abuse, Catholics Do What?, Contraception, Culture of Death, current events, Parenting, prayer, scandal, sin, spiritual warfare, Suffering

What’s a faithful Catholic to do?

August 16, 2018

There is a tremendous – and warranted – outcry of rage and betrayal in the Church right now.

I’m not talking about the usual suspects in the media and the voices coming from the cafeteria line, either. I’m talking about the men and women who have sacrificed and stood steadfast, serving the Church with their professional lives, settling for smaller salaries and raised eyebrows at cocktail parties when they disclose their line of work. The little old ladies who are daily communicants. The blue collar workers who pray a Rosary on their lunch breaks and fast on bread and water on Wednesdays. The underpaid Catholic school teachers and the harassed Catholic healthcare professionals.

In other words, the faithful.

The ones raising larger than average families on smaller than average budgets. Refusing to cave to the extraordinary societal pressure to relieve the emptiness of their wombs at any cost, and opting for adoption or even childlessness over IVF. Bearing patiently the slings and arrows of public opinion when it comes time to defend the Church when her ways are not the world’s ways. Tossing aside the contraceptives and using NFP instead. Forgoing the “pleasures” of pornography and honoring their marriage vows. Remaining celibate and suffering in loneliness as an abandoned spouse or a same-sex attracted person. Sacrificing to educate their children in the Faith in the face of extraordinary difficulty. Refusing to reduce the immutable dignity of every single human person to an object to be used or discarded.

And defending Holy Mother Church with the ultimate gift – one’s fidelity to the Faith – even as the world around us spins farther into secular materialism.

Fathers, these children of your flocks are suffering. Suffering over the grievous injuries done to those other children, the ones named in the Pennsylvania report, the ones whose innocence was shattered, whose dignity was spat upon, who suffered in their very bodies the wounds of Christ tortured and crucified.

We cannot sleep for weeping over these images, crying out to heaven that men ordained to act in the person of Christ at the altar could also rape, pillage, and destroy the most innocent.

We need to hear from you.

We need to hear lamentation and rage, resolution and public penances. We must know that you stand on the side of Christ, crucified and risen. That even if your diocese is beyond a shadow of suspicion in August of 2018, your father’s heart breaks and your stomach roils in anger over what happened in our Church – no matter which diocese and no matter what year.

Many of us carried heavy hearts into Mass for the Feast of the Assumption of Mary yesterday, lifting red and swollen eyes to heaven during the readings and beseeching God for any answers, any explanation.

Too many of us – not all, but many – were met with deafening silence from the pulpits when the time for the homily arrived. The silence tore deeper into the wounds rent by the horrifying grand jury report; there was scarcely time for a scab to form over last month’s McCarrick revelations.

We need to hear from our fathers. We need to hear your anger, your shame, your outrage, your sorrow, and your profound and sincere resolution that this evil will be purged from the ranks of the Church hierarchy, no matter what the cost.

When someone intentionally injures or violates my child, even if – and perhaps especially if – I am not the cause of the injury, he or she can count on my swift and unapologetic rage.

We need to see your hearts, fathers. We need to see and hear our bishops doing public acts of reparation and penance, or resigning the privilege of office if the circumstances warrant it.

We need to hear our priests – especially our pastors – speaking uncompromisingly and unceasingly about what is happening, about the war zone we American Catholics find ourselves in, about the corruption and satanic violence within our own ranks, and about what is being done to bring about justice.

If your bishop hasn’t issued talking points yet or the diocesan-level HR department is cautioning restraint, damn the restraint. Your people are suffering, and they need to know their spiritual fathers are mad as hell and they aren’t going to take it anymore.

What can we, as lay people, do at a moment such as this?

Pray. Pray as you never have before. Pray a daily Rosary with your family, if you have one. With your spouse or significant other or roommate. Alone or with a recording, if you have nobody else to pray with. Ask especially for the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima, St. Charles Lwanga (Google his martyrdom story) and St. Catherine of Siena.

Fast. Give up social media one day a week, or limit it to a few minutes a day. Get rid of one of the three or four platforms you’re using entirely, maybe. Offer up those pinpricks of dopamine denial for the cleansing of the Church, and for the souls of the victims living and deceased.

Purge your home of anything that is complicit with this culture of death. Vaguely pornographic media. Explicitly pornographic media. Showtime or HBO DirectTV or maybe even your high speed internet, if it’s an occasion of sin for you. Go through your library and destroy anything that is influenced by the occult. If your right arm causes you to sin, cut it off. We must be beyond reproach as Catholics going forward if we are to have any credibility with this world and, more importantly, with Christ.

Throw away your contraception. Your mind altering drugs. Your habit of gossip, of masturbation, of criticism, of getting drunk, of cheating “just a little” on your income taxes, of cheating on your spouse, of ignoring your children.

In other words, be a saint.

Our times call for great sanctity to counter this grave evil. And sinners like us, myself first and foremost, are the only material Our Lord has to work with.

Other practical suggestions:

Email, call, and write to your bishop’s office (and while you’re at it, to the Holy Father himself.) Be respectful and unrelenting in asking for a public meeting or an explanation of what your diocese is doing to address these evils. Ask your bishop what his plans are to clean up your local church if housekeeping needs to be done. Find out what measures are in place to protect youth and children and seminarians and old people and not so old people. Ask what standard of sexual integrity is set and maintained by the diocese of X. Do the same with your pastor. Be persistent. But love your Church enough to not stop until you get a satisfactory answer.

Tell your priest, once you’ve finished asking when his next related and excruciatingly clear homily will be preached, that you are praying for him. And then do so. Offer a specific act of penance every day for your priest. For any priest you know. Give up your daily coffee, your nightcap, your nighttime pleasure reading, a workout, salt on your food, etc. Do not leave our courageous priests and bishops unarmed in this time of agony for the Church. They are suffering as Christ did in the Garden of Gethsemane, and they need our prayers.

We have decided for our family, that to avoid even the appearance of scandal and to protect all parties involved, it is best to avoid ever putting our priest friends – or any priest – in a situation where they are alone with a child of ours. I’m not talking about casual one-on-one talks with Father on the playground during recess, but being alone in a car, in a closed room, in a private home, etc. We are also exceedingly cautious about whom we leave our children with, and take into consideration the circumstances of any home or place they’ll be visiting. Most abuse takes place within the context of the extended family or trusted circle of friends, and we have chosen to err on the side of potentially giving offense by being “too careful.”

