Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, deliverance, Evangelization, prayer, spiritual warfare

Weapons for battle: the use of sacramentals (holy water, blessed salt, crucifixes) in the Christian life

February 17, 2017

Maybe the thought of doing spiritual battle against demonic forces conjures up Hollywood images from The Exorcist, with an outstretched crucifix and dramatic exchanges of liquids, both holy and not. Maybe it strikes you as hokey or superstitious. Maybe the thought of it harkens uncomfortably far back in human history to a time before computers and antibiotics and space travel, to when people had to resort to magical, pagan-esque rituals to protect their hapless, unenlightened selves from the horrors of the natural world.

The truth is, though, we are still an incarnate people, made from dust and atoms and flesh both weak and redeemed by the One Whose flesh was pieced for us. When Jesus bent in the dirt at the feet of the deaf and mute man, He spat into dust and mixed mud in His palm, smearing the most base and ordinary elements into a miracle-working paste that was activated not by superstition or any kind of inherent qualities that dirt possessed, but by the nuclear reaction between His grace and the deaf man’s faith.

That, in a nutshell, is the power of sacramentals, which is a fancy theology word for the seemingly ordinary items we as Christians have access to in our lifelong battle with evil.

The faith of the Church imbues these ordinary elements (water, salt, crucifixes, icons, medals, etc.) with a blessing that is effective in it’s own right, but is only fully realized when combined with personal faith and a rightly-ordered life. Holy water is not magic, any more than the rings I wear on my left hand, blessed and sanctified in the sacramental exchange of our wedding vows, are somehow sufficient to guarantee my fidelity to my marriage. I must cooperate with that inherent grace in the daily choices I make to honor those vows and serve that man. The rings are holy, but they can only strengthen what is already there.

That analogy is imperfect, but hopefully helpful enough to communicate the point? Which is this: the grace is all God’s giving, but He chooses, as He has chosen all along, to sanctify the ordinary and the earthly to communicate the extraordinary.

So, with that understanding, we have been making increasingly frequent use of sacramentals in our home, both to help incarnate the faith for our children and to arm us in the daily battle against Satan. Win/win.

Here are some of the heavy hitters:

Crucifixes. Maybe this is obvious (though I don’t think it occurred to me until a couple years into motherhood), but having a crucifix in every bedroom (and in the main living space and hey, why not the kitchen if you live there most of the day) is a powerful reminder to everyone who lives, works, and sleeps under your roof Whose house it really is. It’s also an effective nightmare-deterrent and a sweet focal point that our kids can look to and blow kisses, calling to mind Jesus’ love for them and His constant, unwavering presence in their lives.

No, the crucifix isn’t Jesus, but it is His image, lovingly depicted and prominently featured, like my embarrassing chubby baby cellphone wallpaper, reminding me where my heart is and Whom to keep the focus on throughout the day. Also, the devil hates crucifixes, particularly Benedictine crucifixes, hence their frequent role in the Church’s Rite of Exorcism.

Holy water. Every parish should have (most do) a holy water font by each door, and a main baptismal font … somewhere (sacred architecture is a tricky business in the United States). Additionally, there is often a dispenser that, at least in my parish, resembles a stainless steel water cooler with a sign labeled “holy water.” That’s there for you to take home as much as you want, to keep in a font by your front door (we have a gorgeous one from Ireland – a closing gift from our wonderful realtor) or in those little plastic squeeze bottles also helpfully labelled. We keep holy water in our house at all times, and use it daily to bless our kids, each other, and their rooms and our house, particularly if anyone is sick or has had a bad dream, or after a big party or a ton of people have been in and out. You never know what has come into your home, and as parents, you have a particular spiritual authority to kick out anything wanting to do harm to your children.

Do I feel crazy blessing myself with water from a teeny plastic squirt bottle, tracing a cross on my daughter’s forehead at night as I tuck her into bed? Not any crazier than I feel rubbing essential oils into feverish feet or dispensing antibiotics for aching ears.

God gives us tangible relief and protection from physical ailments, lotions and ointments we can see and smell and touch, so why would He not equip us with analog spiritual remedies?

We dwell in a false dichotomy between the spiritual and the material world in this present age, but the God Who comes to us in a wafer of bread does not hesitate to confer sacramental grace through water. We’re weird about the ordinary-ness of it all. He’s not.

Blessed salt. I’m sure my mom used this when we were growing up, and I’m sure I eyerolled her haaaaard when she’d whip a ziplock bag out of her purse and bless a hotel room or a rental car. But think of it as the more portable, rugged version of holy water. Good for blessing doorways and sprinkling along property lines as a barrier between your family and the world. Again, this is not magic. It is not some kind of potion that stops demons from crossing into your space like an X-wing hitting a deflector shield. It’s an act of faith claiming this ground, this room, this space for Christ.

As the Israelites smeared the blood of the passover lamb on their doorposts and the angel of death passed over their homes, we sprinkle blessed salt and consecrate the holy ground we’re raising our children on to God. Who did not spare the Israelite’s firstborn children for any other reason but for their faith and obedience. It was not magic blood. It was an outward expression of their faith, a public witness of their other-ness.

Medals. I have worn a Miraculous Medal for years. Though, there were a few in college where I let it fall by the wayside (let’s just say it wasn’t super consistent with the lifestyle I was living at the time, either…) but then in grad school, I picked it back up again. I’ve also worn a scapular from time to time, but can never seem to keep the habit up, (I think because I’m a highly sensitive person and the texture of it bothers me.)

Whichever you choose, both the miraculous medal and the brown scapular in particular are powerful devotionals to Our Lady, and the Church teaches that, worn with faith and in concordance with a life of virtue, carry powerful promises attached to them. Namely, that Mary will intercede for you particularly at the moment of your death. Since Jesus will not deny His beloved Mother anything she asks, I super want her on my team at the bottom of the ninth. Also, it’s a lot harder to do obviously sinful things, at least for me, when I’m rocking the gold chain. Again, not because it’s magic, but because the physical presence of it reminds me of the spiritual weight behind my thoughts and words.

