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

Lately, in random bullet points

March 15, 2017

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

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

Let them dissect my broken blowdryer. Very STEM.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Culture of Death, Evangelization, mental health

Walking each other home

March 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, what if we did?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catholics Do What?, guest post

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

March 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catholic Spirituality, deliverance, prayer, spiritual warfare

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

March 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Whose words do those sound like, anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Hearts for Healing counseling (and a special giveaway)

March 3, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Into the desert that is your actual life

February 28, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But only just.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your plans for Lent this year?

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

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

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

Defund Planned Parenthood and Give Women Real Power

February 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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.


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.


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 🙂


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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.)