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 unity 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.

download

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.

20170118_125409

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.

About Me, Catholic Spirituality, prayer, self care

2017: a saint, a word, and some idiot proof habits

January 10, 2017

Well, it’s that time of year again where the New Year’s resolution you made 11 days ago is maybe losing it’s shine, and maybe you’re looking ahead to starting up in February instead, right?

No? Just me?

Actually, this year has been a little different so far, 10 whole days in. Maybe it’s because the ball dropped amidst an endless storm of viral illnesses in our household. Maybe it’s because I possessed the strength of character and courage of conviction of a newborn kitten when I made my little list, but at any rate, here’s what I came up with, and what is actually, so far, sticking.

First of all, my “word” for 2017. Trust. I shiver in anticipation at what that might mean. And it’s not a good shiver. (See why I need to work on this one?)

Well see.

And the habits? They’re really complicated. Ready?

1. Pray for 5 minutes a day. Preferably the first 5 minutes (but not necessarily the first. Because that little resolution has killed me dead so many times over.) This sounds ridiculous, right? Because I write for a Catholic organization, my kids go to a beautiful Catholic school, heck, sometimes I even go to daily Mass. Maybe one or two times a week, this season. So surely I was already, you know, praying on a regular daily basis.

Weeeeeeeell. Not necessarily. I mean Holy Mass absolutely “counts,” but Mass with 3 or 4 small companions writhing under my arms is generally not a prayerful experience for me. It must be a personality flaw. I go to Mass to desperately dart up the center aisle to receive Jesus with sometimes a child literally dangling from each armpit, feeling not unlike a savage animal baring my teeth to Father who bemused, places the God of the Universe on my waiting, awkwardly extended and probably not stuck out far enough past my teeth why can’t I get this down after 20+ years of receiving the Eucharist???? tongue. And then I run back down the side aisle, screaming tots dangling, and finish up my prayers of thanksgiving in the vestibule. So, no, not terribly prayerful in the recollected sense.

But 5 minutes with my Bible in my lap and maybe even a coffee? That’s heavenly. And I can do it. I can pray for 5 minutes. My fractured millennial attention span, further aggravated by sleep deprivation and internet browsing, can handle 5 minutes. I can even lock myself in the bathroom to accomplish it. Theoretically.

And that’s my big spiritual resolution for the year. That I pray for 5 minutes a day. With 5 minutes being the minimum threshold. So some days I might pull off 20 minutes, circumstances permitting. But the minimum is all I’m shooting for, which makes it almost impossible to talk myself out of it/forget about it.

Now, onward to ambitious effort number two:

2. Run one lap around the park across the street, every day. This one seems grandiose, but believe me that it is not. I mapped it out after the first time I did it, mentally patting myself on the back for having “a perfect one mile loop literally on my doorstep!” The mapmyrun verdict? .62 miles. Cackle. Guess I’m not quite in the fighting shape I’d imagined.

It has been so good though. Because it takes 10 minutes. I don’t have to get in the car and drive to the gym (but on the days I do that, I just run 1 mile on the treadmill at a laughably slow pace, and sometimes a little further. But 1 mile is all I “have” to do on an indoor run.

When Dave gets home from work, if I haven’t done it yet, I throw on some running shoes and disappear out the door for 12 minutes of stretching and running. Sometimes it turns into 20, if I’ve gotten dinner already going and the mood strikes me. But either way, I get that one lap in. And it feels awesome. About a month ago when I was going through a really rough patch, my best friend left me a Voxer message telling me “RUN! You’re a runner! Put your shoes on and go! It’s your thing, I know you!” And even though I LOL’d and rolled my eyes almost inside of my forehead at that, it resonated pretty deeply, nudging awake a little part of myself that had been buried under stretches of sleepless nights and long months of pregnancy. I was a runner, I told her in my reply message, a little indignant, but if I were to try that again, my body would fall apart. My hips would get out of alignment, my back would hurt, I’d pee my pants, I rattled off a whole list of geriatric complaints for why I couldn’t run run anymore. And then I went and I thought about it for a couple weeks, feeling alternately mad and excited by the prospect, however remote it seemed.

Maybe I couldn’t train for a half marathon right now (or maybe I could and I’m just too busy/too lazy/too tired), but I could probably run like, a mile a day, right? At about a 12 minute pace. So we’re talking extremely gentle here. I could probably do that. But what would be the point? Besides, I’d look stupid. People driving past me would probably honk at me for looking so stupid, or stop to ask me if I was okay. I concocted a million unlikely scenarios that involved strangers rolling down their car windows to laugh at my sad, slow run…and then I laced up my shoes and jogged out the front door on New Year’s Eve.

One lap.

I came back inside flushed and exhilarated and totally hooked again, becuase I forgot how good it can feel, how the endorphins flow just with the littlest bit of effort, and how it isn’t what you wear or even how you look that makes you a runner; it’s if you run.