I could go on, but these are the primary sacramental (note: small-s sacramental = tools for living daily sanctity. Big S-Sacramental pertains to properties or qualities belonging to the Church’s Seven Sacraments) weapons in my arsenal.

And finally, it’s always helpful to wield these weapons with the assistance of the ultimate angelic BA, St. Michael. Let’s finish up with his prayer in the original Latin, which is basically a spiritual mic drop:

Sáncte Míchael Archángele, defénde nos in proélio, cóntra nequítiam et insídias diáboli ésto præsídium. Ímperet ílli Déus, súpplices deprecámur: tuque, prínceps milítiæ cæléstis, Sátanam aliósque spíritus malígnos, qui ad perditiónem animárum pervagántur in múndo, divína virtúte, in inférnum detrúde. Ámen

(and in English:)

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

(The salt and water are holy. The succulent, being a fake from IKEA, is just lucky.)

Click here for part one in this series: Spiritual Warfare 101: prayers of protection.

 

Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, Culture of Death, deliverance, Evangelization, Family Life, prayer, sin, spiritual warfare

Spiritual Warfare 101: prayers of protection

February 6, 2017

Before our biggest little people scurry out the door on school mornings, there is a prayer we gather to pray as a family apart from the morning offering and the basic “love you, be safe.” We started doing some version of this about a year ago, praying specifically and intentionally for protection from harm – be it physical, spiritual, or emotional – over each other and over the kids at the beginning of each day. Some days we drop the ball, other days one of us might remember later in the morning and a quick phone call will accomplish the feat. But we have noticed a significant difference between the days we pray this way and the days we don’t.

A few things before I get deeper into this. First, praying this way is not magical. Asking God to protect you from accidents, injuries, curses, etc. is not like waving a verbal wand over the 12 hour expanse of day stretched out ahead of you and rendering it “safe.” These prayers focus on staying in the safest place possible: the center of God’s will. And His will is mysterious, sometimes more so than others. So we pray this way with clear eyes and the expectation that God will hear our prayer and apply our petitions in the ways that will accomplish our greatest good, from His perspective.

So we pray with faith, sometimes more distracted than other times, but always with the expectation that as long as we are seeking God’s will and really trying to live it, He is going to do His part for our greatest good and for His greatest glory.

Acknowledging that sometimes God’s plans look nothing like ours, and can even be excruciatingly painful at times, when experienced in a vacuum, has helped me to let go of the magical thinking that goes something like “Well, I asked God for this and I was really specific with Him, and He didn’t deliver. Guess He doesn’t care/isn’t there/isn’t omnipotent.” (Maybe you’re holier than me, or more well-formed, and you never think that way. But just in case there are any other mediocre Christians out there reading this, I thought I’d include it as a pertinent detail.)

I also wrestled a bit with the idea that we would be giving the enemy – satan, you know the guy – too much credibility by praying in a way that was overtly acknowledging his existence and specifically rejecting him. Like, would that make our kids nuts? Do they need to hear us engaging in verbal warfare with an unseen force for evil who is actively seeking to harm them and disrupt their path to holiness?

Then I thought about the renewal of baptism prayer and the St. Michael prayer, and I got over myself. After all, one of satan’s most effective weapons in the modern age is that while the culture is utterly fascinated with witchcraft, dark magic, occult practices and gnosticism, many Christians – can I go so far as to say most? – are ashamed to admit any belief in a person who is evil incarnate and who works tireless for our eternal damnation. LOL JOKE’S ON THEM, he’s got to be thinking.

CS Lewis said as much in The Screwtape Letters, cackling deliciously as Uncle Screwtape over the coup of the century, to hoodwink the world into an oblivious skepticism of real evil, dismissible as fairy tales and ghost stories and utterly not serious and not suitable for contemplation by intelligent people with rational minds. Brilliant strategy, as these things go.

And we now have two big problems on our hands: First, an inability to trust that God has our best interests at heart (isn’t that the oldest one on the books?) and second, a disbelief – or at least a hearty skepticism – that there is anyOne out there who is truly our enemy, and who is actively seeking to destroy us.

It’s a pretty effective recipe for disaster.

Enter the protection prayers, which I consider spiritual warfare 101. After all, the first step is admitting that we have a problem. And Houston, we have a problem. The culture is in full on meltdown mode, and as parents, we’re tasked with doing our best to navigate the waters we dwell in and get these kids home safe, taking as many other people as possible with us.

So, as a first step into this perhaps unfamiliar realm, may I recommend starting your day with a simple prayer of protection.

We have two versions we’ve used. We like this shorter version a priest friend shared with us best, and I think it’s pretty all-encompassing. We printed it out and taped it to our fridge where we would see it every day, and it has proven to be a convenient mechanism for reminding us to actually do it. I suggest you do the same with your spouse and kids, if they’re old enough to read along and pay attention. Some days I’ll pray it again if I’m feeling particularly besieged by what feels like demonic interference, or if I realize we’d forgotten to do it that morning.

Spiritual Protection of the Home

Dear Lord Jesus,  please surround me (my family/friends/home) with a perimeter of Your Love and Protection throughout the day today and every day a hundred yards in all directions.

Lord Jesus, render any demons that are here, or should try to come, deaf, dumb, and blind. Strop them of all weapons, illusions, armor, power, and authority. Disable them from communicating or interacting in any way. Bind, sever, and separate them, sending them directly to the foot of Your Cross, without manifestation or harm, to us or to anyone, to be dealt with by you Jesus as you see fit.

