About Me, Catholic Spirituality, Contraception, current events, Evangelization, feast days, JPII, Living Humanae Vitae, NFP

Coffee clicks: Nashville, Instagram bullying, and Communism

October 19, 2018

Heading into a kind of weird weekend for our crew: 2 days off followed by a day and a half of school and then fall break. I don’t remember having fall break as a kid, so I sure hope mine appreciate it.

Dave will be doing the lion’s share of parenting – I’m heading to Nashville on Sunday for a series of talks I’m giving on Humanae Vitae, and I’m thrilled that the first two fall on Monday, October 22nd which is the feast of St. John Paul II. I’m really leaning on his intercession as I prep for my first big speaking events since having babies number 4 and 5, both of whom have been less than cooperative with my prep.

I’ll be at the pastoral outreach center for the diocese of Nashville at 10 am and 7 pm on Monday, and at Belmont University on Tuesday, location and time TBA. Love to see anyone who’s local!

This week was the advent of my favorite hashtag in a long time: #postcardsforMacron highlighted a whole internet full of smart, accomplished women with families of all sizes, many on the largish side, and oh yeah, they happened to have an impressive collection of degrees and academic honors to their names, too.

I had a gross experience on Instagram after commenting on an incredibly inspiring Humans of New York post about the Rwandan genocide. A must read if you haven’t been following. I was praising the pastor who’d smuggled 300 souls to safety by refusing to back down to the roving bands of murderers who kept coming to his door threatening him with a gruesome death. I said I hoped his courage and goodness in the face of complicity and evil could inspire us in our own country to work for a future free from abortion. I got a few death threats and curses for my trouble, and a hundred or so ad hominems last I heard. I’m not stupid enough to keep tabs on comment sections, so I’ll have to trust my IG friends on that one. This piece really resonated with me after this week – I’m not sure I would have agreed otherwise, having largely found Instagram to be the “friendly” social media platform.

I think most Millenials – myself included – would do well to remind ourselves about what Communism really looks like. This story of a Polish hero’s life and death is a good place to start.

Archbishop Chaput has such a gift for communication that is both concise and profound. This is a must read and a great take on the Synod currently underway in Rome.

A third missive from Archbishop Vigano was released this morning.

Have a wonderful weekend, and please say a quick prayer for me on Monday and Tuesday if you think of it!

coffee clicks

Coffee clicks: October 12

October 12, 2018

Happy Friday dear readers. Loved the avalanche of responses I received in response to this blog from the beginning of the week – it is so essential for women to tell their stories. Every time you speak up and share from your own experience, you are empowering other women to do the same. We have lost so much of our collective wisdom, and seen a breakdown in the generational transmission of “how to” insert-life-skill-here. That becomes painfully obvious during pregnancy and the postpartum period, perhaps more so than at almost any other time in a woman’s life. Let’s come along side new mothers and old mothers and any mothers who think they’re doomed to going it alone, and get to work on the reconstruction of that village

  1. Confusing news out of DC this morning. I admit when I read the details, I was more disappointed than I think I would be had nothing happened at all.
  2. This long form story from our editor, JD Flynn, detailing one victim’s experience of pursuing justice is important. I think we will hear many more such stories in the months ahead, and it is so important that they are told.
  3. I met the sweetest little namesake of this amazing man a couple weeks ago. His canonization – along with that of Bl. Pope Paul VI of Humanae Vitae fame – is coming up at the end of this month.
  4. This story about an extraordinary athlete brought tears to my eyes, and it was a beautiful thing to show my kids. However, I did have mixed feelings about the good publicity Nike will get for this, and about the monetization of the heartstring factor. I wonder if it does enough to respect the personhood of the subject, and whether it is right for companies to engage in this kind of corporate activism. This comment from a Youtube views kind of sums it up for me: “This is marketing at its best. NIKE trying to save face. What is next, is NIKE going to sign a puppy. Also, shame on you NIKE for using Justin as your puppy?” I do think his dignity is being respected in the video, but it feels a little exploitive at the same time, you know?
  5. Are you thinking about Advent yet? Blessed Is She released their gorgeous Advent study (available as an amazing bundle, too!) last week, and they always sell out fast.
  6. I’ll be speaking in Nashville October 21-23 on the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae and what the lay faithful can do to turn the ship around, so to speak, in the culture. I’ll share times and locations with you when I have them!

Have a relaxing weekend.

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

Our morning at the congregation for saints

October 11, 2018

One of the best/weirdest parts of Catholicism is definitely the Communion of Saints. If you think hard enough about how the Bible talks about dead people and how all Christians uniformly revere St. Paul and St. Luke and St. John and the rest of the NT crew, it’s not too difficult to wrap your brain around what we Catholics believe about our heavenly intercessors, and why. But for some people it proves to be a real theological and conceptual sticking point.

Some common objections: “but they’re dead!” Well, not if you believe in eternal life with Christ.

“You can’t pray to a human person! Only Jesus answers prayers.” But we don’t pray “to” the saints, we ask them to pray for us. Which is Biblical.

“Who are we to say that someone is definitively in heaven? That’s just silly.”

Well, not to keep beating the dead horse that he fell off of, but St. Paul comes to mind. And the Virgin Mary. And St. Joseph. Moses. St. Timothy. St. Barnabus.

“Okay, okay, but anyone past Biblical times … we can’t know for sure if they’re up there. Sola Scriptura and all.”

Well, there is the small matter of the Catholic Church having compiled and declared which books of the Bible were canonical, preserving the words and eyewitness testimony of Christ (along with the Jews and the Jewish Scriptures) from antiquity to the present day.

Really it comes down to a matter of faith. Either you believe that Jesus is God, that He died and rose again, that He took our sins upon Himself on the Cross and offers us salvation and eternal life with Him in heaven, or you don’t.