If you run, then you’re a runner.

I’ve been tracking these little daily habits in the Catholic Women’s Companion which has all but converted me to keeping a non-digital planner, and I can see that I’ve run 9 miles so far in 2017. That’s a hell of a lot of miles. That’s a round trip to school. That’s a one-way jaunt to the Bronco’s stadium, as the crow flies. And over the past 11 days, I ran it on foot. In my not-so-in-shape, 34 year old mom body.

That feels pretty dang good.

Finally, I clicked over to ye olde Saint Name Generator that Jen puts up every year, and got myself a patron for 2017: Pope St. Leo the Great. Doctor of the Church. First Pope to be dubbed “the great,” defender of the hypostatic union of Christ, developer of the Petrine Doctrine, reasoner with Attila the Hun. Pretty rad guy all around. I love me some popes, as anyone reading for more than a little while can attest to, so I was happy to get such a saint for the year.

So that’s the plan. A couple little daily habits so unobtrusive that even a lazy hag can grind them out. And if my calculations are accurate, even if most days I opt for the bare minimum of a single lap (.65 miles) and 5 minutes in prayer, by December 31st, 2017, I’ll have run 237 and a quarter miles, and spent 1,825 minutes, or more than 30 hours, in prayer. 

I’ll take it.

How about you guys?

20170101_151151

Me too buddy.

 

About Me, Catholics Do What?, Contraception, Family Life, motherhood, NFP, Parenting, reality check, Suffering, Uncategorized

If it’s so good, why is it so hard?

January 5, 2017

I found myself reflecting on the small matter of the myriad difficulties of this present life while wrestling an IKEA bookshelf into submission while being swarmed by preschoolers in Avenger’s costumes on the basement floor this morning. Sweating, with a small, chubby Batman strangling me by the shirt collar, I pressed on into idiot territory, confidant that I could complete the task without another adult present and in a timely and non-traumatic fashion.

(Maybe you are finding this scene I’m painting to be endearing or even rosy, but let me assure you that it was neither. The noise of Luke snapping in two one of the precious too-few twigs the Swedes had included with my shelving unit echoed off the wall and you would have thought it was my tibia he’d snapped based upon my reaction, which sufficiently chastened the 6 year old to reproach me with the disapproving “mom, a baby’s feelings are more important than IKEA furniture” at which point I had to agree with him and held the bawling offender in my sweating arms for a minute before continuing on.)

At any rate. Life with little kids (and, I suspect, also bigger kids) is not easy. I sometimes read words written by other mothers and I scratch my head a little and alternately hang it in shame because if I’m being brutally honest with you, as I am wont to do, I must confess that the precious, blissful “this is what it’s all about” encounters with the divine reality of the work I’m doing are few and far between these days.

I don’t mean that I don’t enjoy my children, and I certainly don’t mean that I don’t love them, but I often fail to find common ground with the “seize every moment, cherish every experience” genre because I struggle mightily to do both of those things.

I am immensely grateful for sweaty, fevered brows that respond to Tylenol and mommy’s murmured assurances in the dead of night, but my weak flesh quakes and resists the calls from down the hall at 3 am, every time. I find my footing on the floor beside the bed and tamp down feelings of anger, of resentment, of entitlement – above all else – that whisper into my brain promises of more leisure, more order, more comfort, if only…

If only what? If only I hadn’t had them? If only they numbered 50% fewer? If only I swore up and down that we were “done,” that I was “done,” that I couldn’t handle one single other demand made on my too-small, crowded to suffocation plate?

There is a lie present in our culture today, and maybe it’s The Lie that has been plaguing humanity since the beginning, just neatly adapted to look modern and scientific and reasonable-like. It’s the lie that whispers things into your ear like “you deserve this. Treat yourself. You’re not getting the best deal. Look over there at what she has, at what he does, at how they live.”

Envy. Resentment. Defiance. All bound together by a common thread of self mastery in the disordered sense. The belief that I am the master of myself, of my universe, and ultimately of the happiness that this life has to offer. 

Almost every difficulty I encounter in this difficult, exhausting season of marriage and family life stems from a warped perception of Whose life it is, actually. That I am entitled to a certain number of consecutive hours of sleep per night. That my body can (and should) look and perform a certain way despite having been laid down 4 times in the shallow grave of self-offering and co-creation with God. That Dave and I have the right to a certain amount of leisure time in the evenings, almost as if we deserve some kind of cosmic ‘atta boy’ for our openness to life and obedience to the Church’s teachings, and therefore everyone should sleep peacefully for 11 solid hours, 7 nights a week.

Please.

This is folly. And when I see it all spilled out across white space on the digital page, I can smile and nod my head that of course it is. But that doesn’t prevent me from whipping myself into an internal frenzy of hijacked control.

And, if I may be so bold, I believe we live in a time which uniquely encourages that illusion. Packages it up and sells it back to us in fact, beautiful and pixilated and oh-so-enticing.

