Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, guest post, large family, Living Humanae Vitae, Marriage, motherhood, NFP, pregnancy, Suffering

Suffering, surrender, and seven boys: {Living Humanae Vitae part 2}

May 21, 2018

I’m honored to introduce you to these next contributions to the Humanae Vitae series – their story is both extraordinary and unusual, and has the potential to open a dialogue about a rarely-discussed aspect of NFP; namely, that NFP is optional.

Not optional as in “one of a variety of options for managing your fertility,” (as Catholics we believe that contraception is immoral – see CCC 239) but optional as in “there is no compulsion to practice NFP at all.”

In fact, some couples choose to place their fertility entirely in the hands of Providence and live out a radical openness to life. I’d like to introduce you to one such couple today.

When Morgan first contacted me about contributing to this series I was blown away, not because her story was “too intense,” as she told me many people have found it, but because it reminded me a bit of Sts. Zelie and Louis Martin. (Morgan disclosed that both she and her husband only ever wanted to enter religious life, but found that God was calling them to something else entirely.)

This is their story. Their story won’t be everybody’s story, and that’s okay. NFP is a beautiful discipline that, when used for right reasons in the right way, is completely in line with the Church’s teaching.  I am immensely grateful to be able to avail myself of it. We are free to make discernments using NFP, and we are free to accept the gift of children coming as they may, according to our discernment of God’s call for us. Because every couple is unique, family stories can unfold in very different ways. This is a story, though, that gave me a lot to think about.

———–

My husband Joseph and I met while we were freshman at the University of Notre Dame and were married after our junior year. We knew from the start that NFP was just not for us and that we wanted to welcome children as they came.

Our oldest son, Thomas, was born right after our graduation at the end of our senior year. Our next son, John Patrick, was born a year and a half later, and our third son, Andrew, was born a year after that.

Andrew was born very sick, but no doctor was able to diagnose him. He relied on feeding tubes, had developmental delays, would turn blue with breathing trouble, and was the fussiest baby I had ever encountered. With three boys in three years and our closest family members a 10-hour drive away, we were lost and completely stressed out.

So many nights were spent holding a screaming baby that was turning blue while we would meditate together on the suffering of our Lord. Never have I felt closer to Our Lady of Sorrows than I did those nights at home or in the Pediatric ICU.

When Andrew was one, we found out we were expecting baby number four. Even though our life was seemingly filled to the brim with chaos, it never even crossed our minds to avoid a pregnancy, nor did we ever think to be afraid of welcoming more little souls into our family.

Boy number four, Philip, was born healthy. When he was six months old we found out we were pregnant with number five. Right before our fifth child was born, Andrew took a turn for the worse and was once again admitted into the ICU. The following week our fifth son, James, was born even sicker than Andrew, and two days after that Thomas, our eldest, lost the ability to walk.

In a span of 10 days we had one child in the ICU, a baby who was born with the expectation of needing life support within days, and now suddenly our oldest son was found to have a mass in the marrow of his femur.

James and Andrew ended up both being fed by feeding tubes, needing breathing assistance, and taking more medications than I can possibly remember.

Thomas ended up not having cancer, but still has to has scans every so often to check his leg. I always thought I would be in a convent being called to prayer by bells. Instead, I found myself cloistered with infants and being called to prayer by screams, alarming feeding pumps, machines alerting me that a child has stopped breathing, or nightly seizures.

I was not spending my days adoring Our Lord in the Eucharist, but I did and do get the beautiful chance to serve Him in these children and their many needs!

For the first time in our marriage, I told Joseph that maybe we should learn NFP and try to avoid getting pregnant just until I got the hang of taking care of two kids with severe medical needs, homeschooling, and life in general. We weren’t totally at peace with the thought of NFP,but decided we would go ahead and learn.

By that time James was seven months old, and right after we decided to learn NFP we found out baby number six was on the way.

In a way, another pregnancy was a relief. The idea of using NFP did not bring us peace at all, and surrendering to the will of God will always bring peace. At the same time, I was terrified that this baby would also be sick.

I wasn’t sure if I could handle everything, and I knew putting the kids in school was not an option because Andrew and James were just too susceptible to even the most minor things. We’ve had ambulance rides and ICU stays for the common cold, ear infections, and runny noses, etc; school and the germs that it brings was simply not an option for us.

Matthew was born healthy in the midst of so much chaos. James and Andrew had nearly 20 hospital trips that year, and it was during that year that we were given some hard news: no doctor in the world had ever seen the disease that the boys have, and therefore there was no treatment, no cure,and no research.