May Your Precious Blood cover us, the Holy Spirit fill us, Mary’s mantle of love and protection surround us, St. Joseph guide us, the Holy Angels and Saints guard and protect us from all unfortunate events. Protect us from fire, theft, vandalism, flood, storms, ailments and accidents of every sort, distress, hardship, curse, and all untoward things. I ask this all in your Name Jesus, through Mary’s intercession, now. Amen!

Bottom line? This stuff is real. And even though it marks you out as crazy cakes to start talking about it, it’s even crazier to pretend it isn’t happening.

We are spiritual beings as well as flesh and blood, and as Ephesian 6:12 promises, “We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

St. Michael, St. Joseph, St. Padre Pio, St. John Paul II, and Mother Mary, pray for us!

About Me, Catholic Spirituality, Family Life, mental health, motherhood

Winter Survival List

February 2, 2017

I wanted to participate in Modern Mrs Darcy’s “What’s Saving My Life Right Now” reflection exercise, but I just couldn’t bring myself to actually title a post … that.

Buuuut, I do have a little curated collection of practices, products, and habits that are indeed keeping me mostly afloat during a challenging season, which I will identify as having begun the day after Halloween with the first round of vomiting and has basically stretched into an almost interminable succession of viral assaults.  I know, having kids in school changes everything and I know, having little kids with limited – nay, zero – hygiene is mostly to blame, but we have been hammered by Thor himself this winter, and woe mightily unto the next classmate who shows up at school with RSV/rotovirus/pink eye/croup. Woe, I say.

But the list.

The reason I’m not bald and completely insane yet, I think, is that I’ve been making some respectable efforts in the self care/spiritual care department, and it’s helping keep things limping along.

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Reading for pleasure. I had been remiss in falling out of a good reading habit and letting the social media dragon creep stealthily back into the driver’s seat during my daily time pockets, but about 3 weeks ago when felled by the first round of croup, I forced myself to make a digital hold list and slowly but surely, my Kindle started to fill up with new titles from the library.

So far since January I’ve read The Shoemaker’s Wife (loved), Everyone Brave is Forgiven (loved), Before We Visit the Goddess (meh), The Magnolia Story (LOVED), Falling Free (moderately enjoyed), Simply Tuesday (meh), and Resisting Happiness (decent). I got well into the Neapolitan Trilogy and while the writing was simply top notch and the character development was deep and fantastic, the subject matter and the gruesome, detailed accounts of sexual violence had me clicking “return.” I told the well-read friend who’d recommended them with that very caveat that she was not wrong, but that I’m particularly sensitive to what I read, because I pretty much never forget something once I’ve read it. Downfall of a visual learner, I guess.

The punchline to all this is, look how much reading I was able to accomplish when I left my phone on my desk (sorry, friends who I forgot to text back) and forced myself to sit without “real time” entertainment. It’s kind of scary that sometimes I’ll click on my Kindle and start instinctively trying to “scroll” through it and then experience a pang of disappointment that no, I won’t be getting a dopamine hit from this particular electronic device. I need so much self control when it comes to the internet. Work in progress.

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Which brings me to my next practice: not engaging in inflammatory political discourse on the internet. The Women’s March and the March for Life aside, I’ve been assiduously avoiding engaging in any overtly political discourse with strangers or friends via social media. It is not helpful. It does not bring me joy. It does not cultivate depth or growth between myself and those digital friends with whom I am in true relationship. I am watching the news with one eye, checking headlines every day or so, but not consuming piece after piece dictating to me what I should think about what is going on in the world and in our country right now.

My particular role is to continue working in my own wheelhouse, which has always been women’s issues and life issues and the profound beauty of human sexuality. Any noise I could add to the national “conversation” (if you can call this … that) would be exactly that: noise.

I can pray for justice and I can make acts of sacrifice and self denial and offer those up for the Lord to use as He sees fit. I can donate money to charities that serve and protect refugees. I can continue praying and working and writing for a greater awareness of the sanctity of human life and the beauty of marriage. And I can pray for our President, our leaders, and those whose beliefs I don’t share, and teach my children to do the same. Screaming profanities or click-baiting friends from middle school on Facebook has never and will never advance a single cause. (Nor will, say, lighting cars on fire or pepper spraying people you disagree with.)

The world is a crude, coarse, and common place right now. Don’t contribute to the noise. If the noise is directed at you, forgive and turn away, and don’t engage in escalating violence even when it’s merely violent rhetoric. Flip the magazine covers over. Unfollow the unhinged social media ranter. Say a prayer, offer a smile, buy a stranger in line a cup of coffee, and do your little part to bring beauty into a world that is starved for it. Small acts of kindness are not incidental, they are essential to the survival of culture and desperately necessary to civilize and invigorate a culture that is losing hope and coming ever more off it’s moorings.

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This probiotic is probably what saved us from round 11 of the stomach flu last month. Two separate friends recommended it and most of my kids drink it happily (one gags and surrenders only under extreme duress). I quite like it, it reminds me of a pina colada 🙂

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A cleaning service. I found a fantastic deal on a bi-weekly housecleaning service and even though we’re in a belt-tightening season as we work on this house and prepare to sell, it has been a literal investment in my sanity and general sense of wellbeing. The kids are benefiting from it too, as I no longer faint dead away when somebody pees on the floor I just mopped, but instead wipe it down with clorox spray and look forward to next Thursday. We achieved this life-long dream of mine (at least since motherhood began) by shifting around some budget items, planning a couple simpler dinners that are vegetarian, and letting go of buying certain things organic. I realize it’s a privilege to even have the option to do this, but if there is even a possibility of getting some kind of domestic help when you work at home, whether it’s sending out laundry, having a cleaner come even once a month, or paying a neighborhood kid to do yard or snow work, I am a hearty endorser. We wear a lot of hats, whether it’s homeschooling, working part time or full time, or being all-hands on deck the only adult in charge of multiple small humans all day long. When I found we could make it work with our budget, I cut myself some slack and made it happen.