Yesterday as I made small talk with a service man who’d stopped by the house to do an estimate, he gestured to the 4 precious people flopped on my couch watching Pound Puppies (yeah. But it’s 5 degrees Fahrenheit and snowing heavily) and winked at me, asking “are you done?” And I lowered my eyes to the ground and my cheeks reddened because this answer is never easy, and this question is never one I get out of gracefully.

“We’ll see,” I mumbled with the faintest of smiles.

“You’re not!” He slapped his thigh with the heartiest of guffaws, and I braced myself for the coming “so are you crazy AF??” stream of consciousness about birth control, etc. but suddenly he got serious and his eyes, I kid you not, moistened a little.

“I admire this, what you’re doing here. Not too many people willing to do it these days. To put in the hours and make the sacrifices. But they’re worth it. This is worth it.”

And with a nod and a tug on the brim of his hat, he disappeared out the front door like a belated Santa Claus in coveralls with a utility clipboard, and I looked over the scene he’d exited, dirty dishes piled in the sink and still sick kids languidly consuming Netflix and me in my kerchief and … you get the idea. And I could have wept for having my seemingly idiotic and irresponsible-in-the-eyes-of-the-world lifestyle reflected back to me in a luminous, undistorted picture by a perfect stranger.

Not because I needed him to agree with me that what I was doing was worthwhile, but because there are days, moments, hours when I question it myself.

Caught between a culture enthralled with youth, beauty, momentary pleasure, and wealth, and living knee deep in a Faith that calls for self denial, cross carrying, and yoking up alongside a God who does not broker an existence without pain, it’s a weird ride.

But it’s worth it, He whispers in the hard moments, bent over a budget spreadsheet that won’t balance or leaning beside a sick child vomiting for the fifth time since midnight. It’s worth it to give your life away. Even when it looks and feels and smells like death. It is the only thing of value we have to give to Him, and it’s all He asks of us.

I cringe a little over these words because their complaint reveals my real poverty, which is a deficit of gratitude. I live in a rich country and enjoy freedoms many people literally cannot dream of, and will never enjoy in this life. I have beautiful, healthy children who are safe and have food to eat. My marriage is a blessing beyond measure and utterly undeserved.

And yet, I still struggle. I struggle to make sense of a life freely chosen of self giving and offering of first fruits and a nagging interior revulsion to surrender. I cast longing glances at 2 child families in the play place and wonder whether the graphic that has been circulating frantically via text message among my girlfriends of a Utah study detailing “total weeks spent with viral load in home vs. number of children” is accurate, and what it must be like to go a whole month without someone barfing. Never mind that those families may well be suffering from the heartache of infertility, or a spouse who won’t budge on going for number 3, or are simply caught up in the convincing web of contraception.

Man, this piece is aaaaaall over the place, isn’t it? Sometimes that’s what happens when they nap together (or destroy the basement silently.) But all this to say, I don’t have it all together. And while I may write “Catholicism” professionally, I struggle mightily to live it out, day by day. And I’m trying to figure out the right balance of authenticity vs. this is some kind of nightmare vs. impersonal theoretical stuff. So, onward. Into 2017. Into a year of more self offering that is willing and done smilingly, even when teeth are gritted a little and tears are threatening.

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. Lk 9:24

20161220_132904

 

About Me, social media

Best of 2016

December 31, 2016

Well, if not best then at least most popular. Shall we list from 10 to 1? Okie dokie.

10. Conversation with an exorcist {part 1}

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

8. Porn-proofing our kids: practical steps {2 in a series}

7. Well, that escalated quickly

6. Porn-proofing our kids: emotional investment {1 in a series}

5. The power of a single life

4. This vocation is shaped like a cross

3. Conform or be destroyed (but be not afraid)

2. The innocence of children 

and, drumroll please, the one that found me chatting with radio hosts and answering emails from journalists and became my most-viewed post not just of 2016 but vvvvv close to all time:

1. Women, know your limits!

When I think back over 2016 and actually just reading through some of these old posts, I can see how dramatically I’ve changed and how much I’ve mellowed, if that is possible. (INTJ 4ever.) But I do seem to have mellowed a bit, just the same. The bark is softer, the bite is gentler. I still write about hard stuff and hold unpopular opinions, but it’s all been tempered a bit in the forge that was 2016.

I wouldn’t have said 6 months ago that this was the best year of my life, what with being the throes of shingles and watching another contract on another house fall through, but now, looking back on the journey we’ve completed as a family and that I’ve been forging as an individual, I’m a little bit in awe of what God has done. Which is helpful to call to mind when I’m temper tantruming at Him for what still needs to be done. Note to self.

This year has stretched me further and plunged me deeper into the abyss of neediness of Him than any other. From health struggles to new ways of eating and caring for my body to healing of a more spiritual nature, 2016 really had it all. And while I wouldn’t do it again for a million bucks, I’m so glad it happened. It really was a Year of Mercy. But not the fluffy kind, you know?