If you do believe, I highly recommend cultivating a relationship with His saints and martyrs so as to have some great role models and powerful intercessors to lean on. (Some of my personal heroes: Mother Mary, St. John Paul II, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Zelie, St. Joseph, St. Therese, St. Joan of Arc, St. Thomas More, St. John Vianney, St. John Bosco, St. Padre Pio, St. Mother Teresa, St. Michael, St. Josemaria Escriva, and Servant of God Julia Greeley.)

Our trip to Rome last month was for one primary purpose: to deliver the documents detailing the diocesan investigation of the cause for canonization for Servant of God Julia Greeley. Learn about her here if you haven’t heard her name before. The tl;dr is that Julia, a freed slave who worked and lived in Denver at the turn of the 20th century, is known as Denver’s “angel of charity” for her service to the poor, her apostolic zeal, and her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. My husband was appointed “vice postulator” to her cause, and so we’ve spent the past 3 years getting a unique up close view of the Church’s saint-making process.

That he was tapped to head to Rome as the official carrier of the documents was icing on the cake. Zelie and I couldn’t resist tagging along for the ride as his plus one and two. We were in the Eternal City for a little under a week, and it was a beautiful, restorative and almost entirely stress-free affair (the flight home is sealed deep within my subconscious memory for future nightmare material.)

On the Friday morning of our trip, we got up bright and early and headed to 8 am Mass in St. Peter’s with my Italian co-workers, the CNA/EWTN Rome staff, lingered with the crew for a brief coffee break, and then dashed back to our hotel in the Borgo to retrieve the documents for Dave’s big appointment at the Congregazione delle Cause dei Santi.

Now when I reference “documents,” I don’t mean a nice leather portfolio with a few signed papers, or even an accordian file, but 4 enormous legal boxes (wrapped in red ribbon and sealed in wax with the Archbishop of Denver’s episcopal crest) which contained more than 17,000 pages of documentation. As the gentleman serving as postulator for Julia’s cause quipped while we waited in the lobby “that’s a lot of words for a woman who was illiterate!”

The documentation details everything known about Julia’s life, from her time on a plantation in Missouri as a domestic slave, to her life of charity in Denver, and included the forensic analysis of her mortal remains and countless first hand testimonies culled from various ecclesial and government archives about her character and her work.

After some deliberation about how exactly to get all that stuff to Italy, we ended up checking each of the 39.9 lb boxes as our checked baggage (thanks, Air Canada!) and prayed anxiously at the baggage claim at Fiumicino that they would arrive unscathed.

Arrive they did, and with wax seals still miraculously intact.

As we ducked back into our hotel room that morning to load up the boxes, Zelie had a wardrobe malfunction that required some serious scrubbing and swapping of garments. I urged Dave to leave without me, figuring I’d definitely be able to catch up with a guy in a suit dragging 150+ lbs of cardboard boxes across the cobbled streets outside St. Peter’s Square in the late morning heat of Rome.

Well, I was wrong, and when Zay and I did arrive at the building south of the Square where I knew the office to be located, there was no husband in sight. Trusting myself to the mercy and kindness shown to women with babies by every Italian man I’ve ever met, I tickled Zelie’s chin to make her smile and confidently pushed the stroller past the armed guard in the courtyard and up to the security station inside. Using my broken Itanglish and pure native charm, I convinced the bemused gentleman that he should wave us into the secure elevator and up to “Santi, santi!” to catch up with my beau.

Not a bad office view

Baby power being what it is in Italy, he acquiesced, and so Zelie and I burst into the outer office for the dicastery in the midst of a confused crowd of nuns and monsignors sitting behind desks.  (Okay, okay, they were sisters, technically.) They cocked their heads at us as I smiled and asked if anyone had seen an American guy with a lot of boxes.

Eventually we reunited with Dave and our postulator, a dapper German fellow in a bespoke suit who bemusedly pushed the umbrella stroller through the marble corridors once I’d switched Zelie to the baby carrier to quiet her shrieks.

While waiting for our appointment (running predictably on Italian time, to sweaty Dave’s chagrin) I surveyed the tables near our seats. They were covered with holy cards depicting Blesseds, Venerables, and Servants of God from all over the world – an array of currently open causes of the Universal Church. I grabbed a few cards for Fr. Jacques Hamel, martyr priest from France, slaughtered at the altar by Islamic terrorists while praying the Mass a few years ago.

When it was finally our turn to meet with the priest who reports to the head of the dicastory, Zelie was fast asleep, and so I was able to pay close attention to the proceedings.

Causes awaiting finalization, filed and waiting. When a cause is completed, it will eventually moved to the Vatican’s secret archives.

I have to say, after years of research and work and a few formal liturgical ceremonies on Denver’s end, Rome was so typically Italian that I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing. At one point the monsignor looked up from the documentation he was affixing his signatures to and quipped “the director’s office is one side of this wall, and the Adoration chapel with the Blessed Sacrament and the office of miracles is on the other. So you might say everyone who is filed away here my office is in Purgatory, stuck right between Heaven and Hell!”

Once the signatures were complete and the interview finished, Fr. opened a door in the side of the room to a – I’m not kidding – giant, overstuffed utility closet filled with packing bubbles, cardboard boxes, and giant Rubbermaid containers. Our clean white boxes jauntily tied with red satin ribbon and embossed wax seals trundled into that closet looking like American overachievement incarnate.

Looking a little wearied by the state of the storage room, Father dropped to crouch and shoved some cardboard boxes aside, using his foot to nudge a pile of bubble wrap further out of the way.

“Here you go, let’s put Julia* right here. No, no, let’s push that other box over, she should stay together.”

Viva Italia

(NB: Julia’s mortal remains are not in the boxes, just her files.)

And after a few photos and a handshake, that was that.

Afterwards Dave and I toasted his success with prosecco for Julia, “I’m glad you got to come with me, babe. That was pretty amazing.”

I kind of thought so too.