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Non-negotiable nap times. When my 2 little ones are the only one’s home Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, I have become militant about nap time. 3 year old Evie thinks she’s ready to drop hers, but come 5 pm she is borderline feral without one, so I’ve finally become the iron-willed mommy who escorts her to her room with a stack of books, a sippy cup of water, and strictest instructions to stay for a minimum of 2 hours. And then I go downstairs and turn on the stove exhaust fan, and …. ahhh, blissful white noise-masking silence. I can get everything done in those 2 hours. Everything. Like sitting around writing, or staring vacantly out the window at a flock of geese, or praying a rosary or looking at the wall that really needs to be repainted.

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Fresh flowers and lighting all the candles. Appropriate, since today is Candlemas (confession: I don’t actually know what that means), but I’ve been burning candles with wild abandon all of January and now into February and it is so comforting to have them shining during the day. I’ve also made it a point to grab a bunch of flowers from Trader Joe’s when I’m there ever week or 2, and they last so long that sometimes I’ve enjoyed uninterrupted fresh flowers for a month straight, for less than $5 a bunch.

I also started picking up a bundle of eucalyptus branches when I’m shopping once a month or so, which I break up and distribute in mason jars or vases throughout the house and especially in all the bathrooms. They look and smell so good, and they last for months. If I’m going to be working from home, working in my home, and just generally doing life within these 4 walls day in and day out, it helps my mood tremendously to have little touches of “luxury” and beauty around me. I think it makes the kids more chill, too.

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Compounded progesterone. About 2 months ago I had some labs done for some weird hormone stuff that has been going on, and while it’s not fully resolved, my doctor did suggest switching to this specific preparation of bioidentical progesterone called a troche which dissolves in the side of your cheek and is supposed to be more readily absorbed into your bloodstream. I only take it for the last 10 days of each cycle, essentially, and I have noticed a big improvement in mood and a modest improvement in the ability to stay asleep (which had been killing me). Now if only I could fall asleep before midnight.

I heard someone say that most people figure out their health “stuff,” be it mental or physical, in their mid 30s. I don’t know if that’s because you start falling apart at that point, or because you start to have some of the necessary headspace and resources to look more deeply into things, but that has certainly proven to be the case for me. (shovels another handful of supplements and vitamins into mouth.)

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Daily Mass and Adoration. I’ve been making it to one or the other (or sometimes both) at least once a week, vomiting kids notwithstanding, and it really is the game-changer. Maybe I should have listed it first? But really, when the opportunity arises, I’ve been trying to train myself into a place of “don’t think too long about it, just do it,” and as a result, I’ve been able to spend more time with Jesus. Yesterday, for example, I had to drive drop off to school while Dave met with a contractor, so I trotted next door to 8 am Mass after dropping the boys and even though Luke was in his footie pajamas and Evie was really, really naughty for the first 3 minutes, it was so worth it. Later in the day I had the thought “I could stop into the Adoration chapel” while driving near our parish and instead of caving to the 1000 things that seemed more important and interesting in that moment, I made myself pull over and go inside “just for 5 minutes” and ended up staying for 20. And it was amazing. I can’t hold down a regular holy hour during this season of life, nor can I commit to daily Mass in a literal application, but I can go – and I should – when the inspiration strikes and the circumstances allow.

So, what’s on your list right now? What are you doing that is saving your life during what can be a hard season, or even a really great season? I’d love to hear about it.

(And if you want to join the larger linkup, you can hop over to MMD and share there.)

About Me, Catholics Do What?, deliverance, house reno, spiritual warfare

Life lately

February 1, 2017

It’s hump day so why not toss together a random assortment of items on the more personal side of the spectrum, lest I go a full week without enthralling you with something in this space.

The week after I have a piece go “Catholic viral,” if you will, is always kind of …draining. I mean of course, I write stuff out here in the digital public square to be read and thoughtfully discussed/debated, and I’m so happy when I reach a wider audience, but… it’s always surprising how much energy and effort it takes to respond to comments and answer emails. And guys? I’m really, really terrible at that. I’m sorry. Know that I read every single comment I get (though I delete it as soon as I figure out it’s hate mail, if it is, #byefelicia) and I really appreciate the time it takes for you to read and then respond to anything that I write.

Especially when I go over 1,000 words! I feel like you should get a prize, then. But, I have no social media assistant or admin. I have my wonderful mother’s helper who comes once a week, but most of the time I use her presence to spend time creating new content/praying about what to write/answering urgent emails, etc.

So, please accept my gratitude and also my little personality quirk/design flaw, which is just that I’m terrible at responding to all your awesome comments?

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We’re in the throes of some major home improvement projects/renovations that have my big boys sleeping on mattresses on the living room floor and they are loving it. I don’t hate it. But it will be great to get things tied up, at which point, guess what? We’re putting our house on the market. Yep, the house we bought last summer, after an agonizing hunt and many, many false alarms. But we’ve discerned that God is calling us in a different direction, and with the many improvements we’ve made both cosmetic and functional, we probably stand  to turn a decent profit on the thing. Call it our profoundly unintended fix and flip. Or call it “Discovering you aren’t HGTV’s next big thing, after all.” Move in ready (and maybe a good bit smaller), here we come. (And, it bears noting, this will be an in-town move. #Denver4life)

I’ll miss our lovely new neighbors and the huge yard, but the scope of what this house needs long term to be really functional for our family of 6 is simply beyond our capacity. (We’re definitely adding “tri-level” to our list of deal breakers as we head into another hunting season.)