On a more directly blog related note, I have found that by pulling back from social media I’ve regained a better equilibrium for what my voice sounds like, and what my mission is for this space. There was a very real possibility of walking away from it all earlier in the year. And I’m glad to have found a new normal, a better balance which, for the time being, includes zero social media platforms aside form the occasional Facebook Live video and auto posting links to new blogs to FB and Twitter. Do I feel like a little bit of a hypocrite creating content and distributing it across social networks but not partaking of said networks? Well, I did at first. But after a bit of soul searching and pondering, I’ve come to believe that we all have the right and even the responsibility to decide how we’ll spend the time we’ve been given. And I was spending a vast amount of that time behaving, at least on the internet, the same way I’d behaved in grad school or as a young single working girl: supremely connected and almost always available.

When I looked around at my dirty floors and 4 beautiful and demanding children and the life we were trying to build, it made very little sense to be spending literal hours a day answering messages and emails, checking notifications, and the like. I’m not exaggerating, either. It was very literally hours, some days, when it all added up.

So I’m here still, trying to figure out what the future holds for the blog. And after what my sister and I joked (she was a new college grad desperately job hunting and flopping on my couch and I was dying of home-buying related ailments and, well, shingles) that this year was the Year of “No,” it has felt right to say a whole lot of no’s lately. But I can sense that there may be a new season just up ahead, on the horizon. This morning I went for a run, my first in maybe 5 months. As I pounded the pavement to a vintage Tom Petty album, I felt a real sense of possibility that maybe soon, maybe even this week or this month, we would be transitioning out of a season of survival mode and into something more. More what? I’m not sure. I just have the sense that this grueling, necessary and purifying chapter is almost finished. And maybe the next season will be harder. It could be. But maybe it could be a golden, honey-hued time of simple meals and meaningful connection. Of good, structured days and short runs and more laughing and less crying and an intensity that finds its focus not in worry or overwhelm but in prayer and in service.

I’m ready for a year like that.

I pray that your own New Year’s celebrations are joyful, chill, and marked by a distinct lack of projectile vomiting. As for me and my house, we’d like a bit of a Christmas do-over, and maybe we’ll shoot for just that.

Peace be with us, every one.

mama and luke

(And also, if you could spare a moment of prayer for a giant of a man, Fr. Mike Scanlan, who is probably going home to Jesus today. Pray for his endurance in this final mile, and for a glorious reception in Heaven. My life, like so many others of my generation, was absolutely transformed by his yes to the Lord. Read about him here.)

Uncategorized

May the force be with you

December 28, 2016

Carrie Fisher was a childhood hero of mine. Long before I would learn about her tumultuous personal life, her battles with drug addiction and her brave struggle with mental illness, I was starstruck for Princess Leia, who was the first real female superhero, in my book. Watching her light it up on the big screen, keeping pace with the tough guys while remaining uniquely and indisputably feminine was a singular privilege of my adolescent years, when the original Star Wars trilogy was re-released in theaters for a second generation of fans to fall in love with a galaxy far, far away.

I remember feeling astonished after walking out of “A New Hope” for the first time, that a movie could affect me so deeply, or that characters could seem so real. It feels silly admitting this now as a 34 year old mother of four, but when I was 13 years old, I think I really believed in that alternate galaxy, and I know for sure that I deeply and personally identified with those characters.

In some ways, Princess Leia gave my burgeoning adolescent self permission to exist, conferred a sort of legitimacy to my personality: an opinionated, strong-willed and even, at times, aggressive young woman, but still very much feminine.

Princess Leia blasted – literally, in some cases – through a dozen stereotypes every time she opened her mouth to drop a pithy one liner or issue a withering command. And I just couldn’t get enough.

I think I’ve probably dressed as Princess Leia for half a dozen Halloween parties over the years, and little Evie has gone as her twice, now, this most recent year at her own insistence after a mic-dropping rejection of the Belle costume I’d procured for her at Costco. I’m proud to be raising another little connoisseur of good science fiction, and I’ll keep twisting her cinnabuns up for as many Octobers as she’ll let me.

evie leia

So, although Carrie Fisher was very much a complicated, unique, troubled and joyful human being who lived a full and complex life outside that small sliver of years spent portraying and reprising the Princess on the big screen, it is for her enduring and memorable role in white that I remember her and mourn her this week. I joked to my mom that I felt like a part of my childhood died yesterday. But I wasn’t completely joking.

Carrie, you will be missed. Thank you for your giftedness, for your talented portrayal of a beloved character, and for your honesty surrounding the complex and fraught topic of mental illness. I pray that you may know peace in the next life, a peace that eluded you at times in this one.

May the Lord, who is rich in mercy, be generous with His mercy in turn.

