About Me, Catholic Spirituality, motherhood, prayer

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

June 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catholics Do What?, Marriage, NFP, Sex

What I learned from the NFP survey

June 9, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And He points me to Calvary.

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

And it doesn’t feel good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make America *good* again (with Mary)

June 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

As we are free to do the same to God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I am grateful.

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

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

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

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

Let’s pray the rosary.

Uncategorized

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

June 2, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More or less

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFP survey headed to the USCCB (more or less)

May 30, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m sorry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 22, 2017

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

What do you need?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waving my white flag {guest post}

May 19, 2017

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

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


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

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

But because God calls me to be. 

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

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

Ouch. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank God – He knows me better.

Thank God – He wants more for me.

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

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

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

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

About Me, reading

Slumpish and bookish

May 17, 2017

As in, slumped on the couch, writing slump, summer not in any hurry to arrive and weather still rainy and 50 ish degrees out. Just slumping, all around.

I’ve been a bit absent the past couple weeks, between kid wrangling and house hunting and a quick little jaunt out to California where I got to hug thee Blythe Fike in person (and Michaela and Jenna and Erica and an entire assembly of their lovely local crew. But my favorite new friend is definitely Augustine Darr.)

It was a lovely, short weekend and the first time we’ve successfully left the kids for longer than a quick overnight in the mountains AND I didn’t freak out. Didn’t allow a single freak-accident-leads-to-death scenario to play out in my brain. Just slept (but not enough), read on the beach (but it was cold. Whimper.) and rode cruiser bikes by the ocean like the fine tourists that we were. Already dreaming of doing something similar next year, but maybe in Florida because I like my beaches to sizzle. Though Ventura, where we spent most of our time, is beautiful.

Aside from that though, I haven’t actually been all that busy. At least with anything I can show for the effort put in, but I feel as if I’m standing on the cusp of that mysterious season where great mom bloggers disappear into a 10 year vortex of homework assignments and late nights with wakeful kids who need to talk and endless loads of laundry and suddenly the hours that were available to write each day are sucked away into the absence of nap time and the presence of phonograms.

Not that I’m down for the count, yet, but just that I really (ha) expected the pace to slacken as the kids get older and instead it’s exponentially intensifying. Dave calls the dinner to bedtime shift “the treadmill” because once you get on, the pace doesn’t ease up until the program is complete.

He’s not wrong.

I have also just felt so blah about writing lately. It seems that there’s someone already saying everything there is to say, and my desire to add to the conversation has vanished. Maybe it’s the reduced amount of social media I’m consuming or the absence of adult conversation most days but I just feel like a battle wearied dullard with no further comment.

I just want to hug my babies and take a nap. And find a house to live in. We’re closing in on month 3 of what I naively believed to be a temporary (super temporary!) and extremely generous arrangement, living in a friend’s home while they work overseas. Their house is lovely and the kids are happy to have a new set of toys to play with and we’re so fortunate to not be in the insane rental market, but we’ve seen 20 houses in the last week and a half alone, and it’s just a depressing and grueling process. That we, um, did last summer. Determined not to panic myself into a case of shingles this go round. But it is unpleasant. Speaking of unpleasant, Luke just unscrewed and harvested several peppercorns from the grinder and is now dragging his tongue  across the floor soooo…we’re firing on all cylinders this morning.

What are your plans for the summer? My kids are out in 2 weeks and I’ve got a wide open calendar absent of even a single swim lesson. Do you plan things meticulously and schedule out month by month, or just kinda roll with it? Last year the 2 oldest had swim lessons for a month and it was great (for them) and kind of a pain (for the rest of us) so I’m a little wary of repeating the experience. I’ve also let my fantastic and beloved mother’s helper go, since she’s about 45 minutes away and doesn’t drive. So call me Ma Ingalls, but I’ve got to get on the ball and get some summer scheduled up in here.

I have read some great books the past month or so. My favorite fiction of the bunch was “Within the walled city” which I devoured in 36 hours, thanks to time on the plane. I’m also loving “The family that overtook Christ” (thanks, Julie!) which was preceded by the excellent “Three religious rebels.” I had to sign up for Kindle unlimited to access them, because they’re out of print and I didn’t want to pay a million bucks for the e version. (But both were free with unlimited!) I’m working through a great (albeit disturbing) novel right now about a doctor falling on the wrong side of the euthanasia issue, “Do no harm” by Fiorella de Maria. It’s tightly written and engaging but disturbing because it’s a little too true to life. I also enjoyed a light, quick little read by a new author, Carolyn Astfalk, who reached out to me and said based on my blog bio, I might just be her target audience. Dave Matthews Band + Theology of the Body. If you can believe it, she managed to weave both those concepts into a sweet, readable love story called “Stay with me” (spoiler alert: every chapter is also the name of a Dave Matthews single. Loved it.)