May Christ Jesus in whom we place our trust and confidence convict in our hearts a profound sorrow for all who suffer, and a firm resolution to spend ourselves utterly in striving to prevent future evil.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.



Back to school vibes and spiritual prep for the new year

August 14, 2018

It’s that time of year again. Starbucks is toeing the line of impropriety with the August release of the Pumpkin Spice Latte, Crayola is tempting mothers everywhere to pick up “just one more” 24 pack for an additional penny, (Don’t do it if you value your baseboards though. Just saying) and school children everywhere are eyeing with suspicion the mounting piles of clean and untorn clothing being amassed in their closets.

I am feeling the forced strain of the fake smile that is the end of summer with kids. They are bored of the trampoline, the slip-n-slide went home to the big recycling bin in the sky weeks ago, and mama has resorted to throwing cold hot dogs and chocolate chip granola bars on a plate every day at noon and calling it good.

I am looking forward in expectant hope to a more scheduled existence, one devoid of neighbor kids knocking on the screen door at 8 and 12 and 6, and 8, again, of too-late bedtimes and wet piles of swimsuits piled moldering in the backs of closets.

But I’ll also miss them. I remember putting our firstborn in his first year of full-day school, and what a shock to my system it was to have a limb missing for much of the day. How strange I found it to field comments of “you’ve sure got your hands full!” whilst strolling the produce aisle with “only” three in the cart.

I remind myself of this when someone is four inches from my nose asking for another episode of Wild Kratts and whining that his brother took his Beyblade apart.

I will miss you, darling child I mentally remind myself at bath time and bedtime and all the times in between, while tugging up somebody’s wet swimsuit and wiping poop off the pool deck and wondering if it’s too soon to start listening to Christmas music.

We’re trying a few new things after a summer of spiritual sloth, hoping that the upheaval of a new academic year will afford us the momentum to make some adjustments to our family prayer time. Since everyone is going to be shocked and awed by the sudden 8 pm bedtime/6 am rise time, may as well toss a family rosary in the mix.

We’re planning to surprise the kids tomorrow night with a big feast (read: not hot dogs) for the Feast of the Assumption, and then pop the full on nightly family rosary on them. We were talking last night during a rare moment of quiet about what we’d like to do to improve in our spiritual life as a family. We take our kids to Mass on Sundays and we pray with them in the morning, at grace, and at bedtime, but we are both feeling like there needs to be more, particularly in the midst of this current cultural and ecclesial climate.

I think it has helped to have a summer of lowered expectations for excellence, as bad as that sounds. We’ve sort of slid into mediocrity and have been going with the flow in terms of media consumption, friends over, endless fun activities, etc. Through it I’ve noticed a creeping sense of entitlement in the older three in particular, a restlessness after they’ve watched too many episodes of whatever happens to be on PBS Kids, and a sassiness when their neighborhood friends are over.

I, too, have seen my capacity for self denial and sacrifice plummet as I bury myself in my Instagram feed or mentally tune out while answering work emails instead of refereeing another sibling smackdown. I wave a hand at the offending party, my face hidden behind a screen, hoping that they’ll somehow resolve it amongst themselves.

I’ve also seen the first inklings of what will be true all too soon: that Dave and I are no longer Joey’s whole world, or the ultimate authorities on all the things.

I figure at almost 8-years-old, we’ve got maybe another two years of holding his complete attention until his peers begin to win every competition – maybe less since he’s a consummate sanguine. I want to savor his intense desire to beeeeee with me, but I also tend to mentally check out by about 8 pm most nights, and so his pleas for more quality time fall too frequently on cranky ears.

Some other things I’m considering as we count down the remaining days of summer:

Praying about/using Jen Fulwiler’s saint name generator to pick a patron saint for each child for the coming academic year and dedicating their year to his or her patronage.

Choosing a Scripture to memorize as a family each month of the school year (though I’d be happy with even a single verse. #cradleCatholicproblems.

Reading the coming Sunday’s Gospel aloud at dinner one or two nights during the week to prepare to receive the Word at Mass.

Making a specific sacrifice for each child during the school year, to correspond with a challenge they’re working to overcome or a virtue or quality I’d like to see them attain. What comes readily to mind is making it relevant to each child’s struggle/aspiration. So delaying my morning cup of coffee by 30 minutes and offering it up for Joey to grow in patience or focus, or giving up complaining about housework (not that I would ever) and offering it up for John Paul’s attitude about getting ready in the morning, etc.

I’m all ears over here as a still relatively fresh school mom, so come at me with your big ideas and best practices for preparing your little saintly scholars.

And finally, I would be remiss if I failed to thank my awesome, faithful readership for the two categories Mama Needs Coffee took home in the 2018 Sheenazing Awards: Best blog and Smartest blog (beating out Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire was a personal high for sure. Dave made sure to bring me down to earth by pointing out the heavily-populated-by-moms voting demographic. Thanks, honey.)

benedict option, Catholic Spirituality, sin, spiritual warfare, Suffering

I will never leave her

August 10, 2018

I have wrestled competing emotions these past few weeks over the scandals coming to light in the Catholic Church in America, and elsewhere. Fear and anger mixed with a profound grief that feels something like abandonment.

Abandonment by a trusted father. Betrayal by those whose missions were to protect and serve but whose power was misused to coerce and terrorize.

But I will never leave.

Today I sat in the third row in a creaking wooden pew, running my hands along the smooth surface mellowed by decades of worshippers sitting, standing, and kneeling in the place I now occupied. I was there for the closing of the diocesan phase of Servant of God Julia Greeley’s cause. Julia was a beloved figure in the early Church in Northern Colorado. At her death in 1918, she was mourned en masse, her open casket lying in state for hundreds of mourners over a period of several days. Born into slavery in Missouri, she found her life’s calling as a free woman in Colorado, working menial labor, spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and preaching the Gospel with her life.

She died with almost nothing to her name, and people came to mourn her as if she were a queen.