We clinked our glasses together, laughing over how she would probably respond to all the pomp and circumstance surrounding her, and how typically Italian Italy is, and always will be.

I hope I get to sit down with her one day in heaven and find out. Until then, Servant of God Julia Greeley, pray for us!

(If you have miracle stories of answered prayers from Julia’s intercession, submit them here.)

About Me, keto, large family, Living Humanae Vitae, motherhood, pregnancy, self care

Postpartum recovery: PT, hormones and keto

October 8, 2018

“9 months on, 9 months off” they say. Well, some of them say, anyway. I’ve found with each subsequent bebe those goalposts creep back a month or two, so let’s just say as Zelie rounds the bases to month 9 ex utero, I’m still looking and feeling much of the effort it took to bring Zelie earthside.

However, some vast improvements have been made. I want to record them here for posterity’s sake, and because in many ways I felt like I was charting my own course for recovery and healing, belonging as I do now to a rather exclusive club of moms of many.

Even my doctor, a nice pro-life guy who delivers plenty of babies a year and is comfortable around an NFP chart, was relatively clueless about what I could do to speed the healing process, to correct hormone imbalances, and to restore my body to a state of reasonable functionality.

What I’m about to share with you is my experience alone, and I’m not a doctor or any kind of medical professional, so grain of pink himalayan salt and all, okay?

First things first. I’ve had a contentious relationship with food since forever. If I could turn back the clock, I would have sworn off the Chic-fil-a milkshakes and the bags and bags of white cheddar popcorn I consumed this time around. I think Zelie is at least 30% popcorn cheese on a cellular level. Her pregnancy was a rough ride emotionally. We were living in a friend’s house for the first 6 months of it and commuting an hour each way to school. In my spare time I enjoyed meeting up with our realtor after a 55 mile drive with a carful of kids and looking at dozens and dozens of houses which for various reasons did not work out. 70, to be precise. So yes, I did a bit – a lot – of stress eating.

Having always gained massively with each baby, I figured weight was weight, whether or not I was working out and eating well. This premise proved faulty, as I would discover in the harsh hospital lighting on day one post delivery. I was at my all time highest weight, and had delivered a modest 7 pound peanut to show for it.

I waited the requisite 6 weeks postpartum and then started watching my calories, cutting back on sugar (more on this later), and began a swimming regimen that had me accumulating 400-500 laps a week. I kept this up until about 5 months postpartum at which point I had lost an additional (wait for it) … 3 pounds.

If you do the math you’ll realize that 7 pounds plus 3 pounds is 10, and having racked up something north of 60, I was…not doing great. I brought my concerns to one doctor who suggested that perhaps I was eating more than 1200 calories and just didn’t realize it, because “apps aren’t all that accurate”  and suggested I could up my gym regimen to 7 days a week instead of 5.

Long story short, but I eventually ended up at a women’s health care clinic that specializes in whole woman care. They did some targeted hormone testing and identified a deficiency that was making it almost impossible to lose weight, and which also contributed to anxiety and depression.

I also found an incredible physical therapist who specializes in postpartum recovery and pelvic floor injuries, just from reaching out to my circle of local friends. As frustrating as it was to have to hunt and peck for the right doctors and the right diagnoses, I feel exceptionally blessed to live in a big city with a wide array of healthcare options, and to have good health insurance to be able to defray some of the cost. I do wish some of the less “mainstream” therapies were covered, but I’d be remiss to not acknowledge my privilege. Do I wish postpartum PT and hormone assessments were standard of care for new moms? You betcha. But for now I’m just glad to have found some good help!

The last piece of the puzzle for me has been diet. A lifelong yo-yo dieter, I’ve tried all the things. Atkins. South Beach. Weight Watchers. Whole 30. LightWeigh. Plant based. Low fat. You name it, I’ve done it. I had a pretty good handle on things by my mid 20s. I was exercising regularly, eating moderately, and had, well, the metabolism of a twentysomething who’d never been pregnant. I could kinda eat whatever I wanted, and I did. After spending ages 15-23 deep in the throes of an eating disorder, it was a relief to have a less fractious relationship with food. 

Once we got married and the babies started coming fast and furious, I remember being shocked by how swiftly and with what vengence the eating-disordered thinking returned once the scale started moving north as I grew our babies.

Nobody had warned me how triggering it would be to see my weight skyrocket over those 9 months of pregnancy, and my provider at the time kind of waved my fears aside and encouraged me that eating intuitively and moderately was good for me and good for baby. If I could do things over again, I’d escort my 27 year-old-self straight to therapy as soon as that second pink line appeared, but hindsight is 20/20, and as it turns out, I’ve learned and grown tremendously not in spite of motherhood, but through it.

I can honestly say that today, at age 35, and still significantly heavier than I’d like to be, I am more at peace with my body than I have been since childhood.

I can see the goodness of my childrens’ existence, acknowledging the sacrificial love that motherhood requires (in whatever form it may take for each particular woman), and the devastating unhappiness so many women feel when confronted with the disparity between their actual bodies and the idealized image the culture projects on us.

For some of us, the sacrifice is excess weight we never wanted to gain and struggle mightily to lose. For others it might be a flaring autoimmune disease, an injury, a tragic loss, the burden of infertility. Motherhood is costly, at any rate, and none of us can predict the cost ahead of time.

But it’s so worth it. And as I’m discovering after this magical fifth baby, God heals on His timeline, not ours. As I find myself making peace with my body at long last and in spite of its many imperfections, I marvel at the worldly illogic of it, that having a larger than usual family would result in better body image and deep healing. In God’s economy, the numbers work differently.

But back to the recovery process. If you follow me on Instagram you know that the biggest win for me the past few months has been discovering and implementing the Keto diet. Again with the disclaimers, but I’m not a healthcare professional, so do your own research, etc.