Right now I’m delving into “The highly sensitive child” and learning all about my little melancholic weirdo who memorizes life in all it’s exquisite detail, while concurrently reading the 2 mentioned above plus “Hannah Coulter” (my pathetic suburban library finally coughed up a copy 8 months after I first started asking). Any good titles caught your attention lately? I’m all eyes. For all my plaintive cries of “no time” I do seem to have enough to read a lot more now that the phone is out of commission. Especially in carline.

benedict option, Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, Culture of Death, Evangelization, Family Life, feast days, liturgical living

The Franciscan Option

May 8, 2017

(By Franciscan I’m referring to Franciscan University of Steubenville and not the venerable religious order, about which I know less.)

It looks a little like the Benedict Option, actually. Could also probably be called “The FOCUS option” or “The Christendom Option” or “The TAC option.”

But, in reading the endless criticisms and assessments of Rod Dreher’s book, I’ve had a nagging thought just at the back of my brain that only came to the forefront last night while reading Fr. Dwight Longnecker’s astute take on the matter.

And the thought suddenly crystalized in a laughably obvious realization: we’re already living this.

While I’m not participating in any kind of urban gardening or cow sharing scheme (though one can never predict the future. Okay yes, in this case, one can: I will never raise chickens.) we’ve already made a lot of the choices he outlines, very organically and with little fanfare.

We have a vibrant community of other Catholic families with whom we regularly celebrate the liturgical year, feasting and fasting as the season proscribes. We support each other spiritually, rejoicing over baptisms and new births, and we grieve over losses and illnesses. There is financial support when a job is lost or a medical bill is insurmountable. Childcare offered and received in times of need. There is fellowship and community united not by geographic proximity but by common love and shared belief. So we drive from all over the city and from our vastly different places of employment and we share our lives together, and it looks less like withdrawing form the world and more like building a solid, enduring edifice against worldliness and loneliness and faithlessness.

And it is not insular. This community, organic and widely spread as it is, is constantly welcoming in new members. New families moving in from out of state, singles and just marrieds and those with kids starting college. The common thread is a desire to grow in holiness, to present our children with an attractive and living Catholicism to fall in love with, and a desire to transform the culture from the inside out.

And the other common thread? Many of us, at least in this community of several dozens of families, went to FUS. Most of us are also tied into the life of a religious order founded there and now thriving here in Denver, and are able to partake in the beauty of the liturgical year as lived out by an active/contemplative religious community.

I know of many more communities like ours, sprinkled across the city and the state and around the country. Some are gathered in actual proximity to Catholic colleges; others are bulwarked by a strong alumni presence from one of those schools in cities nationwide. Some are centered around a thriving parish or school, and others are built around places of employment, whether a parish or an apostolate, where a healthy integration of work and faith are encouraged and nourished.

But what none of these communities have in common, at least in my experience, is withdrawal from society. 

Not, at least, in the sense that most BenOp critics seem to mean. In our own community there are those of us who work for the Church or various Catholic apostolates, but there are probably 4 times as many who work in IT. Who are school teachers and physical therapists, nurses and physicians assistants, CPAs and engineers and stay at home moms and photographers and every other occupation in between.

In short, there are families who are living and making a living very much in the world, but who are striving to raise their families and foster their marriages in a way that is not of the world.

My husband and I are a hybrid product of FOCUS, FUS, and the Augustine Institute, a veritable trifecta of Catholic culture shapers in the New Evangelization. And our work and studies in all three cultures was shot through with a common thread: be salt and light. Carry this out into the world. Form and protect and inspire your families to become witnesses to the Gospel.

Be not afraid, but also be not stupid.

This means we don’t send our kids to schools where our values are going to be confounded or our parental authority dismantled by what they hear in the classroom. We don’t accept media carte blanche as a benign or neutral presence in our home. We don’t adhere to the broader culture’s standards for what constitutes appropriate technology use or sexual ethics.

And that’s where Fr. Longnecker’s assessment comes in. That the conversation has already ceased, to a certain extent, and that no further dialogue is possible in terms of changing minds with logic, reasoning, or sound arguments. The only compelling argument we have left is a lived example.

So in that sense there is a “withdrawal,” an opting out even while continuing to live in the midst of. There is no self sustaining monastery and WiFi free zone where we hoe rows of non GMO corn, but neither is there an unchallenged going with the flow of the larger culture of which we are a part.