Archbishop Aquila preached briefly about Julia’s virtue and her simple, hidden witness to holiness. He likened her witness to the witness of St. Lawrence, the martyr whose feast we commemorate today. “You know,” he said thoughtfully, looking out at the assembled faithful in the pews, “it isn’t the authorities or political leaders or the executioners whose names we remember 1800 years or a century later, it’s Lawrence’s name. And Julia’s.”

A hundred years from now, what will Catholics in 2118 say about the Church at the turn of the 21st century? Will they remember a vicious predator who charmed the media and the powers that be while hiding his true nature behind a mask of power and privilege, or will they remember a generation of faithful Catholics who rose up and demanded that the masks be stripped away, that all the wickedness and poison be exposed to the harsh – and perhaps lethal – light of day.

Will they remember a faithful who doubled down in penance and reparation for sin, offering up their own sacrifices and sufferings to purify the Bride of Christ? Or will they remember a mass exodus of people finally fed up with hypocrisy and failure, resigned to seek their spiritual sustenance elsewhere?

I am angry. I am desperate for transparency and justice and for a profound reckoning of the atrocities committed by men whose very lives are meant to emulate the Good Shepherd, and who instead pattern themselves after Satan, the Father of Lies.

But I will never leave. I would rather die than leave the Bride of Christ alone in Her suffering, or turn away from the Eucharist which is the source and summit of our life.

I am angry and I am hurt and I am deeply, deeply confused.

And I will never leave.

Jesus, give us the grace we need to endure the horror of exposing the rot and the wreckage, the festering and the fractured. Keep us close to the heart of your Mother who knows firsthand the cost of the betrayal of an apostle. Who extended her arms to receive Your mutilated and lifeless body as it was lowered from the Cross.

She did not run from the betrayal that pierced her heart seven times. She endured. She persisted. She united her broken heart to Yours.

We must demand a profound self examination from our clergy, and from ourselves. And we must brace ourselves for the chaos of what is to come.

And we must beg Jesus for the strength to endure, to hold on when it is more tempting to cut and run.

About Me, budgeting, Family Life, large family

That budget life

August 7, 2018

I’ve talked about finances here on the blog a time or two, but I’m ready to talk a bit more frankly. After the financial fiasco that hit our sewer line last week drained our itty bitty emergency fund (but could have been much, much worse, as you know if you follow me on Insta), I decided the time had come to officially call the postpartum period closed for business.

(And by that I mean the period of making declarations along the lines of “I just had a baby, so I deserve this carry-out iced coffee.”)

I possibly do deserve that coffee, but I can throw a handful of ice cubes into the conveniently-cooled mug that has been sitting on the kitchen table since breakfast and call it good.

In the name of transparency let’s address the reality that yes, we are solidly middle class. We have health insurance and wifi and my husband has a job that compensates him fairly for his work, and yet, we are still basically paycheck to paycheck. We do live in an expensive housing market, and we do have a large family, so that tightens the belt a bit right off the bat.

Could we cut back and be a bit more financially sure-footed? I think so. Which is what I’m aiming to do for the next four months, between now and Christmas.

We are not likely going to be getting massive pay raises any time soon, so I have to take a clear eyed look at the budget and admit why it isn’t working better. One word: convenience.

It’s convenient to buy already-shredded cheese. It’s convenient to buy disposable diapers, and baby food in pouches, and sparkling water in cans that could possibly have paid off one of my student loans by now if I had a dollar for every can of LaCroix I’ve ever guzzled. But looking backwards in carbonated regret is no way to live one’s life.

But, I mean, it’s embarrassing. I live a life of relative ease – luxury, even, by much of the world’s standards – and yet when faced with a potential home repair quoted (thankfully, erroneously) into the thousands, my life as I knew it flashed before my eyes. Would we pull the kids out of school to pay for it? Sell one of our cars? Get a second job at night for a couple months? Take out (yet another) credit card?

Thanks be to God, the company who quoted us the repair ended up being shady. So what could have cost us $7,000 ended up costing about a tenth of that.

Still, it was a wake up call. I want to be a better steward of our resources, and to help alleviate some of the pressure of being the primary provider from Dave’s shoulders.

I also just don’t want to worry about money any more. It’s fun to eat out and carry around a paper cup of steaming, liquid alertness. But I imagine it’s more fun to be able to go grocery shopping any day of the month, and to have a failed transmission be an annoyance rather than a tragedy.

Want a peek at where we’ll be cutting back? Here are the things on the chopping block:

My gym membership. OUCH. But not really. I prefer walking to swimming, it turns out, and if my body ever feels sufficiently recovered from birth, I think I’d prefer running even more. Swimming is great, but it wasn’t getting the weight off, and it’s a huge time suck to get a workout in. Minimum 75 minutes to get there/get in and out/swim a mile. Plus, we can’t afford the kids club for 5 kids, so I can only go at 5 am or 9 pm.

Takeout coffee. I love Starbucks. I know better and I have tasted better, but what can I say? As a dog returns to its vomit…

Eating out, period. We go on 2 dates a month because we swap childcare with one of my sisters. It’s awesome, but I think we’re going to pull back to eating at home first and then springing for “coffee or cocktails” for the scope of this project. (Date night funds come from a separate cash category than eating out. I’m aiming for $50/month or less for date nights).

Buying crap at Arc/Goodwill/Craigslist. I am an amazing thrifter. My kids have great shoes, I’ve scored some killer furniture deals, and we have a great and growing classic chapter books library. But I can get dangerously loose at the Arc. One thing leads to another and before I know it I’ve got awesome Nike soccer cleats for the next 2 seasons and another adorable Aden and Anais swaddle in organic muslin and 3 cute tops for Evie in my cart and…you see where I’m going with this. I might have to swear off the thrift stores entirely while we’re in belt tightening mode, so alluring is their siren call to me. I think thrift stores are for me what Target is to most moms.

Speaking of Target...well, not Target specifically, but brick n mortar stores, period. I’m going to take our local grocery store, King Soopers, up on their offer of 4 free uses of their curbside delivery program.

When I’m walking through a store, I tend to toss in unplanned items that I forgot to add to the list, plus the occasional box of diaper wipes just because can you ever have too many diaper wipes on hand? No, no you can not. But maybe I can slum it with a different and cheaper brand than the Huggies Naturals I’ve been faithful to since we brought home baby number one. Not gonna do the math on that one, because hindsight! It’s blinding! I am also hoping shopping only one time per week at a single store will help trim costs.