In a nutshell, Keto is almost an inversion of the FDA food pyramid. It’s fat focused with moderate protein and low carbs. Under 20 grams per day is my goal, and most days I end up around there. It’s no grains, no sugar, and no starchy veggies or sugary fruits. It is lots of eggs, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, avocados, bacon, sausage, steak, chicken, fish, shrimp, full fat dairy, and a little bit of nuts. If that sounds restrictive, I suppose it was for the first week, but when I looked at the scale and found 4 pounds missing after months of stubborn inactivity, I was hooked.

The best part for me has been the weight loss (22 pounds in 9 weeks so far) but the surprisingly close second has been a radical reorientation of my relationship with food. I no longer crave specific foods, nor do I struggle much resisting “off limits” foods. For a girl who loves to eat, this feels like a miracle.

And I do still enjoy food! But now I enjoy food that makes me feel good before, during, and after eating it. I have seen a 180 degree turnaround in my energy levels between meals. Hanger is gone. I feel satiated and content for long stretches between eating, and have even been able to incorporate a little bit of intermittent fasting for the last month. For someone who used to be faint and weak from hunger on Ash Wednesdays and Good Fridays, this feels huge.

Do I think everyone should eat this way? I really don’t know. I think it is a healthy and helpful way to eat for people who struggle with hormone issues and blood sugar and certain mental health conditions, but I also know people who feel great on the Whole 30, which is decidedly higher carb.

I have a working theory that perhaps there is no one “right” way to eat, and that there are all kinds of makes and models of human beings out there. Some run on gas and others on diesel. I feel like I’ve found my perfect fuel, and that makes me feel great. I don’t force my kids to eat this way – I’ll often make rice or beans or gf pasta to serve alongside whatever fat + protein + veggie we’re having for dinner, but overall it has tremendously cut sugar from our diets. And we’re seeing some great immune system benefits to that.

If you are interested in anything I’ve shared here today, feel free to message me privately over at IG or drop a comment or an email. I’m an open e-book, as always. And if you’re a mama trying to get your groove back after baby, give yourself plenty of time and grace. You’re doing God’s work, and He will not abandon you in it.

Catholic Spirituality, Culture of Death, current events, Evangelization, synod2018

A mother’s hope for the synod

October 3, 2018

“The Church is in turmoil.” Archbishop Charles Chaput

Today begins a multi-week convergence in the Eternal City of some of the best minds from around the global Church. Laypeople, seminarians, priests, bishops, and the Holy Father are coming together to discuss that which is the future of the Catholic Church in a very literal sense: her youth.

The working document for the 2018 synod on young adults, the faith, and vocational discernment is, one can only hope, a jumping-off point from which deeper conversation and consideration will flow. It touches nicely on some of the sociological and psychological needs shared by youth the world over, but is light on faith and belief. It misdiagnoses the illness, if I may be so bold. Allow me to explain.

I am the young-ish mother of five little kids. A millenial by the skin of my teeth and 10 calendar days, I’ve observed – and participated in – the digitalization of life and culture. I’ve participated enthusiastically in the social media revolution. I have friends of all stripes and types. I like pourover coffee and locally roasted beans.

I also recognize that we are hemorrhaging believers, and belief. That our modern way of living lacks a depth and breadth that once rooted people deeply in their communities and in their families.

Young people are delaying or forgoing marriage. Couples are refusing to have children. Mothers and fathers are losing a sense of the deep sacrificial identity of parenthood, and how it disciples us to become more and more like God our Father. And no wonder, since many young people can’t look to an earthy father – or mother – for an example. Increasingly, there are fewer spiritual fathers that can be trusted, as this summer has shown us in spades.

As I read through the Instrumentum Laboris, the working document for this gathering, I kept coming back to the idea that “you can’t give what you don’t have,” and there’s the rub: I don’t think the Church is living in a way that is sufficiently attractive to most young people.

Simply put: holiness is attractive, and examples of authentic holiness, both within and outside of the Church, seem in short supply.

If the Church is wrestling with attracting and retaining young believers, it is because she has too few saints perfuming her earthly body with the aroma of sanctity.

JPII had no trouble drawing crowds of millions. Mother Teresa, too. Were the times in which they lived any less complicated?

I look into my kids’ faces and think about their futures, and my larger concern beyond all the talk of identity and accompaniment and inequality that I found in the IL is this: “when they are mature, will they find that our Church that is sufficiently attractive to capture their hearts?”

Only Jesus, our Eucharistic Lord, can do this work. To the extent that we preach the Gospel and allow Jesus to transform our lives, we will evangelize the culture. Including the youth culture.

It’s ridiculously, pathologically simple.

Young people need priests who would die for love of the Eucharist. Who spend hours a day on their knees in prayer, celebrating the sacraments for their flocks. Who shun political and social media hyperactivity and draw deeply into the presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament every single day. Who are intensely masculine in the sense that their capacity for self-sacrifice grows and grows as they enter more deeply into their identity of being an alter Christus.

Young people need mothers and fathers who prioritize faith above all else. Who would sooner miss a season of soccer games than a Sunday Mass. Who spend more time praying for and over their children than they do checking social media and the family activity calendar. Who prioritize their faith lives above all else, including their professional lives.

Young people need to be exposed to a radical idea: that Jesus Christ is the only answer to the deepest longing of the human heart, and that Jesus Christ alone can give them true freedom.

No focus group can come up with a better form of accompaniment. No clever theologian can sufficiently modernize the Gospel to make it the most compelling choice in an endless buffet of attractive offerings.

This was the most disturbing section of the IL for me to read:

  1. Consequently, the Church “is brought into being” with young people, by allowing them to be true protagonists without telling them “it has always been done this way”. This perspective, which determines a pastoral style and also a way of internal organisation for the institution, is perfectly in tune with the request for authenticity that young people are addressing to the Church. They expect to be accompanied not by an unbending judge, nor by a fearful and hyperprotective parent who generates dependence, but by someone who is not afraid of his weakness and is able to make the treasure it holds within, like an earthen vessel, shine (cf. 2Cor4:7). Otherwise, they will ultimately turn elsewhere, especially at a time when there is no shortage of alternatives (cf. PM 1.7.10).