About Me, Catholic Spirituality, Family Life, feast days

We wish you a Merry Christmas

December 24, 2016

20161224_124932

…And we’ll see you in the New Year!

Some of my favorite Christmas carols (and one surprising modern addition) for a blessed Christmas weekend to you and yours. May the peace of the newborn Jesus, frail and cold and surprisingly, astoundingly one of us, wedded to humanity, wrapped in Mary’s flesh and born into a manger, fill our hearts, our homes, our families, and this weary world.

Adeste Fidelis – Andrea Bocelli (you may cry)

In the Bleak Midwinter – James Taylor (this version of this song is Christmas, to me)

O Come O Come Emmanuel – Pentatonix (even after the loooongest possible Advent, this version is still my jam)

Santa Claus is Coming to Town – Bruce Springsteen (the Boss)

O Holy Night –  Josh Groban (I love a male voice on this song. Whitney Houston’s is very good, too, if you prefer a female vocalist)

Glorious – For King and Country (new Christmas favorite this year)

Silent Night – Jackie Evancho and the Irish Tenors (And with that, I’m out. Happy birthday baby Jesus)

20161222_154508

The Elf, the Unsure, The Flirt, and the Godfather pose.

p.s. Don’t forget to track Santa tonight using NORAD’s Santa Tracker! (Looks like St. Nick is currently headed into Van, Turkey, as of 12:53 pm MST. Close to his hometown, amiright?)

About Me, design + style, house reno

Day in the life + a really, really low quality Advent-ish home tour

December 20, 2016

Thought I’d kick it a little bit old school today with Christmas being just a handful of sleeps away, and most bloggers having fallen silent in the lead up to the Silent Night. I wandered around the dirty house snapping some phone pics after driving to school this morning to drop off “free dress” clothes to a very, very angry kindergartener whose mom was up too late alternating between rubbing a barfing kid’s shoulders and finishing this excellent book until o’dark thirty and forgot and sent him in his uniform.

How’s that for a run-on sentence?

Anyway, it’s past noon here in the Mile High city but I’m dressed only in the very loosest application of the term. My new Costco leggings are dreamily soft, but I would not recommend leaving the house in them without a long tunic or skirt situation. Which compounded the awkwardness of this morning’s jeans + thermal handoff to the aforementioned kindergartener. I’ll just leave it at that.

We’re kind of hanging on by the loosest of threads to our Christmas anticipation over here with one definitely sick kid who was mysteriously well enough to go to Tae Kwon Do last night, but who climbed riiiight back aboard the vom train around 11pm last night. Thankfully, he doesn’t have school on Mondays and Tuesdays this year, so we haven’t exposed anyone aside from his poor little martial arts buddies. And nobody else has yet to hurl. Crossing every digit and pleading with heaven to spare us from a holiday puke fest.

Anyway, on to the house tour, shall we? I actually love this house more and more each day that we edge into Christmastime, because it just calls out to be decked in candles and garlands and tiny Little People Nativity figurines and broken ornaments. The weirdly green mossy fireplace stones almost look intentional when festooned with my festive dead Trader Joe’s eucalyptus branches.

Also, I realized that I’ve hardly shared any pictures of what this new place looks like, save for a handful of hideous 70’s before shots, and like a grade A creeper, I will admit that I love looking at pictures of other people’s houses. Especially if they are A. significantly more beautiful than mine or B. just as sketchy looking up close.

Keep option B in the forefront of your mind as we tour, mkay?

It seems that Evie will be joining us on this little virtual reality excursion, because since her 3rd birthday five whole days ago, she has ceased napping but also ceased using diapers altogether, so while my introverted soul recoils from the extra hours on duty, my wallet is sighing with relief at having just!one!kid! in diapers for the first time in 4 years.

She just walked into the kitchen asking me for shrimp and vitamins: “Babe, where are the cups? Do you know, honey? I need a glass of water. And some shrimp and my vitamins.”

Without further ado…

Let’s start in the kitchen, shall we? It’s where I spend 89% of my time. Not cooking, exactly, but pulling slices of turkey out of the meat drawer and flopping them in front of various people’s noses. And retrieving clementines to peel. And mostly picking up IKEA plastic cutlery because I’m too dumb too committed to Montessori to move the kid’s stuff up into a higher cupboards. Plus, as you’ll soon see, there are precious few cupboards to be had.

Let’s start off with a candid shot of Luke and his persistent love interest, the garbage can. Treasures in, treasures out. So far I have retrieved numerous forks and knives and not a few toys and once my phone. He, in turn, has fished out many a plastic strawberry carton and egg shell to cackle with delight over.

20161220_092842

Moving into the expansive belly of the galley kitchen, we have the … entire rest of it:

 

20161220_092850

And a gentle candid shot of a little human hard at work. See how masterfully he empties the cupboards and learns all about the world around him by trashing it? Poetry.