And if that looks radical, it’s only because the larger culture is deteriorating at a rapid clip and too many parents are ceding their God-given responsibilities to be disciple makers and to become disciples themselves.

And I happen to think that discipleship is at the heart of the message of the Benedict Option.

A call for Christians to arise from our worldly slumber, take a look at the surrounding culture, and have a literal come to Jesus as we realize that we are living in a post Christian era and under an increasingly aggressive threat of secularization, and our response can only and always be love.

We can’t live out that love if we are not first being nourished by His love.

We can’t answer the culture’s questions about the meaning of life without discovering it first for ourselves, and deeply.

And we can’t hope to become effective witnesses for joy if we are not deeply rooted in a faith that is living and active and sustained and, yes, removed from the world around us.

But not for the sake of escape. For the sake of helping others escape.

Not for the sake of insular rejection, but for joyful inclusion.

Not for the sake of fear, but for the great hope we have in Christ.

As Christians we have always been asked by our God to be fools for His sake, to live in the world but not of it. And to let our lives – broken and complicated and imperfect as they are – reflect the beauty of His redemptive love to a broken and weary world.

We don’t reject the culture because it is broken, we beckon the culture into the effervescent freshness of the Gospel.

And we can’t live what we do not first posses.

That is the heart of the Benedict Option, from what I can tell. That the goodness and beauty of the faith is worth persevering precisely so that the doors can be flung open wide, so that something worth possessing can be offered to a world in desperate need.

Find your community. Build your community. And let’s help each other get to Heaven. It’s not enough to ride along on autopilot any more, hoping the ambient culture or the parochial school you’re shelling out for will do the trick. It won’t. It can’t.

We have to fight for our families, for our marriages, and for our own identities in Christ. We have to be willing to do radical, inconvenient and perhaps incomprehensible things, to the outside observer.

It’s time to stop criticizing and and intellectually dissecting the thing and to start living it. Call up a family you know and invite them over for a bbq this weekend. Pray a rosary after dinner and then let the kids play in the backyard while the grownups drink beer around the fire pit and talk theology and philosophy. Find a parent in your circle of friends with a background in sacred music and ask if they’d be willing to give an informal presentation or a performance at a party you organize for your kids and their group of friends. Find a few couples who you trust to discuss the finer points of living out the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage. Agree to meet every other month with wine and dessert, and split up by sexes once in a while to enable more frank discussion. Ask your priest to go hiking with you and group of kids this summer ala Karol Wojtyla, if he can spare a couple hours on a Tuesday. Ask a local seminarian if he can’t.

Do something.

The time is now. Whether or not the Lord returns during our lifetimes or a thousand years from now, we have one job as Christians, and it is to live out the gospel in the circumstances of our actual lives.

We have various options. Failure is not one of them.

Franciscan University

Catholic Spirituality, deliverance, Evangelization, yoga

I would be remiss …

May 3, 2017

If I failed to address the enormous response that last week’s piece on yoga generated. Thank you to every single person who shared, commented, and contributed to the conversation. It has quickly been climbing the charts and is on track to become my most read piece of all time. In almost 10 years of blogging. So, that’s saying something.

I know that for many people it resonated in a positive way. As scared as I was to hit “publish,” the Holy Spirit kept nudging and encouraging and eventually gave me the shove I needed to fire away.

I also know that for some of my readers (and welcome to any new faces!) it was deeply challenging and even disturbing.

I want to reaffirm my position of compassion and education. Meaning, I put this information out there in a spirit of nonjudgment of persons (but not of ideas) with a desire to raise awareness.

I still have friends who practice yoga, and we are free to disagree on the particulars. But I couldn’t continue to remain silent and not share my story, not with what I’ve learned in the past several years.

I encourage any of you who are still struggling with the concept to read the Vatican document “Jesus Christ, Bearer of the Water of Life” in it’s entirety, and to take the matter to prayer. Find a priest you trust who is well versed in this stuff (and unfortunately, not all of them are), or a spiritual director who is familiar with New Age stuff.

And, it should be noted that just because your parish priest doesn’t have an opinion on the matter doesn’t necessarily mean there’s nothing to worry about. I joked with one reader that exorcists are like the oncologists of the clergy: they see the worst cases and they have the most firsthand experience with evil. And if the oncologists are warning about something being carcinogenic and my general practitioner brushes it off as something he doesn’t see much of, well, I’m probably gonna go with the guys who specialize in it, if I’m worried about my cancer risk.

I also wanted to congratulate the vast majority of commenters – even those with whom I was in disagreement – on being so classy and charitable! With a couple exceptions, the discussion was lively, respectful, and relatively calm.

I really do have the best readers on the whole internet.