Starting/cooking dinner earlier than 4 pm. I am a notoriously reluctant cook. And I lose steam as the day progresses. A day that starts out with a hot breakfast may well end with frozen waffles, or some other convenience food that doesn’t actually fill anyone up. Cue wailing and gnashing of teeth at 9 pm and a whole fourth meal’s worth of snacks before bed. This morning I made the Pioneer Woman’s Sunday Night Stew at 10 am, and now it’s done same as I am.

Finally, we’d like to contribute to our parish capital campaign to renovate our ugly church, but haven’t been able to see much wiggle room in our budget. Suddenly things are feeling a bit looser.

I’m curious to see what other people’s “luxuries” are. I assume if you have internet access you have at least a few of them in your life. Maybe a whole lot fewer than we do, or maybe more. Are you debt free? We’re hoping to become so eventually – using that smart financial program you’ve seen me chatting up on IG, Wallet Win. Have you paid off your student loans yet, or would you like to do so before your kids start incurring their own? Kicked your Starbucks habit? Whipped up 101 different rice and beans recipes you’re dying to share with me?

coffee clicks

Coffee Clicks: August

August 3, 2018

Heading into a much needed weekend: World got you down? News too much to handle? I’m with you. I had the heaviest heart last night when I showed up to the women’s group I’m part of. I dragged myself into Adoration, 20 minutes late, and had literally nothing to say to the Lord beyond “this sucks. Where are you?” I didn’t hear much in return, and I have to admit that my prayer life has been pretty dismal. Instead of doubling down I’ve been burying myself in the ordinary tasks of motherhood like diapers, laundry, and exploding sewers. And in moments of quiet I’ll confess I’ve been turning to Instagram more frequently than I’ve been turning to prayer. Really nice, right?

I can do better.

I really think we’re hard up for penance in the Body of Christ right now. I can pray faithfully. I can make sacrifices at mealtime. I can offer up an unexpected bill or a barfing toddler or any of the dozens of moments of humiliation which daily present themselves in the mundane tasks of living. As we were reading the Gospel last night for this coming Sunday my mind skipped ahead a few verses to the end of John, chapter 6. “To whom shall we go, Lord? You have the words of everlasting life.”

How about some uplifting stories to kick off your Friday night:

Anna has such profound wisdom to share, and does it with such tenderness and vulnerability.

Scott and I have tons of mutual friends, and he is in need of prayers as he approaches the end of his life. His composure and perspective on living with a terminal illness is breathtaking.

Theology of the Body is not just about sex. This piece had some really beautiful and practical applications of Theology of the Body to family life. Having read the whole hefty tome as a theology student, it’s impressive to see some of the essential points of it distilled in a way that makes sense, and in everyday language. Tucking this one in my back pocket to return to as I’m constantly thinking up how to best love/form/discipline/honor my children.

Our kids go to a Classical Catholic school, and we love it. No kid loves school 100% of the time, but we’ve seen a real awakening in our children’s’ imaginations as they’ve progressed through the curriculum. They are inquisitive and self assured in a way I don’t recall being at a young age, and they have an honestness about the way they engage with the world. They put their social media consuming mother to shame, quite honestly. This is a great nutshell read for what “classical education” entails.

We’re really blessed to have some incredible priests in our lives. This guy sounds like one of the good ones.

And….I got nothing. It’s a hard week. I’m going to start fasting one day a week for the purification of the Church, beginning with the purification of this wretched sinner. Will you join me? My fasts will probably involve alcohol or social media or letting my kids look at a screen. #diggingdeep.

Catholics Do What?, Culture of Death, Homosexuality, Sex, sin, Suffering

When deferred maintenance hits the fan

August 1, 2018

Yesterday our sewer main backed up. I happened upon the grisly scene when I entered the basement. I stood transfixed, an overflowing basket of laundry on my hip and a stench in my nose. At first I didn’t realize what I was looking at. I got angry, my mind racing to assign blame to the horror I was beholding.

“JOHN PAUL!” I bellowed up the stairs, certain that the mess was a case of litter-box cleaning gone hideously awry.

Are my kids ever going to be old enough to be responsible for their own chores? Why would he dump the litter box on the ground down here? Why is it wet? Oh…

Once I realized that it was raw sewage we were dealing with, my anger melted away. First into disbelief and then to shame for having yelled at my poor 6-year-old, and finally to horror as I realized that I was the grown-up who was going to have to deal with this.

“Sorry buddy,” I called up the stairs to the wrongly accused, “there’s something wrong with the pipes. Tell everyone to go into the backyard until I figure this out.”

The rest of the day passed in a blur of phone calls and sewer technicians tromping in and out of the basement and the sound of many toilets being flushed over and over again. Nearly 8 hours and $500 dollars later I was crouched down scrubbing away at the horrific aftermath (using the cat’s litter scoop, appropriately enough) and willing myself not to vomit and add to my misery.

Dave and I laughed about the entire situation over drinks later that night, shaking our heads in regret that we had neglected to take immediate action on the results of the pipe inspection we’d had performed last August before we’d closed on the house. A main-line cleanout must have fallen to the bottom of our laundry list of things needing immediate attention once we moved in. So while we were tearing up dirty carpet and peeling back stained wood paneling, our pipes, the very guts of our home, were continuing to deteriorate. Every month that went by where we paid attention to some cosmetic detail rather than addressing a crucial functional problem, we were skating by on borrowed time.

In our defense, the report really did slip our minds. Or at least, it slipped my mind. I was so focused on making our house beautiful that I was not super concerned with anything of a more practical nature. When I did think of the less glamorous stuff that needed to happen – installing a radon system in the basement, having the asbestos popcorn removed from the ceilings, etc – I would brush it aside, telling myself we’d take care of it “someday.”

Meanwhile, it was really important that we install hardwood floors in our dining room. We scrimped and saved and stretched uncomfortably far to make it happen, and I told myself it was essential because the kids would spill food there! It had to be a hard surface! We didn’t want to waste money installing an inferior product that we’d just be updating one day anyway…

So we did it, and our house looked better and better. At least on the surface.