On the upside, I am giving away or selling everything we own and starting over with $500 at IKEA. I actually dream of living in an open concept warehouse with cement floors, skylights, and whitewashed walls. With benches. And without personal items aside from house plants and bath towels. Maybe I actually want to live in the IKEA foyer?

Anyway, if you’re local and in need of furniture, give me a holler, we’re seriously liquidating 80% of our belongings and starting over. (Sounds dramatic but keep in mind, we made an international move 3.5 years ago and basically started from scratch, so we don’t own that much furniture to begin with.)

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I’ve been having fascinating conversations with people lately about deliverance prayer, and observed a growing awareness within the Catholic Church and in Protestant churches about the reality of spiritual warfare. I don’t mean that the Church hasn’t always taught about and believed in the spiritual realm, but that we moderns have lost a great deal of our sense of the supernatural. Most people will not be too weirded out by the mention of guardian angels or God Himself, but bring the devil into the conversation, and you’ll get people slowly backing away looking you up and down. (Which is such a successful tactic for the enemy, when you think about it. CS Lewis famously said as much.) In our family we’ve been paying more attention to the spiritual climate within our home and out in the world, and making use of sacramentals like holy water, and praying over and for each other asking for protection and deliverance.

The St. Michael prayer and a bottle of holy water to bless your kids with in the morning and at bedtime is a great place to start. (This is one of my favorite books on the subject. It’s not Catholic, but the author works with a lot of priests and has a thriving ecumenical ministry.)

I’ll be writing some stuff specifically about deliverence and spiritual warfare over the next couple months. We really have so many incredible resources at our fingertips in the Church’s rich history, it’s just a matter of reacquainting ourselves with practices which have fallen out of common knowledge, and reawakening to the reality that we are in a literal – not a figurative – battle.

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On a less combative note, last night at 8 pm a little head popped into my room and informed me that he needed a costume for his “Trivia Bowl” team, and it needed to be “all gray, Mom. A gray bowl, with eye holes, and a grey outfit, and sunglasses. I texted a few fellow moms from his class trying to figure out what that might mean, and when I couldn’t get better clarification, I sent him to bed promising we’d “figure it out at breakfast.” Cackle. Cue 7:12 am and he is screaming because actually he remembered it’s a real bull, with horns, and it has to be gray! IT HAS TO BE GRAY. I WON’T GO TO SCHOOL WITHOUT A GRAY BULL MASK AND SUNGLASSES!!!!!”

Hysterics, tears, snot, scissors, poster board, a literal shirt-off-your-brother’s-back exchange from the big hearted 4 year old, and we had the following to show for ourselves:

Killed it, right?

Well guess what. My sister found a comprehensive list of the costumes for each grade and team and texted it to me about 10 am, complete with 121 laughing/crying emojis.

It was a gray bowl he needed for his head. The non-torro kind.

Can’t wait to see him at pickup time.

Here’s a little pick me up of the musical variety, as a reward for wading through all this random goodness. I’m off to start paaaaaaaacking. #again.

 

Uncategorized

For my non-Facebook readers

January 25, 2017

A little video my talented coworkers whipped up with some reflections on the Women’s March in Washington. God bless us, every one.

Abortion, Catholic Spirituality, Culture of Death, Evangelization

We are still sisters

January 24, 2017

I was a little astonished by the overwhelmingly positive and peaceful response to yesterday’s post. I credit that to the working of the Holy Spirit, because when I work alone, I tend to be a lot rougher around the edges. I say this with a lot of humility and embarrassment, that I’ve been cruel and capricious with my words in the past, which – even with the conviction of speaking what is true and good – must always, always be spoken with love.

That is not my native tongue.

I am quick tempered, choleric, enraged by injustice and allergic to inefficiency. Ask my poor children, who live with the most autocratic Lego policeman of a mother you could ever imagine. I don’t like taking the time to make the relational connections necessary to have the harder conversations – I like to jump to the punchline and deliver the logical conclusion like a grenade.

Which is a really, really ineffective way to evangelize, it turns out. Who wants to be exploded upon, turns out?

At any rate, for the sake of full disclosure, I wanted to acknowledge that I have been a cruel Christian at times, too insecure in my own position and too angry at the evils the culture is perpetuating on my sisters in particular. I’ve spoken rashly and used the wrong words. But I beg you to look past those mistakes, if you are willing to, and see the deepest desire of my heart, which is that each of us know and love Christ.

In the sea of positive comments and thoughtful critiques, one in particular stood out to me, and I paraphrase: “I left the church. thanks for reminding me why. You are not my sister.”

Which is not true.

No matter how deeply rooted your belief that a woman should be free to choose to abort her child, no matter how divergent our political ideologies, there will never be a moment when we are not sisters.

Take it from a woman who has 4 of the good ol’ fashioned flesh-and-blood variety, but difference of opinion or even radically-divergent worldviews do not the bonds of sisterhood dissolve.

Particularly when we are united – indelibly, inalterably, inextricably – by the bond of baptism in Christ.

It is so essential that we recognize ourselves in the hearts and faces of “the other” who we oppose. Opposition needn’t mean hate. It needn’t mean rejection and vitriol and violence. It can be hard and it can be messy and of course, disagreement is often painful and our interactions potentially pain-filled…but you will never stop being my sister.

If you kill your unborn baby, you will still be my sister.

If you stand on the highest podium in the land and pledge your allegiance to the warped ideology of modern feminism, pledging hand-over-heart fealty to Planned Parenthood, you will still be my sister.

If you can’t stand the sound of my voice, can’t stomach the words on this page, can’t reconcile the notion that a woman who stands opposed to your worldview can still acknowledge your human dignity, you will still be my sister.

Disagreement needn’t make us enemies. I want to invite you to wholeheartedly consider the possibility that even in profound disagreement and anger, we needn’t be that.

I do not hate women who see the world differently than I do. (Or men, either, for that matter.) That’s kind of the entire crux of Christianity, I think.