 

20161220_093111

Lest I be remiss, I’ll end the kitchen portion of our tour with an action shot of the cat drinking water off the floor. Is this because she has none in her dish? Or is she just an opportunist like the rest of the family? A lady never tells.
20161220_094842

Moving out of the kitchen into the dining room, oh wait. I forgot to turn around and show you my “office” and the pantry. Hang on.

20161220_092958

(My coworkers are ever present.) See that cleverly-disguised-in-white-latex 90’s tv/entertainment center situation? No? Just a pantry? Good. Move along.

And this? This is where all the magic happens:
20161220_093009

Moving back through the kitchen to the dining room, which you may remember had floor to ceiling orange wood paneling, aka “vertical shiplap” plus tootsie roll brown wall-to-wall carpet, I’d say we’ve made some real improvements.

20161220_093244

As you can see, it gives us an almost panoramic view of the main level of the house. We’ve scratched our heads over how we could gain more space for a bigger table and more chairs, but,

20161220_093318

There really isn’t any space to take from. That wall is lined with the major kitchen appliances in an already slender galley kitchen, and then the fourth “wall” of our dining room is really just the enormous jut of the hulking stone fireplace the previous owner installed as a questionable aftermarket design “upgrade:”

20161220_093335

Still, it fits the 6 of us when we don’t have company. And when we do? We make it work. We had Dave’s parents and 3 of his adult siblings over for Evie’s birthday dinner, and we crammed 11 humans around that oval, yessir we did. It was an intimate and festive affair.

Moving into the living room/family room situation from the dinning area, you can see the front door and the entryway that leads to my office/the kitchen. The main level of what is effectively 3.5 levels is pretty small and kind of set up like a circle, so the kids have a sort of track to run. Which they do.

20161220_093419

If you turn back around you can see the fireplace and the edge of the dining room table:

(And I have to admit, that fireplace which is weird and hulking the rest of the year, it does shine at Christmas)

20161220_093219

This is a shot standing just inside the front door, watching my kids learn Latin declensions watch Netflix. #memories

 

 

 

20161220_093157

And then turning to the left, my favorite little corner in the whole house. I love to curl up in that perfectly distressed leather chair with the great hammered brass trim (that I thrifted for nine freaking dollars) and read at night. Paint colors in this room are Sherwin Williams for HGTV “Passive” grey and “Marshmallow” white, if anybody cares. (Primed the wood paneling with oil-based death smelling Kilz and then slapped 3 coats of paint on it before almost asphyxiating, in case anyone is looking for a good wood paneling painting tutorial.)

20161220_093616

Moving into the entry way and looking back towards the kitchen, we head upstairs to the main bedrooms. (We also have a basement that we’ve framed out a 4th bedroom for the big boys in, but 4 months in and they’re still sleeping in what will eventually be the family room/playroom, because hanging drywall is one thing, but tape and texture is a whole other beast. Which we have yet to tame. Maybe I’ll do a separate post on the basement next time, because this is getting loooong.)

So anyway, here’s the entryway, as seen from the kitchen/my office. If you walked forward towards the front door, you could turn left and look back into that previous view of the fireplace and couch. 20161220_093115

If you turn right at the cheetah print scarf, that would take you down to the 1/2 level of what I’ve dubbed our tri-and-a-half level house, which houses the laundry room, the entrance from the garage into the house, and a weirdly large bathroom that I have big plans to convert into a mudroom with some floor to ceiling beadboard and built in shelves. Backpack station be mine.

20161220_093123

Ominous drop off, no? Ask Luke how he knows it’s so. (Also, proof that one shouldn’t drink and tile. I am not making any judgments on the previous owner’s soul, just observing the dangers of mixing home improvements with ever clear. Which I presume would be the necessary fuel behind such a design choice.)

And the laundry room, which has dreamy light and would look amazing with a tasteful little chandelier and a pocket door swapped out for the regular one, wouldn’t it? A girl can dream.

20161220_132904

Turning back towards the front door and looking right around the corner from this perilously not-to-code stairwell, we have this little number:

20161220_093128

Which you can bet your bottom dollar I’ve fantasized about stripping down to the solid wood and doing some kind of rich coffee colored stain on the treads, but…kids. Who keep falling down the gently carpeted too-short planks and cause me to raise some praise hands every time I hear little heads hitting polyester padding and not wood.

Upstairs on the left we have the sole functional shower in our palace with 4 bathrooms. That’s right, 4 toilets, but only one reputable shower that does not cause mysterious waterfalls to pour out of the front of the house. Dave re-caulked our master shower about 3 weeks ago, to be fair, but we’ve been – okay, I’ve been – too afraid to test it in freezing temps lest lest the leak problem be deeper than we realized. One shower for a family of 6 we can handle. Burst pipes in the dead of winter, not so much.

So this beauty was also floor to ceiling orange wood paneling. How lucky are we?? And I Kilz’d it and nearly sent myself to urgent care in the process, and I solemnly swear never to paint again without a respirator or at least a high quality mask. Or maybe just never paint again, ever. Like, never.