The thing with deferred maintenance is that it usually ends up costing you more, in the long run. Sure, you don’t have to take that initial painful hit by dealing with the problem when it first presents, but as the rot progresses, it often does more damage than even the initial discovery would have yielded. The $100 we “saved” by postponing a main line cleaning ballooned into a $500 emergency situation, draining our resources and making a disgusting mess that affected the entire family.

The Church finds herself in a similar situation today. Deferred maintenance which allowed evil to take hold. Rot spreading silently through the ranks, corrupting and defiling when it should have been swiftly and relentlessly exposed to the light. Horrific crimes plowed under and buried while the facade remained polished, presenting an attractive – and unrealistic – image to the outside.

Shame on Dave and I, as parents, for not taking action sooner and making sure our house was well maintained, safe, and reliable. Thankfully, our failure to act will yield nothing more harmful than some traumatic memories of mommy yelling unrepeatable words and dry heaving while carrying trash bags to and from the basement.

The damage the Church is suffering now, and will continue to suffer in the months and years to come, will be far worse.

I am horrified, as a Catholic, by the stories that are coming to light because of the now-Archbishop McCarrick situation. (Click here for a balanced assessment of the issue if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)

I am horrified as a mother.

I am horrified as a mother of sons.

I am horrified as a friend to good and holy priests, and as a Catholic under the jurisdiction of a good and holy bishop.

People will leave over this. People will walk away from Christ, who has the words of eternal life, because of the failure of some of His shepherds. People walked in Judas’ time, and they will walk in Theodore’s time, and woe to those who cause these little ones to suffer. It would be better for them to be cast into the sea with a heavy millstone around their necks than to cause that suffering.

We should never defer the maintenance. Bring it out into the light, all of it. Let us once and for all drag everything out into the light and put our houses in order. That goes for the clergy as well as the laity. The pornography. The child pornography. The homosexual behavior. The pedophila. The copies of 50 Shades of Grey and the innocent online affairs that “don’t hurt anyone,” really.

There is no such thing as a private sin. There is no injury done to the Body of Christ that does not affect all of its members.

Lord, have mercy. Help us get our house in order. No matter what the cost.

Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, Contraception, Culture of Death, IVF, Living Humanae Vitae, Marriage, NFP, Parenting, planned parenthood, politics, Pro Life, Sex, sin, Theology of the Body, vasectomies, Women's Health

Humanae Vitae at 50: how does a Catholic respond to sex in the modern world?

July 25, 2018

Today marks exactly half a century since the publication of Humanae vitae, Bl. Paul VI’s prescient missive to the Church in response to the modern world’s views on sexuality and the human person. Reading it now through the warped lens of the 21st century’s concept of sex, it seems extraordinary that there was once a time the world was not arguing over the existence of multiple choice genders and contraception as a fundamental human right.

Progress, eh?

I look around at our culture and I see a lot of suffering. Children unsure of their parents’ commitment to the family and uncertain of their own place in the world, women who feel compelled to compete with their bodies in the sexual marketplace, babies snuffed out of existence because they had the misfortune to be conceived as the result of a violent act or a contraceptive failure.

There are a lot of people in a lot of pain. But the situation is not without hope. I personally had to hit a sort of rock bottom in my own life before I was able to recognize my own misery and cry out for something more.

The Church was there, and she was able to offer me something better. Discovering Humanae vitae made a big impression on me when I was finding my way back to belief, and it has not ceased to fascinate me in all the years since. It is brief, concise, and only seems to become more applicable as time passes.

There are four predictions which Pope Paul makes in HV, things which perhaps seemed far fetched in 1968, but which have themselves wretchedly accurate in 2018.

First, he envisioned a rise in infidelity and a general moral decline. The Pope noted that the widespread use of contraception would “lead to conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality.” Everyone knows that the rate of divorce is up and the rate of marriage is down and we’re watching things on network television that would have been censored as pornographic only a generation ago.  I’d like to take things a step further and propose some remedies to what ails us.

First and foremost, if you are married or are preparing for a vocation to marriage, be all in. A holy marriage is a beacon of light in a darkening cultural landscape, and a vital witness to your children, friends, coworkers, and neighbors. Commit yourself to chastity – both before and within marriage. That means setting clear boundaries while dating and knowing your own and your partner’s limits when it comes to sexual temptation.

Renew your marriage vows with a sense of reverence for the sacred nature of sex and a delight in the goodness and dignity of your spouse. Don’t buy in to the culture’s cheapening views on sex as primarily recreational or selfish. Commit to studying and growing in your practice of authentic Christian sexuality with your husband or wife. “50 Shades of Gray” has nothing on “Theology of the Body.”

Secondly, Pope Paul foresaw a devastating loss of respect for women. He argued that “the man” will lose respect for “the woman” and “no longer (care) for her physical and psychological equilibrium” and will come to “the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.”

Make a pledge to reject pornography in all its forms. Find a trusted spiritual director and/or mental health practitioner to help you navigate the road to freedom from addiction. Be honest and open about your struggles, and recognize your own limitations when it comes to the kind of media you can consume. Talk with your children, teens, and tweens about the dangers of sharing nudes and explicit content on the internet, SnapChat, and Instagram, helping them understand the far-reaching effects their youthful choices can have in adulthood and in eternity. Even better, keep smartphones out of the hands of your young people! Your kids will not die without an iPhone. Set an example of purity and transparency by keeping your computers and connected devices in open communal spaces and having a charging station where all devices are checked in at night.

Consider financially supporting an anti-trafficking campaign like the USCCB’s Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking (CCOAHT), or by calling your congressperson to voice concerns about human trafficking in your state. There is a direct and demonstrable link between the pornography industry and human trafficking. Pornography is not an “innocent, private, personal choice.” There are real victims and there are real addictions which bleed over from the virtual world to the real world. Read Matt Fradd’s excellent book “The Porn Effect” with your men’s or women’s group or with your older kids. Sign up to become a fighter at the website Fight the New Drug.

Paul VI also voiced concern about the potential for the abuse of power, particularly at the hands of powerful governments and non government organizations who could wield “family planning” as weapon against poorer nations and oppressed populations. China’s infamous “One Child” policy is a sobering and extreme example of this, and there are stories of horrific forced abortions, state-mandated abductions, and government intervention in the lives of citizens who dared to flout the law. In the developing world today there are many instances of people undergoing involuntary or uninformed sterilizations at the hands of “compassionate” and eugenic non profit organizations whose understanding of humanitarian work seems limited to the reduction of undesirable populations.