This fundamentally misunderstands what the Church is doing wrong, if I may be so bold. She is not failing to fragrance the modern world with sanctity because she is “unbending judge” or “hyperprotective parent,” but, rather, because she is a neglective mother and an absentee father.

We are in a crisis of parenthood. Nowhere is that more brutally evident than in the Pennsylvania report. In the McCarrick story. In case after case of Fathers failing their children utterly, destroying their lives when they should be offering their own as a willing sacrifice.

The Church will continue to fail to compete with “no shortage of alternatives” so long as she is playing on the same field as the world.

We can’t win in any other category but holiness.

It is our smallness, our seeming weakness – perhaps especially financially and politically in the coming decades – that magnifies the largeness of God.

These weeks of discussion and document drafting in Rome would be well spent hemmed in on all sides by deep, authentic and personal prayer on the parts of every participant. Would that the Holy Father would lead a public, global day of penance, on his knees, in front of the Blessed Sacrament, exposed for all the world to see on the altar in St. Peter’s Basilica, or out in the Square.

Therein lies our hope. There could be no more powerful witness.


some thoughts on parenting, 8 years in

September 24, 2018

I sat in the therapist’s office confessing my difficult feelings toward one of my children, wondering how it had come to be that I found myself sitting knee-to-knee with a mental health professional whose office was strewn with kinetic sand and dinosaurs. The child whose woes we were addressing sat waiting in the adjacent receiving room, while mommy ate up some of the billable hours.

Parenting has been such a weird experience. Weird those first tremulous months before pregnancy shows, walking around in a fog of exhaustion and wonder, not understanding how the entire world can keep spinning while there is an actual HUMAN PERSON GROWING INVISIBLY INSIDE YOU, and weird on those nights when tossing five kids without shoes into a minivan at 5 pm for a quick pre-dinner run to the grocery store that leaves innocent bystanders gasping in awe and throwing an arm across their vision to shield their eyes from the horrors they’re witnessing seems like a reasonable thing to do. And you do it. Because you’re out of shredded mozzarella.

Sometimes I feel like a brand new mom still, dragging a mewling toddler angry from the pew during the consecration and slinking out the back of daily Mass before another sweet old woman can grab my sleeve and tell me how much easier it will get.  Other times I feel like a veteran ninja, like when someone has a public potty training mishap so spectacular that tears would be justified, and I laugh instead. (related: the precise moment I witnessed my beautiful 22-year-old sister earnestly consider a religious vocation for the first time.)

One thing is becoming clear as my children age, with a wise old 8-year-old now captaining our basketball team: the older they get, the more I realize how ill equipped I am to raise them. I’m not a bad mom – I’m actually a pretty good mom – but I’m as broken and human as the next guy. And while one kid needles my extreme introversion which can tend towards selfishness, another mirrors back to me my inappropriate reactions to anxiety, and I want to climb the walls of my domestic realm and run for the hills of my single 20’s, when nobody needed me and I could hide my weaknesses from the world.

Gosh, but I was unhappy then, too. Far less happy than I am now, truth be told, even if my skin was firmer and my sleep less fragmented.

No doubt there are other ways to mature as a human person, and to subject one’s unsavory qualities to a process of purification. But gosh darn it if parenting my junior varsity squad hasn’t thus far proven to be as enlightening as obtaining a master’s degree in meditation, as challenging as training for multiple marathons in varying terrains and in inclement weather.

Remember, Jenny, you can’t yell at this kid with increasing intensity to communicate the increasing urgency of the situation, because it will have the opposite of the intended effect. It doesn’t matter that it works on his brother! He is fundamentally different. You have to use soft words and gentle physical touch.


Don’t surrender this molehill, or you’ll be facing an insurmountable mountain in her tween years. Yes, her brother would forget this conversation in 24 hours. No, she will not do the same.

And so on.

It seems like parenting requires a basic “tool box” with standard tools that work on every kid: food, clothing, shelter, affection. But then there are necessary attachments that you won’t know you need until you meet each particular child: peaceful patience for this one, a will of iron for that one, saintly gentleness with another. Sometimes you have the tools you need for the job, and other time you literally don’t. Not even if you are smack dab in the middle of Home Depot with a black AMEX in your pocket and a rolling forklift behind you.

I don’t have everything it takes parent. I can’t plug numbers into a formula and guarantee x results. I can’t even make weird bargains with God (usually involving sleep) and trade away years of my life in exchange for 8 solid hours now.

All this to say, I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time, even if it often feels like I do because I’ve been on autopilot for the better part of a decade. But then a receptionist will ask me for a particular kid’s immunization record and I’m like, wait, aren’t you the one who hangs onto those?

I love being a mom, but it’s nothing like I imagined it would be. My kids are autonomous beings with free will. Immortal souls. Unrepeatable and never-before-seen personalities. It’s fascinating and rewarding and paralyzing at turns, and I guess this is a glimmer of what the Fatherhood of God might be like, except, horrifyingly, He knows how it will end for each of us, and He pours Himself out entirely in spite of that.

I’ve got a broken tool box and a house full of imperfect kids. God only knows how it’s all going to turn out. I’m just along for the ride. As I embark on week two of my fourth round of potty training, it is proving to be a somewhat more thrilling ride than was advertised.

Catholic Spirituality, current events, Pope Francis, Rome, sin, Suffering

Finding grace in the Eternal City

September 19, 2018

I woke up blinking and disoriented in the chilly darkness of our hotel room, craning my neck to see if any light was squeezing through the cracks of the blackout shutters. I rolled over and grabbed my phone, which was displaying the current time on the east coast of the United States in military format. Zelie’s morning chortles echoed from down the hall, bouncing off the marble floors and reassuring me that it was, in fact, morning and we’d all mostly slept through the night.