And if you are away from the Church, or have never stopped to give it a second look after lapsing in your Mass attendance after college, I beg you to reconsider. There are flawed sinners in the pews every Sunday. None of us are doing it perfectly. But we all hunger for Jesus. And He meets us there in the Eucharist, undeserving and imperfect though we are.

I want to invite you to consider the possibility that He is inviting you there, too. And that He has something to say about your life, about the plans for that life, and about the unique mission He has entrusted to you alone.

Even if we can never come to terms with our differences and even if you never make that trek home, know that you will never be my enemy.

Respectfully,

your sister.

 

Abortion, Catholic Spirituality, Contraception, Culture of Death, politics, pregnancy, Pro Life, Theology of the Body, Women's Health, Women's Rights

To my sisters who marched on Washington

January 23, 2017

I wanted to write something snarky. I wanted to dash off line after line of statistics and data supporting the appalling abuse committed against women and children in the name of “progress” and “equality.” I wanted to drop blistering one-liners about losing our bearings, rejecting our feminist roots and blowing past all the other pertinent issues surrounding women’s freedoms that don’t originate in the pelvic region.

But then I watched some of the coverage of the marches – the big one in Washington and the smaller ones around the country and the world. And I read real women’s stories and saw their tear-streaked faces and I recognized myself in each of them, pink hats notwithstanding.

Because we are all of us desperate for love.

The fire that burns in the eyes of a million demonstrators is not something to be dismissed or derided. However wrong I believe their cause, however appalling I find their tactics, I cannot dismiss the humanity of these angry, hurting people.

For 43 years we have lived a national nightmare. For a hundred years before that, the planks were being diabolically slid into place, building a foundation on rotted, wrong-headed principles that had little to do with true human freedom and everything to do with a new kind of enslavement, to an “enlightened” social order which utterly subjugates the least of these to the caprices of the ones in power.

It is the most clever and effective tactic hell has coughed up since that business in Eden, to turn a mother against her child, and to turn women against their own femininity. And of course, – of course – the Enemy would seek to desiccate the very source of our salvation, the openness of spirit and the willingness of heart and the heroic bravery of a young woman to step boldly into the plan of salvation history, opening her womb to receive the gift of Life itself.

Mary is the most feared creature in the history of all humanity. And the most powerful.

Her yes to God altered reality itself. And her willingness to set aside her own plans and to offer God her very life was key to His achieving our salvation. He could have asked anyone, in any time. He could have asked a man. He could have zapped Himself down to earth and appeared as a 30 year old carpenter, fully equipped to build tables and preach the Gospel without the pesky three decades of life in a dull little family unit in a dirty, backwater town in the Middle East.

But He did not.

He choose to come into our world through the womb of a woman, His mother. And as I scrolled through picture after picture of angry, frightened women wearing vaginas on their heads, carrying signs pledging allegiance to Planned Parenthood and swearing that any lecherous old white man who wanted to deprive them of their contraceptives would have to pry them from their cold, dead hands, my heart broke for the satanic effectiveness of this whole campaign.

As it ever was, from the beginning, the Enemy seeks to divide and conquer, pitting man against woman, mother against child. This modern iteration of “feminism” is anything but; a warped perversion of the profound and beautiful truth of the unique and earth-shattering dignity of femininity.

The culture deafens us with shouts about freedom and equality. What it means by that is that we are all reducible to the sum of our reproductive parts, that we are packages of pregnancy-vulnerable organ systems that must be shuttered at all cost, that our worth lies in our ability to forcibly extract financial support from society at large to keep us carefully sterile, effectively barren.

The modern argument for feminism is intimately tied up with abortion rights. The right for a woman to control her own destiny by killing her child is the highest held sacrament in this pseudo religion. The vow that no woman will ever be made bereft by the sexual caprices of a man who would ruin her life by impregnating her and then abandoning her, is paramount.

“NO” you might be shouting, a card-carrying feminist yourself. “It isn’t that at all! Women deserve equal opportunities that men have by birthright. We will not be enslaved by our reproductive systems, punished by a monthly cycle which persists with the damning threat of new life. Science has freed us from this drudgery, and the law and the culture must follow!”

But this entire system is predicated upon the belief, unspoken or unacknowledged for many though it may be, that something is fundamentally wrong with being a woman.

That women, as they are and as they were created and as they forever shall be recognized, are fatally flawed. And that achieving equality with the “dominant” sex requires the suppression and mutilation and utter rejection of our capacity to conceive and bear new life.

“NO!” I can hear the shouting revving up again. “IT’S THE FREEDOM TO CHOOSE WHEN THAT WE ARE FIGHTING FOR!”

And to that I say, we aren’t that powerful. And I don’t mean we as women, but we as human beings.

The freedom to choose whether and when you will take the life of another human being is no freedom at all; it is slavery of the basest sort. To proclaim that the rights of women are founded on the trampled rights of the child is no achievement of civil progress, it is a redistribution of pain and abuse, trickled down to the smallest and meekest ones. MLK would never have advocated for a freedom for blacks predicated upon the subjection of yellows or whites. His understanding cut to the heart of what it means to be human: that we are each of us created equal, in the image and likeness of God.

Each of us.

No matter whether we possess a penis or ovaries. No matter if our bodies are tiny and underdeveloped or wizened with age. No matter if we are beautiful and perfectly pulled together or disgusting and matted with the dirt and the grime of a lifetime of abuse and neglect.

Non of us can take away the dignity of another human being, given by God who sees in each of us the image of His Beloved son.

When we reduce our rights to a laundry list of procedures we ought to have access to, a list of medications which can protect us from becoming mothers, or can clean out the contents of our wombs should the timing or circumstances be tragic, we lose sight of what it means to be human, to be a person created to be in relationship with others, orienting us ultimately toward that greatest Other.