Teach your children about the fundamental dignity of every human person, no matter their skin color or place of origin. Discuss the exploitation of poorer countries and populations by the wealthy and powerful, and explain the Church’s responsibility to defend the least of these. Raise money or awareness for an authentically Catholic charity doing work on the ground, like the Missionaries of Charity or International Missionary Foundation. Lobby your political representative for humane and responsible humanitarian aid that does not impose draconian population control measures on disaster-stricken or impoverished nations. Our “charity” is no charity at all when it comes with strangling strings attached.

Finally, the Holy Father recognized that a widespread acceptance and use of contraception would lull men and women into a false sense of control over their own bodies and, ultimately, the bodies of their children. If you stand around a playground with a group of moms for long enough, eventually you will overhear or take part in the vasectomy conversation: “I scheduled Matt’s for next week – it’s his turn to suffer!” or “Jim got snipped last year, because we are d-o-n-e done.”

Sterilization, according to a 2012 study by the Guttmacher Institute, is now the leading form of contraception in the United States. The rates of IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies have also skyrocketed in recent decades. Couples are waiting longer to become parents and women are often spending decades ingesting hormonal contraceptives without a clear understanding of the risks to fertility and the decline of the reproductive system with age.

When it comes time to have a child, couples will often stop at nothing to achieve their dream of becoming parents. This has led to a glut of “unwanted” frozen embryos who linger indefinitely in cold storage in laboratories around the world and the troubling emergence of a thriving surrogacy industry where it is frequently the poorer minority women who are hired to carry a pregnancy for a wealthy heterosexual or homosexual couple. Little thought is given to the physical and emotional effects that surrogacy has on the surrogate or the resulting child who is necessarily reduced to a product available for purchase.

Teach your children about the grave respect due to every human person, no matter the circumstances of their conception or birth. But also teach them that a massive and corrupt industry has sprung up around the conceiving of children at any cost and by any means necessary. Take responsibility for the sexual education of your own children from a young age. Opt them out of any public school instruction in human sexuality – some of which is developed by Planned Parenthood and other corrupt for-profit corporations with a vested interest in your children becoming sexually active – and educate yourself in the biology and theology of the human body. Gone are the days of having “the talk” with a pubescent teenager and hoping to have any impact on your child’s formation. If you want to get to your child before the culture does, you must have many such talks throughout the years. Early, and often.

Finally, pray. Pray for the wisdom to navigate this toxic culture and for the courage to live as a sign of contradiction. Look around and observe the pain and the confusion caused by living in a manner contrary to the Church’s teachings – even to those within the Church itself – and be bold enough to choose something radical. As 1 Peter 3:15 states, “be prepared to give an account for the reason for the hope you have in you.”

And in the words of my favorite Saint echoing the words of my Lord and Savior, “be not afraid.”

design + style, Fixer Upper, house reno, pregnancy, self care, Uncategorized

Painted linoleum floors, postpartum PT, and learning to sit down

July 24, 2018

It has been tough to string more than couple of words together the past few weeks. The days are going by quickly and I’m shocked that we’re edging in on August, but around 3 pm every weekday, time seems to stand still, and there aren’t enough Otter Pops in the universe to hasten the coming of bedtime.

I am looking forward to a new school year, but my inner teenager shudders at store end-caps already filled with college ruled spiral notebooks and crayons. I wish for a carefree end to summer for my children’s sake, and I wish for a return to normalcy in schedule for my sake.

Both older boys have asked me in all earnestness at some point during the summer to homeschool them, and then reneged on the request when I explained that school at home would still, in fact, involve schoolwork.

I did consider the possibility for about 2 hours; I even got so far as to text a couple homeschooling friends, asking what their discernment process had been. Then Dave went out of town for the weekend and all thoughts of teaching my little darlings math and Latin were ejected from my brain by 48 hours of solo parenting.

We’ve had a good summer, and I’m glad we’ve been able to spend so much time together. I’m also glad I am not responsible for their mathematical development.

I’m trying to implement some better time management strategies to help realize some of my perennially-deferred goals. I’ve been waking up earlier than the kids most mornings and forcing myself to produce for 30 minutes or 1,000 words – whichever comes first. I’ve also strapped the trusty old FitBit back on to hit that 10k step count each day. All of the swimming and early morning gym-haunting has yet to result in any visible results to my postpartum return of form, but I do feel better when I move.

Oddly enough, my body seems to be responding better to gentler workouts. I think I am probably so depleted from back to back pregnancies that strenuous workouts were further taxing an already stressed system.

Gentle walking and stretching seem to be what my body craves, so I’m trying to honor that. The physical therapist I’ve been working with has indefinitely ruled out running, which I’m going to be honest, is actually a huge relief! It’s great to just let go of that part of my identity, for now, and embrace what is rather than lamenting for what once was. Not by slipping into depressed inactivity or anything, but by really embracing a period of physical recovery and rebuilding. And by spending a small fortune on vitamin and mineral supplements.

I’ve come to realize that I usually exert a lot of time and energy in the postpartum period beating myself up – mentally and physically – straining to “undo” something that can’t actually be undone. Whether from sheer exhaustion or just experienced maturity, I haven’t been able to cow my body into submission this time around. When I hit the wall, instead of redoubling my efforts and crashing through it, I curled up at the base of it and took a nap.

It has been pretty eye opening to be honest with myself about what my body needs, and about the tremendous personal cost of having a baby. I don’t “bounce back” physically, though when I was younger I could grit my teeth and sort of fake it.

At 35 I don’t seem to have that same resilience. But I do have a little more wisdom and lots more experience, which seems to me to be a fair tradeoff. So when the baby sleeps, I sit on the couch with a toddler and read a book, or stare vacantly into space, or sometimes do some dinner prep.

Mostly though, I’m sitting down a lot (always with intentional and improved posture!).

Stretching. Going for walks around the block with the bigger kids and not gritting my teeth in frustration that I can’t run the laps we’re making. Spending a decent amount of time and money going to therapy, and just generally investing in myself. It feels decadent. It also feels almost disastrously overdue. It feels a bit like I’m backing away from the edge of an abyss, step by faltering step, and reclaiming some ground that was (necessarily) ceded during the chaos of the past two years of home buying and selling and baby growing.