I roused Dave, lifted the baby from her plush Italian pack-n-play, and we padded upstairs to the breakfast room, situated on the enclosed rooftop of the 7-story apartment building-turned-boutique hotel 5 blocks from St. Peter’s Square. We blinked in wonder at our birdseye view of the cupola while wrestling Zelie into a comically oversized Italian highchair, un seggiolone, threading a swaddle blanket around her waist and securing her to the chair with a sloppy, oversized knot. That blanket would become at turns a changing table, sun cover, sweat towel, handkerchief, and soothing object in addition to a lap restraint. I’m always amazed by how little baby gear we can get by with while traveling.

As we munched on prosciutto and powdered scrambled eggs, we discussed plans for our first full day in the city. The flight over was arduous but manageable (unlike the flight home. Ahem. #foreshadowing) and we’d taken only a modest nap the day before to ensure a quick adjustment to local time. The whole day stretched before us with possibility, already shimmering with the late-summer heat of the city. I wanted to hit a few churches – one, St. Mary Major, I couldn’t remember having been inside at all. Also on the list: The Gesu. Sant’ignacio. Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Sant’agostino. I was hoping to find Ignatius, Catherine of Siena, Francis Xavier. I had some specific prayers in my heart to entrust to the earliest Jesuits, those spiritual and missionary giants. We made it to every church on the list, but mistimed our visits to Santa Maria Sopra Minerva and the Gesu to coincide unfortunately with siesta.

Santa Maria Maggiore was a wonder. It is deceptively nondescript from the outside, rendering the breathtaking vaulted, gold coffered ceilings all the more striking. We wandered around the perimeter, pushing Zelie in her $14 umbrella stroller with the squeaking, battle weary wheels tested by cobbled streets. We’ve learned our lesson never to travel with the “good” stroller. Zelie’s legs dangled from the fraying hammock of the seat, kicking like plump sausages and delighting the crowds of tourists we threaded through.

The basilica houses a relic of the creche – of the manger itself, where Mary swaddled Jesus and laid him to rest on a pillow of straw. It was hot and crowded in the crypt beneath the altar, different languages flowing past my ears like water while I struggled to focus my mind and heart in prayer. I don’t pray well when we make these trips, battling the temporal elements of travel: the sleep disruption, the weather, the crying baby. I’m a comfortable American, safely ensconced in a suburban neighborhood marked by convenience and privacy. I’m never more aware of my personal shortcomings and my impoverished capacity for suffering than when I’m in a foreign country.

Rome is neither comfortable nor private. It is gaudy, glittering, dirty, ancient, intimate, and overflowing with humanity. There are architectural masterpieces on every corner and there is graffiti on most surfaces. Pigeons and garbage, relics and riches. It is a study in contradiction, a layer-cake of human history piled one era atop another, the ancient crumbling in the midst of the modern. Workers erect scaffolding to update and reinforce, polishing away layers of pollution and grime while dropping pieces of trash and debris around their workspace. Ducking into a shabby, off color apartment building on a nondescript sidestreet can yield a magnificent grotto carved from plaster and beams, a 5-star culinary mecca hiding behind the peeling stucco facade.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed in Rome. Spiritually, emotionally, certainly physically. The soundtrack of wailing sirens whose cadence is off just enough to remind you how far you are from home, bells tolling joyfully or solemnly at turns from the thousands of bell towers dotting the skyline. The steady, constant thrum of traffic, of motorbikes weaving through throngs of pedestrians and taxis scraping down streets that seem too narrow for golf carts.

I stood in St. Mary Major with all the feelings of the past summer swirling in my head and my heart, willing myself to connect emotionally with what I saw before me: a piece of the cradle that held our Savior. I was tired, sweaty, and heavy with the grief of being Catholic. As we’d walked out of our neighborhood and past St. Peter’s that morning, we heard the Pope’s voice ringing out from the loudspeakers, drifting down Via della conciliazione during his regular Wednesday Audience, causing my heart to constrict painfully in my chest. We didn’t attend the audience, didn’t even linger at the perimeter of the undersized crowd.

I was too angry.

Ascending the steps from below the splendid altar in St. Mary Major, I made my way back to Dave and the stroller. We spotted a traditional confessional where a white robed Dominican priest was seated, administering the Sacrament of Reconciliation to an Italian woman standing as if at a drive through window at a bank. The sign affixed to his booth read “Polish/Italiano/English” so we took our places in line.

When it was my turn to confess, I lowered my head and laid bare my anger, my hurt, and my rage at the seeming impotence of the episcopacy, the sorrow at being in Rome and feeling estranged from my own faith. The confession was brief and, I hoped, thorough. Father cocked his head to the side and looked at me thoughtfully, speaking perfect English in a thick Polish accent,

“It is okay to be angry. It might even be good to be angry. We are all angry. This is a difficult moment for the Church. Particularly the Church in America.” He smiled sadly, “but the Church is hurting everywhere at this time. And if God is giving you anger that will not leave, He may want you to do something with it.”

I searched his face while searching my own conscience, probing to see whether the anger I harbored was righteous and rightly-ordered, or whether it was shot through with self interest and pride.

I think it was both, to be honest. Anger over the profound injuries caused, and the egregious sin. Anger for the victims’ suffering. Anger for the hypocrisy of churchmen who lived double lives as predators.

But also anger at being humiliated by my own Church. And this may be the selfish, pride-filled anger that had no useful function. The anger at being exposed for being a fool for taking seriously the moral teachings of the faith while men in positions of power and influence laughed and derided our sacrifices. Was I living my faith for the approval of some bishop or cardinal, then, or even the Pope? If all of these apostized and rejected the faith wholesale, would I also leave, citing the evolution of eternal truths into something more relevant to modernity?