But it looks so much better white. Even if it does give off a bit of an unintentional birchwood forrest vibe. Ah, well:

20161220_093758

20161220_093736

What’s that you say? Not enough shots of wilted eucalyptus in mason jars here? Wait, wait. Don’t click away to Pinterest yet. Here:

 

20161220_093724

(This post sponsored by 222.4 million germs and parenting guilt surrounding oral hygiene decisions.)

Moving down the hall past the bathroom, we have the master bedroom which has great, dreamy lighting. Unfortunately I’m so attached to the airy look of the daytime lightning the white curtains provide, we no longer have blackout quality sleep at night.

But look how pretty:

20161220_094302

 

 

20161220_094328

Some laundry in the bottom of the shot. “For relatability”

 

And my decorative scarf rack, aka the only color in this entire whitewashed and gray situation, according to my beloved. Also, see that painting? My talented friend painted that for us as a belated wedding gift. It’s an original rendering of the view from outside their wedding reception, where Dave and I had our first kiss. (Sorry, future kids who are one day trolling mommy’s blog archives and now grossed out.)

20161220_094407Oh, and see that hideous little snippet of baseboard heating? Gah, those things are ugly. But the heat they put out is dreamy and soft and non-drying and so much better on everybody’s lungs. But the radiator covers are he.i.no.ous. These ones in our room are in the best shape of the whole house.

Oooookay, moving along seriously, let me just dump some shots of our master bath and then Evie and Luke’s room and we’ll call it a day, yes? Totally unrelated, but my awesome next door neighbor just knocked on the door and handed me a note while whispering furtively about candy canes and “coming through the garage door” on Christmas Eve.

The note encourages me to give him a call about “Gaylord the Elf.”

I really love my life.

20161220_094421

Hey, I painted that poop brown vanity dark grey myself. Pat, pat. Never mind the shower. Nothing to see here.

Moving on:

20161220_094455

Evie’s palace. It’s a little bit bigger than the master, maybe? But with no en suite. So we let her keep it. Meanwhile, her older brothers bunk in the basement like dogs.

20161220_094503

I hung a mirror at her height in the closet, and it’s a popular spot for the elves who live here.

20161220_094507

Look, here comes one now! Pls note the IKEA super hero bib turned cape. Luke has a flair for accessorizing.

20161220_094517

20161220_094529

And then finally, Luke’s spartan quarters:

20161220_093842

The previous owners slapped a white coat of paint on everything (and I do mean slapped) before they listed this house, and I’m so glad they did, slaps and splats and all, because it makes a world of difference to have a clean, blank slate to start from. We installed wall to wall gray carpet throughout the upstairs and the basement, because after repeatedly crunching the numbers on every other potential solution for flooring (and living for 2 weeks with the persistent eau de dog poop) we just LOL’d and said OH WELL IT’S DISPOSABLE ESSENTIALLY, RIGHT???? and then laughed maniacally while spending $$ (but not $$$$$$$$) to coat the floors in bodily fluid catching fabric stretched and tacked down tight to all four walls, which I calculate will need to be completed replaced in 4.5 years. But so far I’m really happy with the color choice, which is holding up marvelously to the kid traffic.

20161220_093857

And I think at a record-setting 2000+ words, we can call it a day. Tune in next time – or maybe never – for the basement and backyard edition.

And if I don’t see you before then, Merry Christmas!

Catholic Spirituality, Culture of Death, Family Life, mental health, Parenting, politics, sin, Suffering

As a parent, you have one job

December 16, 2016

(I mean, aside from the obvious keep them alive/fed/clothed and try your hardest to get them to Heaven part. Does that go without saying?)

I had someone make the following bold statement to me earlier this year, and it rocked me to my core:

your primary job as parents is to provide and secure the peace in your home.

You know who I thought about when I reflected on that statement? I thought about the dad from “Life is Beautiful.” I thought about his heroic, self-sacrificing and odds-defying performance to erect a brave and shining barrier of innocence over his little boy in the midst of unimaginable horror. As the world literally crumbled around him, his father shielded him as best he could not only from physical harm (and over this realm he had very little control, truly) but perhaps even more critically in their circumstances, from emotional harm.

I feel like we modern parents tend to kind of do the opposite. Whether it’s because many of us were ourselves exposed to pain or danger or brokenness in our family of origin, or because we watched so many of our friends go through hell as kids, many of our generation of parents seem to be questing after some vague sense of authenticity or relatability with their own offspring that is going over, frankly, like a lead balloon.

On the one hand I can understand the earnest desire to be open and honest and reliable with our children, but on the other hand, my kids are going to learn soon enough about the heartache, the danger, and the sin in this world, and it actually isn’t my job to sit them down and tutor them in it.