The real sign that I’m recovering and starting to get my head above water? My urge to paint has been restored.

Last weekend when Dave was gone I pulled the trigger on a long-desired flooring update and painted the linoleum in the kitchen and downstairs bathroom. I’d put the kids to bed and then creep downstairs each evening to tape and paint and after about 4 nights worth of effort (and 4 overnight drying periods) I’m just about finished with the whole project.

For around $60 bucks our lower level looks like a different house altogether, and I no longer feel like I’m peering bleakly into the mists of time while mopping spaghetti sauce off of hideous yellow linoleum. Time will tell how sturdy the “porch and floor” paint proves to be in an indoor application, but anything is better than our before pictures.

I’ll try to whip up a full tutorial one of these days for all my curious Instagram friends, but it was really one of the easier DIYs I’ve attempted.

For now, feast your eyes on the improvement:

What is the rest of your summer shaping up to look like? Are you eager for back to school time, or relishing in the last month of summer? My kids go back relatively late, as I understand, not resuming full classes until August 27th. I’ll have a second grader, a first grader, and a three day a week pre-K this year, which means I’ll be backing 13! lunches! a week! Come to think of it, summer can go ahead and stick around for a couple more weeks…

About Me, Catholics Do What?, Contraception, Living Humanae Vitae, Marriage, motherhood, NFP

But what do the neighbors think? {Living humanae vitae part 8}

July 17, 2018

Lately I’ve been experimenting with a little mental exercise I like to call “what if there’s a nanny cam?” Now, being the queen of my domicile and the only avid Amazon clicker in the house, I can be reasonably confident this is only a mental exercise. However, it has borne some fruit when I play it out in my imagination to the logical conclusion and pretend there are tapes that we’re going to be playing back later tonight, after business hours, assessing my performance.

Did she keep her cool? Did she raise her voice? Did everyone feel seen and heard and cherished? Did someone learn a new curse word today?

Another less fanciful game we play, my inner monologue and I, is “what do the neighbors think?” — less fanciful because we are hemmed in on three sides by other suburban homes with human dwellers, most of whom are quietly retired and whose tranquility has been routinely shattered since August last when our noisy infantry rolled into the subdivision.

This morning I tossed the crushed wrapper of a pack of Marlboro Reds into the recycling bin. Yesterday it was lying in the middle of the street as the late afternoon rain poured down. Today it was lying 10 feet into my front yard, helpfully tossed there by a passing pedestrian who figured we were the hot mess it belonged to.

Fair enough, passing pedestrian. Fair enough.

I play this game at a higher level in the grocery store and the post office and oh my gosh do I play it on those rare and furtive visits to Whole Foods to retrieve 12-pack cases of LaCroix, marked down 60% thanks to their unholy alliance with Amazon. Keeping my eyes fixed on my offspring, we sweep quietly through the exterior of the store to toss magically-priced organic raspberries ($.99 cents a pint!) and sparkling water into the tiny cart already crammed with human cargo; I know that this of all places is where I can still reliably count on the questions and commentary.

Eyes down, children accounted for, clothes neat and applied correctly to body parts. That’s the best I can hope for.

I feel the weight of the entire reputation of my subversive cultural group on my tired, baby-wrenched shoulders during these errands. All the digital ink spilled on electronic page can’t undo a single poor impression made by an actual family in actual public, or so I tell myself.

Do I care less about appearances than I did when we first started our family? Yes, and no.

I have less time to worry about what random strangers think, but more time to worry about the impressions we’re making on our real neighbors, the barista at my local Starbucks, the teller at our bank. When we’re a recurrent fixture in their lives and they see it all, day after day, the solitary impressions adding up to a lifetime of reputation, what must they think?

Does she love them? Does she like being a mom? Gosh, she must have wanted a ton of kids. Are they all getting enough attention? Gosh, those two siblings seem spaced really close together. I wouldn’t want a life like that. Seems chaotic. I wonder if she’ll ever lose that baby weight. She’s really letting herself go…

And on and on it goes, the internal commentary viciously dissecting and passing judgement on my performance as a wife and mother and human being and all without anyone having to utter a single word!

I am my own worst enemy when it comes to embracing and living what the Catholic Church teaches about marriage and children and motherhood. I spend too much time in my head critiquing and not enough time on my knees begging for the strength to actually carry on.

I worry about what my thin dual income/two-kids neighbors think of our hot mess and my large thighs, trying to present an attractive enough image to justify this way of life, even presenting it as a viable option that really anyone could do! (insert strained and vaguely insincere smile.)

I let myself believe the lie that this could possibly compete with what the world has to offer.

That living this way, apart from Christ, could have any real merit compared to financial stability and a healthy weight and an annual tropical vacation.

None of this makes sense apart from the Cross. But I never want to show the cross in public –  gore is so off-putting.

Why not lead with what’s attractive? A subtle interior voice whispers. You don’t want to make this look too difficult. It wouldn’t be right to show someone you’re struggling. Best they only see the highlight reel. Smile! Or else you could be the reason somebody decides to never have kids one day….

It is so obvious that the voice whispering so urgently in my ear for much of the day isn’t God’s.

But I almost always fail to identify it as satan’s until he has done his dirty work, the sneaky bastard.

I let myself carry on, believing it is my own perfectionism whispering criticism in my ear all day long, not recognizing that the enemy of my soul has an axe to grind and a perfect opportunity to hit me where it hurts.

I long to do the good, and so he holds up an apparent good – impossible standards and all – and dangles it over my head, promising that if only I try hard enough, I can achieve perfection.

It’s pride mingled with a dangerous self reliance, all cloaked in a sticky sweet coating of good intentions and the desire for control.

My entire struggle with NFP can be summed up thusly: she wanted to be in control.

I don’t struggle with the theology of it. I appreciate the science behind it. I acknowledge the inherent dignity in it. And still, I wrestle.

If there is one thing I continue to ram up against, almost a decade into marriage as a practicing Catholic, it is the contradictory belief that I can both move peacefully and unobtrusively through this world and also fully embrace and strive to follow the teachings of Christ.