I saw immediately the distinction between the anger that father spoke of as being righteous, and the anger that was rooted in self interest. The first kind of anger, Father explained, was given as a kind of energy by God, it was a right response from a properly formed conscience.

“Righteous anger,” he explained, was “applying your energy to make right the wrongs.” He encouraged me as a parent to embrace this righteous anger, pointing out that if I had no immediate capacity for righting the wrongs which I encountered but still harbored this anger, that perhaps God was giving it as a gift, designed to be transformed into fuel for the engines of prayer and sacrifice.

“Anger has a purpose.” He concluded. “Anger that is free from sin and persistent is God offering you an opportunity. Do something with the anger. Ask Him what he wants from you.”

I left that Confession feeling 20 pounds lighter. I’m still angry, sitting at home a week later, nursing a slight headache from the jet lag while I pound the keyboard. But the anger no longer feels suffocating. I can pray and be angry. I can be faithful to my vocation and be angry. I can go to Mass, frequent the Sacraments, pray for the Church, and be angry.

That Confession in the heart of Rome left me with a new understanding of what St. Paul means when he says: “be angry, but do not sin.”

Of all the beautiful sights and sounds from our trip, the sacramental conversation I had with a stranger from Poland is the one that stands apart from all the rest.


Gelato and grace

September 11, 2018

About 2 months ago we got the news that Dave would be going to Rome in September in connection with his work on the cause for canonization for Servant of God Julia Greeley. I was ecstatic for him, of course, and encouraged him to set other appointments and meetings and make the most of it by staying for a full week. One does not “weekend” in Europe from middle America, considering the 13+ hours of flight time to get there.

I felt a little sorry for myself, if only that I would miss out on a trip to our “second city” and that Dave would be catching up solo with all our old friends and coworkers, sipping espresso with Tonio and catching an appartivo with Alan, while I would be here holding down the fort at home, because our days of toting the whole family abroad are firmly in the rearview. One does not work for the Church and simply “take 5 kids to Italy” on 2 month’s notice.

But. We began to tentatively consider, could I possibly come too? Would anyone want to take a kid or two off our hands while we made a couple’s trip out of it? And at the beginning of the school year? Could I get some things done for work there? Was there a possibility of redeeming points for airline miles, of getting Zelie a passport in time, of coordinating all the moving parts of leaving 4 kids behind for 7 days?

The answer to all of the above proved to be a resounding: yes. I prayed and worried and second guessed and honestly felt a little sheepish because how many times can one family go to the Eternal City? It’s ridiculous. I know how ridiculous it looks and sounds. But after a few phone calls and one effortless passport appointment (at one of the 5 expedited passport offices that print onsite in the US – located in Denver), we were set.

So although my heart is grieving for the grave evil that has been unmasked within the Church during this “summer of shame,” it rejoices, because I love her still.

I love Rome. I love standing beneath the majesty of Bernini’s baldacchino and marveling at the splendor of St. Peter’s Square. I never feel more “at home” in the universal Church than when I’m inside the basilica, soaking in the mystery and grace of 2,000+ years of courage and sacrifice and love.

And while we absolutely, without a doubt do not deserve a trip like this, we’re choosing to see this ridiculous grace for what it is: God spoiling a couple of His undeserving children after a long, dry season.

We’ve joked together repeatedly over the past 6 months that 2018 has been our rebuilding year. Little did we know how much water that analogy would carry.

As we’ve adjusted to life with baby number 5 and settled into our new home, the stress of the previous 18 months slowly but surely started to dissipate. We started exercising again. Laughing again. Making time for nothing. I started going to therapy, both the physical and the emotional kind, while at the same time we trimmed back our expenses and got serious about our budget. I began praying in a way that was more personal and more intentional, edging closer and closer to a God whose apparent silence I had mistaken for indifference when in fact it was a severe mercy.

I look back at the previous year and some change of real estate disasters, at the 6 months we spent commuting an hour each way to school from our temporary digs at a friend’s home in a neighboring city, at a surprise pregnancy resulting in a surprisingly delightful baby, at financial worries that ended up being catalysts that nudged us further into God’s will, and I am humbled. Ashamed by my own failure to trust. Touched by God’s gentleness with me when He knew, as He always does, that I would fail. And so excited to introduce little Z to the cold stuff in the little paper cup that dreams are made of. (spoiler alert: she tried crema and cioccolato tonight and loved both).

If you want to follow along with our trip I’ll be checking in on Instagram under the hashtag #Zelitalia. I mentioned there that I’d be honored to take any prayer intentions along for the ride. We always make it a point to visit JPII in St. Peter’s one of the first days we arrive, and I will happily carry your intentions there with me tomorrow morning. Arrivederci!

Different babies, same piazza.


Pray, fast, sign

September 5, 2018

Guys, what a couple weeks. I’m reeling. Everyone I know who takes their faith seriously is reeling. I have prayed more in the last month than in perhaps the last 6 months combined (which does not paint me in a good light, I can assure you).

First and foremost, I encourage everyone reading this to make time for an hour a week for Adoration. Get to confession as frequently as you can. I try to go once a month because our parish has incredible access to this sacrament, but I need to go once a week. The more I go, the more I find to confess. If your parish doesn’t have regular hours for confession, call up the parish office and make an appointment with your pastor. It is one of his most important and privileged duties as a priest, and the more they are asked for it, the more the good ones will make it available.

If your parish doesn’t have Adoration, visit the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle.

If your parish is locked during the day, park your car in the lot closest to the back wall of the sanctuary (or wherever Jesus is reposed) and pray there. I’m not kidding. My mom made many a holy hour in her parked minivan this way when we were growing up in a small town with a single, mediocre parish that had never heard of a monstrance.