Because the world is a cruel place. Kids get sick and die. They get abused. Their families fall apart and bombs fall on their cities and their friend’s dads leave their friend’s moms, and vice versa.

But they needn’t know every excruciating detail.

In fact, if and to whatever extent we can possibly spare them the details, I believe it is our sacred duty as parents.

Right now bombs are falling on children the same ages as mine in Aleppo. As Christians, we need to fall on our knees and pray for those affected, and give material aid to reputable organizations (highly recommend the Catholic Near East Welfare Society) who can deliver food and medicine and shelter on the ground. But my kids, at ages 1,3,4, and 6, do not need any details about the tragic circumstances in Syria. They should not be watching the bodycounts scroll by on the news, or listen to me listening to NPR within earshot.

It is essential, in fact, that I shield them from the horror of war and human cruelty as much as possible during their formative years.

Our children will absolutely learn that the world is not a perfect place. That people sin. That people hurt each other. That sometimes kids get hurt, too. But it is critical to their development into healthy, functional human beings that we don’t saddle them with that knowledge prematurely.

When my 6 year old asks why we pray for babies in mommies’ tummies to be safe, that does not open the door for a frank conversation about abortion. If he explicitly asks what abortion is (as has happened before), I deflect and say that sometimes babies get hurt, and that not everybody believes that every human being has the same rights. And then I change the topic.

(I take a similar tack with the sexual curiosity stuff, not because sex is bad in any way! But because it’s not developmentally appropriate for him nor is it necessary that he know the nitty gritty.) Allowing our children to ask questions and answering them in a way that is both honest and honoring of their developmental stage and age is a tricky line, and it’s one I’m learning to walk with some trial and error as the months and years roll by.

I had a little friend of my kids’ come to me earlier this month with a tearful story about another family’s deep pain, their disintegrating home life, and the fear this child felt about the whole situation. As I tried my best to toe the line of appropriateness with a child who is not my own, I reassured this little one that this wasn’t their burden to bear, and encouraged them to give the situation over to Jesus as much as possible and to let the grown ups handle grown up stuff. Because kids have their own work to do that is perfectly suited to being a kid.

I have no idea how effective that was, but my heart ached for the burden this child had been asked to carry, inadvertently or not. There were gruesome and salacious details in the story that could have come from a prime time drama, and this little person’s eyes were filled with tears over it.

This is not okay. And whether our kids are getting it from overhearing us having inappropriate adult conversations within earshot, or by watching programing that is explicitly not suitable for children, or even just hearing an earful from one side of a phone conversation when we think they aren’t paying attention, (they are. Ask me how I know.) we have to be so, so mindful of our duty to them.

Their innocences is our business. And maintaining that innocence requires sacrifices on our parts.

I can’t listen to whatever music I like in the car anymore. Do I still love Dave Matthews Band and Adele? Yep. But I don’t need the 4 year old asking me what does it mean to send your love to your new lover, mommy? just because I couldn’t be bothered to switch on KLove or change the CD during carpool pickup.

I can’t watch shows depicting adult themes and filled with violence and horror when they’re awake. (Should I be watching those shows, period? That’s another post for another day.)

I shouldn’t have sensitive, nuanced conversations about world affairs and politics and war and unrest in earshot of my kindergartener, who has the right to experience the world from a disposition of curiosity and wonder. Soon enough he will know of hatred, bigotry, war, and gruesome suffering. My job is to mold his little heart and soul to be receptive to a good God Who alone can heal those division and redeem that pain. And to ensure, to the best of my ability, that he grows to become an honorable man who will do his part to create beauty and goodness in this world. A child who is robbed of a childhood, who does not have the opportunity to encounter beauty and goodness, is unlikely to grow up to be this kind of adult.

We need to be so careful and so conscientious of their environments. To the best of our abilities. What they’re watching, what they’re reading, whom they’re spending time with and what they’re listening to. And, ahem – looking into the mirror – what kinds of things their parents do or say when they’re stressed, angry, overwhelmed or in pain.

I can just as easily make a chink in their armor with a careless word or an exhausted scream of frustration and anger. And then, when it is I myself who have disturbed the peace in our home, I must kneel down at eye level and humbly ask forgiveness from the little one who depends upon me to keep this space sacred, to keep it safe.

Please hear this: This is in no way an attack on parents whose children have been exposed to violence or inadvertent abuse of any kind. We live in a broken world filled with pain, and the smallest victims are the most tragic. Our little family has not been spared from heartache.

But it is our job as mothers and as fathers to help our children to feel as safe and as secure as possible while they are small. The world outside can wait, and time will ensure that it does not, not for long.

We must take up the mantel of adulthood and respect the profound dignity of the child and the sacred charge that we grown ups have to protect them from evil.

Even if the evil is becoming the norm, all around us.

In our homes, at least, let them feel safe, insulated against the harsh elements in our own little Nazareth, growing and learning and developing all they will need to navigate adulthood. Which will come soon enough.

one job