Silly me, I thought I’d get to choose my cross.

Being open to life is beautiful. But it’s not like, Instagram beautiful. There isn’t a filter strong enough for reality.

Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, Evangelization, feast days

Calling on heaven – the feast of St. Zelie Martin

July 12, 2018

Because our littlest rooster woke at the ripe hour of 5:20 this morning (that’s what you get for uttering the phrase “sleeping through the night” on the internet) I’ve already been to the gym, showered, done dishes and laundry, and dropped more than half my kids at various locations across the city. Also LOLing at my former self who swore we’d never be an “activity” family. But I held out for as long as I could. 7 years ain’t bad.

The productive pace of a morning like that means that it was nigh 10 am before I realized that today was the feast of St. Zelie – and her husband, St. Louis – Martin, my youngest’s namesake.

I have loved the name Zelie since I first read “Story of a Family” a few years into this motherhood gig. (Highly recommend to any Little Flower fans out there. It’s the biographical account of the whole Martin family, including St. Therese, Servant of God Leonie, and of course the happy couple themselves, Louis and Zelie.)

This is a complete aside, but having St. Zelie canonized as such gives me a thrill that someday we could have a St. Joey or a St. Evie or maybe (longshot) a St. Jenny. Not Jennifer or Joseph (no offense to our given names); it just tickles me that she is forever remembered by her nickname and preferred identifier rather than the full Marie-Azelie, which was her formal name.

If you read the birth story I wrote for our little Z, you already know the tale I’m going to tell, but perhaps there are a few details I left out in my initial account.

We were still somewhat undecided on names. If baby was a boy, I’m fairly certain he would have been called … you know what? I honestly can’t remember what we decided on. I don’t think we ever did. Augustine, Anthony, Blaise, and Benedict were all in the running. We never agreed on one. I guess all that estrogen was blocking the creative process for potential male monikers. For a girl, we’d settled on Elizabeth Zelie, a nod to my sister and my dearest friend, both named Elizabeth.

When Zelie was born she was a little on the gray side. Not full-on blue, but not healthy and pink like our other kids had been. Her delivery went super quick at the end; we’re talking 5 pushes total. Turns out faster isn’t always better for baby though. She didn’t have the full benefit of the “squeeze” while she travelled gradually through the birth canal, so she had a lot of fluid in her nose and mouth that hadn’t cleared.

She wasn’t breathing well when she was born, and she didn’t make a single peep. At first the nurses placed her on my chest and began rubbing her vigorously, urging her to speak up. After about 30 seconds the vigorous rubbing and encouragement turned a little more urgent, and they whisked her to the bassinet across the room and began administering oxygen. They had already been suctioning her using the manual bulb aspirator, but someone called for the neonatal respiratory team to come in and administer deep suctioning.

As they worked on my girl and called out her oxygen saturation levels, I began to worry, but I didn’t freak out. (big for me)

I called to her from the bed where I was still being worked on: “Elizabeth, mommy loves you! Elizabeth, we’re right here. You can breathe. Use your lungs. You can do it, baby.” I remembered having read how beneficial it is for sick babies to hear their mother’s voice, so I continued my cheerleading while she continued to perform suboptimally in the respiration department.

I was becoming concerned that they were going to take her to the NICU, and that something was wrong either with her heart or her lungs. She was still very dusky in color and we had yet to hear a peep from her. The room was full of nurses and doctors now, and I couldn’t see her through the crowd around her bed.

I looked up at Dave and saw my own concern mirrored in his expression.

“She’s going to be fine, right?” I searched his face, looking for any sign that he was trying to protect me from reality.

He looked concerned but calm. “She is going to be fine.”

I felt that same strange confidence, even with a crowd of medical professionals around her bed and her frustrating silence. I had been praying Hail Mary’s aloud and I began also silently invoking the intercession of St. Zelie Martin. My inner dialogue with her went something like this:

“You’ve been in this place. You lost 4 babies. Please pray for my baby’s life to be spared. Please intercede for us. I’m not strong like you. I can’t lose a baby. I had so much anxiety throughout this pregnancy. I want to be proven wrong. Please God, let her breathe! St. Zelie, pray for her. Pray for us.”

I called to Dave from across the room where he’d moved to be nearer to her crib. “Babe, I think we got her name wrong.” He walked over and put his hand on my shoulder, “I think so, too.” We both smiled and said “Zelie. Her name is Zelie.”

And so it was.

You know how the story ends, since Zelie is very much alive and with us. She finally started crying at about the 20 minute mark. Not an eternity, but it sure felt like it in the moment.

Little by little her oxygen saturation came up in that first 60 minutes, until at last she was breathing normally and to the liking of the respiratory team. They ended up leaving our room without ever having to intubate her, which felt miraculous after such a bumpy beginning. She did stay in the hospital an extra day to be monitored for any desaturations, but she performed admirably and was with me the entire time. The best anyone could figure was she just had to work a little harder to clear the amniotic fluid from her airways, and once she did, she was out of the woods.

I know there’s more to the story than that, though. I felt certain of St. Zelie’s presence in that delivery room, and I continue to feel a deep kinship with her in my motherhood.

It was similar to the experiences I’ve had of John Paul II’s presence – I could feel her intercession as much as if I’d asked a friend standing next to me to pray. The veil separating the Church Triumphant and the Church Militant was a little thinner in that moment.

The Communion of Saints isn’t some bizarre pious tradition the Church fosters in order to justify the cost of statues and stained glass windows. Zelie Martin is alive in Christ; more alive than your or I, in fact. And she stands in the Presence of God and addresses Him directly with the needs of her brothers and sisters still on earth.

Talk about having connections.

Can I pray directly to God and ask Him for what I need? Of course I can. And I must. And I do.

And because God is generous and merciful and is not unfamiliar with the human condition, I can do this, and more. I can ask my friends who have already arrived to throw a lifeline back, to text me the directions and reassure me I’m going in the right direction. “I know you’ve already arrived. Will you pray I make it, too? Will you bring this particular situation before Our Lord? I believe He can hear me, God, help my unbelief…”

The saints are like a phone line between heaven and earth. We don’t have to use it, of course, but the coverage is excellent, and, just like with Google, the Big Guy is always listening in.

St. Zelie Martin, pray for us.