Abortion is not feminism. Sexual socialism, whereby the government subsidizes, with the funds of the populace, a preferred lifestyle of license and debauched freedom, is not feminism. Marching in the streets with self-defacing placards and self-abusing slogans of the vilest and crudest sort is not feminism.

I understand that there is fear. Fear of what a future unplanned and unexpected and unsafe could look like. But that fear is rooted in forgetfulness. We have forgotten who we are, and Whose we are. We have traded the truth for a lie: that we can be like God, choosing who lives and dies, utterly controlling our destinies during our lives on earth.

But perfect love casts out all fear. Perfect love raises up the lowly and the frightened and looks us dead in the eye and says, “you matter. You were created out of love, and for love, and I love you madly. I died for you, and I still suffer for love of you. Look at me and let me tell you who you are, and what you were made for.”

Don’t let Planned Parenthood tell you what it means to be a woman. Don’t let any NGO or government agency or corporation or worldview or popular cultural movement tell you what it means to be female. They didn’t write the manual on you, and they can never show you the depth of your dignity or the fullness of what you are worth.

It is a lie. And we have let our trust in our Creator die and have chosen it, time and again.

The truth is terrifying, but that’s because freedom – true freedom – is the most radical thing the world has ever seen.

You were made for more than this. You were made for greatness. You were made by love, for love. And so long as we rage against love, our hearts will ever be restless, angry, unsatisfied and afraid.

But we have a God who tells us constantly, untiringly,

Be Not Afraid.

You were made for more than what your body is, or what your body can do. You were made for more than casual sex, for more than abortion, for more than mutual masturbation. You are more than a receptacle into which sperm should be deposited and than evacuated. And anyone and anything that has ever convinced you otherwise has been a lie.

If you have never known God, or have only known a broken image of Him, I beg you to reconsider in light of this one question only: what does it mean to have been created a woman? What was I created for? 

And let Him whisper the answer to you. Scream at Him if you must. He can take it.

But don’t settle for what this world wants to give you in terms of freedom, of feminism. It’s a counterfeit, and a cheap one at that. Walk past the knockoffs – they’re garbage, poorly made, and unethically-sourced anyway. But you already know that. Keep your chin up and your head held high, and do not settle for anything less than that for which you were made.

You are a daughter of the King, and His plans for your life far surpass those of any of the angry, agitated leaders whose screams echo from podiums or ring out into the vast echo chamber of social media.

You were made for more.

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Catholic Spirituality, Family Life, motherhood, Parenting

I will peel your oranges

January 18, 2017

The longer I’m at this gig the more humbling it is to find oneself falling far, far short of the mark, not only of housekeeping and public decency, but of basic charity.

Half my kids are sick today. Croup, fevers, tummy aches, the works. The other half are teetering on the brink and all I can think is “how inconvenient. How frustrating. How terribly short my sleep was cut last night.”

But I have to plug in the humidifier. I have to sit on the couch and hold and comfort and apply tissues and administer charity of a general sort, and it is hard.

I am more moved by the beautiful moments of motherhood than the hard ones. Seeing my firstborn son turn a technically perfect backstroke, flipping around to catch the edge of the pool and flash me a hundred watt grin. Those moments enlarge my heart with pride, bringing an easy smile to the surface. As I’ve beaten to death on these pages recently, the harder moments are the ones that bring massive deviations from the planned schedule and derail productivity to zero.

I think that in the upside down kingdom of God, those dull, inconvenient moments are probably more important. Simon of Cyrene stooping his shoulder to bear the weight of the Cross, if only for a few minutes. Veronica pushing past the crowds to wipe a battered brow with her own garments, responding not to a perfectly planned day running errands and being productive, but meeting Christ in the street, as she actually encountered Him, bloodied and repulsive. Needy. Probably not as she’d hoped or expected to.

I desperately love my children, and yet there are days – too many – when I spend massive amounts of energy and time trying to devise ways to escape their neediness, if only mentally. Flip on a show (today there are so many shows, necessary to the illness at hand, there is a time and a place for Netflix), toss a snack, distract with a toy pulled up from the basement. All in the name of buying myself, what, a few minutes to finish an important email or a phone call with a stranger working out some all important bureaucracy? Mailing the energy bill on time? Putting on mascara.

Okay, that last one is important. But you see my point?

I will peel your oranges today. I will set aside my agenda and purge my schedule and watch the dirt grow on the floor and sit with you, and I will respond not to the Christ who comes conveniently in quiet prayer times with lit candles and silent, dark living rooms but in the distressing disguise of the child, coughing into my ill-timed and opened mouth when I stoop to lift him into my arms, needing not the possible plans I’d made for myself today, but my very self.

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breastfeeding, Catholics Do What?, Contraception, Marriage, mental health, NFP, Parenting, pregnancy, Sex, Theology of the Body

NFP: The methods and the madness

January 12, 2017

Never one to resist a pun.

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, but I wanted to have a few months (a year maybe, now?) under my belt before going and saying something crazy like “we found an NFP method that works great for us and it’s been a game changer.” Before we go any further, however, the necessary disclaimer that I am not a medical expert, that my opinions are not those of a trained healthcare practitioner, and that what works great for one couple may not be so hot for the next. Which is why we have a proliferation of methods at our disposal. Some friends who learned the Sympto-Thermal method alongside us while we were going through marriage prep are still happily using it. Other friends have gone through one method after another, landing in their doctor’s office doing bloodwork and figuring out all kinds of hormone imbalances and health issues.

So the big fat disclaimer to this all is: NFP is women’s healthcare. And we women and the men who love us should take it seriously, and treat it as such. Which means seeking out doctors and nurses and instructors who are trained in the various methods, when we’re struggling with finding something that works and with figuring out our unique fertility. Facebook groups are super helpful, books are great, and online resources can be a godsend, but sometimes you need a trained professional to help figure out the language your body is speaking.