Make time for a daily rosary. We have tried (and failed) to pray it as a family, but we’re at least getting one decade done most days. I pray the other four in sections throughout the day, and if it’s not the best effort I can put forth, it is 1,000 times better than the rosary I don’t pray at all. Divine Mercy chaplets are great – and fast – too. We do a decade of Divine Mercy as soon as the kids get in the car after school, even if they scream about it.

Make time everyday to read Scripture. If I had spent half the time in the Word today that I spent on Twitter, I would wager my blood pressure would be in a better place right now.

While you’re making time to read Scripture, why not commit 5 or 10 minutes a day to reading some papal encyclicals? If you’re confused about which ones to start with, how about those penned by previous Holy Fathers who have been beatified or canonized by the Church: Humanae Vitae, Evangelium Vitae, and Mulieris Dignitatem would all be great places to start.

And what else?

Sign this letter, presently going viral online.

Comment on this post and I’ll add your name to the list of signatures on the letter I wrote last week. Write your own letter to the nuncio, to Cardinal DiNardo, to your local bishop, or to Pope Francis himself. Feel free to adapt mine to your own use.

Make a specific sacrifice tied to the crises in the Church right now. I’m fasting from social media on Fridays and Sundays, and it is hard and also very, very refreshing. We’re also trying to be better about the thing we’re all supposed to be doing (in lieu of an alternate intention that we actually carry out – we never seem to) and abstaining from meat on Fridays.

I’ve heard people complain that prayer doesn’t change anything, that prayer is useless in the face of such evil. I get it. I also wonder, since what prayer changes is actually, well, us, whether a deeper and more sincere prayer life in the lives of some of our priests could have spared us a universe of heartache.

Finally, do not let the chaos of this time of uncertainty (looks meaningfully into mirror) rob you of the joy of ordinary time. We are still mothers, fathers, roommates, friends, and sons. We still have jobs to attend to and dishes to wash and trains to catch. I tried to spend a few moments this morning paying special attention to my baby’s fluffy head, the lovely flower my destructive toddler liberated from the garden, the soft warm late summer air in our backyard. It feels like the sky is falling, but in reality, all is still as it was before.

The difference is, now we know about it.

I don’t mean this to minimize the scandal or the evil in any way, but to remind myself, foremost, that life as we know it has not ended. We are still called to become saints, to give our lives to our vocations, and to pay the bills and keep the lights on.

May God grant us the grace to desire it.

abuse, Catholic Spirituality, current events, Family Life

Go to Joseph

August 28, 2018

“May you live in interesting times.”

This purported ancient Chinese proverb is usually ironically bestowed as more curse than blessing. We are certainly living in them, we Catholics in these waning days of the summer of 2018.

I feel an almost crushing burden of confusion, more than anything else, when I spend too much time going down rabbit holes and clicking over to related content, my mind swirling for somewhere firm to land. I told a friend this morning that I’ve had the sensation of my brain, not unlike an airplane, circling the airport looking for an open runway and, finding nowhere safe to land, being forced to remain in a frustrating holding pattern. I feel like I’m running out of fuel, to add insult to injury.

But when I ponder these days of crises with a more sober and serious disposition, I am forced to admit that my lived reality, my day-to-day tasks and struggles and responsibilities, remain almost maddeningly the same: deepen my own interior life. Be faithful to my vocation – and to the sacred vows I made. And teach my children the Gospel.

All else is, as they say, vanity.

And perhaps if I spent overly much time before July of this year letting priests and bishops and “the hierarchy” carry water for me, spiritually speaking, that time has passed. I cannot rely any longer on my own nasty little habit of clericalism, assuming the best of men of the cloth.

Are there good and holy priests? Of course. Real saints among us. And devils, too? Yes. Aren’t we finding out how very many…

And yet, what is this to you, and to me? Will a holy priest get me to heaven? Not if I don’t avail myself of the Sacraments of which he is a humble custodian, pursuing my own path of holiness with the aid of the mysterious sustenance Christ left for our earthly sojourn. A wicked priest is, too, only a humble custodian of God’s mercy, no matter the delusions of grandeur or murderous arrogance he may harbor.

I keep coming back to the thing I know to be true in these difficult times: Jesus.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. As I am not without sin like the first two, I find myself wanting to cling to the best practices of that last guy and live as closely by his example as possible.

How did Joseph become a saint?

He lived with Jesus and Mary.

He was probably rarely outside of their physical presence, and he carried their spiritual presence with him like a flame in his heart at his work table. How often he must have paused in his necessary, earthly, mundane, exhausting work to take a cool drink offered by the little boy Jesus, to share a quick visit with Mary and feel the consolation of her gentle hand on his aching back. His sole concern as their provider and protector was to do his work to the best of his ability so that they would be fed, clothed, and sheltered for the glory of God.

Are my responsibilities as a mother much different? Can I push aside my immediate responsibilities to fret over what more I should be doing besides working quietly to the absolute limits of my human frailty to provide for the family whom God has entrusted me with?

Maybe you’re not a parent. Maybe your current vocation is to a classroom full of children or a conference room full of employees, or even an auditorium full of fellow students. But I feel certain that we are each being called to emulate Joseph to the best of our abilities, executing our work on earth with as much care and humility as possible.

I cannot hope for Mary to hand me a cool drink of water or offer a clean cloth to wipe the sweat from my brow while I toil in the laundry room downstairs, fighting spiders and acedia to fulfill my daily duties, but I can turn to her in the rosary. I can align my heart with hers, praying for her Son to intercede in the lives of those other sons of her heart, her priests, that they would become more conformed to His passion.

I can’t open my arms for toddler Jesus to come running full tilt to leap in after a long day in the woodshed, but I can open my arms to my own children, pulling them into my lap to pray through the Scriptures, or bringing them along for the world’s fastest and least reflective visits to Jesus, fully present in Eucharistic Adoration.

I can go to Joseph. The first disciple of Jesus Christ in so many ways. I can love what he loved and live for what he lived for: the Mother, and the Son.

St. Joseph, terror of demons, pray for us.