPPY ABOUT IT. Because sometimes? I’m really not.

Because being open to life sometimes does. not. make. sense. I mean why in the world would I not be “done” if it is so hard? That’s what the rest of the world is doing, after all. And sometimes I want to have a temper tantrum and say “I want that too!”  

And it feels like if I don’t put on a happy smile and say “probably not, we’ll see!” I’m some kind of a fraud. Or am at least setting myself up for more comment along the lines of “don’t you know what causes that?/why don’t you stop?/he should get “fixed.”

And deep down…I do know that God knows better. I really do trust Him. I really do know that his plans are perfect. I believe that. Well, I try.

And I also know that fertility is a gift. I know some of you reading this may have a pit in your stomachs and wishing you were on my end of the fertility spectrum, and would maybe give anything to be in my shoes. And for any pain reading these words causes you, I am truly sorry. It’s not far off from my memory when we lost our first little one and tried to get pregnant for what felt like a life time. It’s also not far from my memory having surgery for endometriosis and enduring HCG shots to regulate my hormones to help us get pregnant. Or having countless progesterone shots to help me keep my baby.  So I understand, even as I sound  I know I sound like an ungrateful you know what.  This isn’t exactly my proudest moment.

But if I’m honest, I’m just here trying to live out the call to being open to life and it is hard.

Hard because I want to determine the number of kids I have. I want to have sex with my husband and not worry about getting pregnant.  I want to not gain and then (have to try so hard!) to lose 50lbs (again!).  And I know all of those are selfish reasons. (And listen, I know a thing or two about good reasons to avoid too…I have had my hands full of health problems, children with behavioral issues and really rocky times in our marriage).

But maybe we could all use a bigger dose of honesty with this open to life thing??

Maybe my words will make one of you not feel so crazy or alone.  Sometimes I have the feeling like everyone else is doing this open to life/NFP thing with JOY and LOVE and a SMILE and I’m over here wondering if I missed something. Can we all take a deep breath and let it out? I mean, c’mon I’m not the only selfish, prideful sinner, right??

So here I am 33 years old and I’m staring down who knows how many *more* years (I know it’s a blessing!) of fertility and the possibility (again a blessing!) of a few more babies, but I’m lonely in a world where being “done” is the norm. 

Don’t get me wrong… I ADORE my kids!  And I look forward to a Thanksgiving table in 20 years that is bursting at the seams.  But some days I need to let my guard down and admit that if I had it *my* way I would like to just throw myself on the floor like my 3 year old before God and scream “ I don’t want to”.

But here’s the thing. When I sift through all my sin and my pride in this area, I come upon a startling truth: I truly am grateful for the boundaries of the call of being open to life, because I have a God that knows me and desires what is best for me: To be with him for eternity. 

And He knows in order to get there my soul needs (daily!) refining, and that my path that is most particularly refining is motherhood (and marriage, but that is another blog entirely 😉 ).

Thank God – He knows me better.

Thank God – He wants more for me.

Thank God – He gave me the boundaries of NFP and the call to openness to life that gives me the opportunity to practice examining my conscience and my heart daily – hourly – to root out selfishness and pride.

Because if I said I was “done,” I wouldn’t be giving Him room to stretch me. 

And stretch me He will – and you too for that matter, if you let Him.

So here I am sitting here before you, waving my white flag. Wishing I was “done” but  knowing that I’m not and grateful for a God who gives me the opportunity to wearily lay down my white flag and pick up my cross and follow Him.