This is where I tell you that we found such a professional to teach us a wonderful new method of NFP well suited to my body, and we lived happily ever after. But no, I self-taught using the sage counsel of a combination of Facebook groups and my patient little sister. So do as I say, not as I do! End disclaimer.

Where were we? Oh yes, 3 methods in 3 years. Or just about. We learned Sympto Thermal through the Couple to Couple League when we were engaged, but perhaps because we were excited to start our family right away, I wasn’t paying the greatest of attention to that daily temperature taking protocol. Once baby #1 came along and I was supposed to start waking up at a reasonably early hour and testing again, along with making mucus and cervical observations, I was done. Between the night wakings, the nurse-a-thons and the unusual mucus patterns, we never found our rhythm (ba dum ching) with CCL again, and so we moved on to Creighton.

Creighton was great in terms of helping me to understand where I was chronologically in my cycle. Numbers are really difficult for me, and Creighton was more hands on (I’m sorry I literally cannot help myself) and helped make our fertility a more concrete concept. However. While I am nursing, it was basically an endless yellow sticker party for months and months and months. (For the uninitiated, yellow stickers are when your instructor gives you the green light to go ahead and consider some days infertile, based on observations over a period of months, and agrees that the hormones related to breastfeeding are also totally obscuring the cyclical mucus patterns your body is supposed to show once you cycle returns postpartum, and that you probably haven’t actually been in Phase 2 for the past 13 weeks. In my case, that return to regular fertility typically begins about 10 months after baby, as long as I’m breastfeeding.

The psychological toll of the yellow stickers was tough on me though, because it always felt very “fertility roulette” and very much all on my subjective shoulders to make the right observations and then to give the correct classification. Call it a lack of self confidence or just a body really intent on getting pregnant again, but I pretty much felt like every month we practiced Creighton we were going to conceive, so long as I was nursing. Enter the weekly Dollar Tree pregnancy test taking ritual.

After Luke was born in 2015, our 4th sweet bundle of joy in 5 years, I was very anxious for a break, both mentally and physically. Creighton did not seem to be a good fit for our particular situation, at least during the nursing months (and they were all nursing months, back then) so we sought out yet another method, one that several of my girlfriends had tried and found success with.

One thing I want to note is that because the postpartum season is so exhausting and so overwhelming, it is the one time I have really found myself tempted by contraception. I totally get it. I get that it seems like a godsend, like an obvious solution, and like the only non-insane thing to do when you’re bleeding and sleep deprived and financially bereft and just barely hanging on.

And I think a lot more of us have been there than are willing to let on in polite company.

But in my heart of hearts, and in the heart of our marriage, I know that God would not hold something good just out of arm’s reach from us. And that if contraption were a true answer to our hardships, the Church who is a good and faithful Mother would extend it as the healing balm to our fertility woes.

But she hasn’t. Because it isn’t. It isn’t the answer when you’re 7 weeks postpartum and haven’t slept in 44 nights, or when you’re struggling to make the mortgage payment, or when you’re teetering on the precipice of menopause and really, really afraid of having a baby in your mid forties.

Contraception is either good for human love, or it isn’t. It either builds up and supports marriages, or it tears them down. And it’s either something God has asked us to yield to His will over our own on, or else it’s something that everybody can freely partake of, no matter the circumstances.

Human circumstances are rarely black and white, but God is. And His guidelines for our happiness and holiness are unwavering, however wobbly and wrecked I might be in any particular month.

So, back to the new method. We ordered up a Clear Blue monitor (this one from amazon, use my pal Bonnie’s affiliate link to shop there), which comes in a really fun box with “helps you get pregnant faster!” scrawled on all four sides of it, as do the monitor sticks, which inspired a ton of confidence in me when I opened the package, and which I really love seeing under my bathroom sink every morning.

Basically, the Marquette Method did an end-run around this ovulation predicting and pinpointing urine-testing monitor and figured out a way use the monitor and to co-opt it’s data to reveal to a woman the specific parameters of her fertile window (Phase 2). The monitor uses urine test sticks which measure detectable levels of lutenizing hormone (LH) and estrogen levels and can give a pretty accurate picture of when ovulation is occurring, and then gives you a count down back to “low” fertility after peak day. I like the objectivity of the method tremendously, because I can put all my faith into a tiny machine instead of my exhausted midnight brain, and that seems eminently more reasonable to me. I’m only joking the very littlest bit about that. Which maybe I need to talk to someone about. But seriously, having an objective standard by which I am measuring my fertility signs has been a huge weight off my shoulders.

The postpartum period was a little tricky with Marquette (and a little more expensive with the test sticks) but it was hugely freeing for me to feel like I had a good understanding of what my body was doing, and that even with the continuous mucus patterns during breastfeeding, the hormone levels my body was producing were low enough to reassure me that my cycle was not yet returning. I think it probably bought us literally months of useable days during the postpartum period with Luke. And now that I am in regular cycles again, it has been extremely helpful in corroborating other psychological and physiological changes that each cycle brings.

Learning Marquette with a Creighton background helped me to not trust the monitor overly much, too, I would say. Because I know have what I think is the most possible data at my disposal, short of blood testing, I can make truly educated decisions about my fertility using what I learned with each method, checking the hard data against the more subjective. (Not saying Creighton is not scientifically rigorous, just that it’s easier to be objective with a little computer than with a square of toilet paper.)

Also, it should be noted that for couples who are struggling to conceive, Creighton is something of a gold standard for many people.

I hope this was helpful? Informative? Not mind-numbing or totally repulsive? And I may write a more detailed Marquette “how to” post one of these days, if I can work up the enthusiasm.