I distinctly remember getting that news in our front yard on the phone. The first thing I did was call my husband, and the next thing I did was put a frantic call in to our beloved pediatrician.

The pediatrician gave me words that I so needed to hear at that moment and would come to really shape our outlook. He told me that Our Lord is doing a beautiful thing in asking us to trust Him over and over again. What a gift that no one in this world can help us; we can do nothing but rely on the Divine Healer.

His words have become something that we have meditated on over and over again.

What does it really mean to trust in God and hand over our family to Him?

What does it look like to radically surrender completely to God?

Well, right now it means that baby number seven is on the way.

That is seven boys in eight years. We haven’t prayed for a healthy baby, even though we know there is a chance this baby will be sick. The only thing we have been praying for is that the will of God be done, and that we are open to all of His gifts and graces. God is so incredibly generous in His giving,if only we allow ourselves to receive them.

Our story would be different if there were financial concerns, health problems for one of the adults, or an inflexible work schedule. However, with our lives right now, the only way we have found that we can respond to our call for holiness and openness to life is to set aside our fears and give a “Fiat”.

Our children might not live as long as most, and they certainly take more care than most other children, but they have the same beautiful immortal souls and are made in the image of God.

Their lives are worth the sacrifice no matter how long or short they are— how can we not say yes to that?

For our family, being open to life means also being open to pain, suffering, and to death; but, really, it means that for everyone, just in different ways.

I asked Joseph if he had any input for our story and he said, “Well holiness requires a magnanimous soul. That is all we are doing, trying to give as generously as the God who gives to us.”Every day the Prayer of Generosity is prayed in our house; may God give all of us the grace to be generous to each other, our children, and to God Himself!

Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve, to give and not count the cost, to fight and not heed the wounds, to toil and not seek for rest, to labor and not ask for reward save that of knowing I am doing your will” – St Ignatius

mental health, mindfulness, motherhood, self care

Pulling weeds

May 17, 2018

This morning I sat down on the porch to do a little spiritual reading while the three youngest kids played in the yard (read: laying on her playmat kicking the air silently like an angel; falling repeatedly off the concrete step and injuring every part of his body; hitting her brother, a tree, the mailbox, and, occasionally, a ball, with a tennis racquet #thetemperamentsgodgavethem).

It was nice, and it was unusual, because usually I’m “too busy” for any kind of prayer until nap time rolls around and then, wouldn’t you know it, I’d rather fall into an internet coma or go on a cleaning or painting binge for those 90 precious minutes of silence. Priorities, I got ‘em.

I peeled a yellow sticky note from my Bible and saw a handwritten penance from … some time ago. One of the priests at our parish frequently assigns Scripture reading in the confessional as penances, and I am wont to misplace his little scraps of notations. Which is terrible! But I did finally read the assigned verses today, so, better late than never?

The thing is, it was exactly what I needed to read today, and it went hand in glove with the reflection I’d read from the random Evangelical devotional I picked up on my last pass through the thrift shop. The moral of this story is that God rewards laziness and the Holy Spirit can speak through second hand retail. But I digress!

Here was the crux of the message: Stop with the negative thoughts. Stop with the interior – and inevitably bleeding into the exterior – negativity.

This was the assigned reading  from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24:

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.  Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.  May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.

And from Philippians 4:4-8:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!  Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.  Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (emphasis mine)

My takeaway? God has this. And also, that. The biggest worry on your heart and the heaviest burden on your back and the situation you are the most despondently hopeless over. Not only does He see it, but according to Saint Paul, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, as Christians, we are actually resting in the center of His will.

I have been mightily resisting this season of life because it looks different than I envisioned it would. I have this slightly hysterical version of reality worked up in my mind about what postpartum “should” look  like, even though I’ve done it 5 blessed times and know full well (emphasis on full) what it actually entails. I do not “bounce back,” unless we’re talking bouncing wadded up balls of laundry down the unfinished basement stairs. And while we’re on the subject of laundry, ohhhhhhh how the mighty hath fallen. Remember my genius “constant laundry” lifehack that had me humming along as a beacon of efficiency and clean gym shorts? Well, let’s just say standards have slipped in the second quarter and the outlook for summer is grim unless we institute a mandatory swimsuits-only policy for daily wear.

I was still pondering these verses as I leaned down to pull fistfulls of dandelions out of the flower bed that lines our front porch. Thanks to the selfless perennial planting of the former owners, I have tulips and gladiolus and roses and irises and columbines and all manner of flora popping up unbidden from the finally-warm earth. I winced as I tore away handfuls of pansies and columbine leaves in my efforts to uproot the dandelions.

Frankly, I was surprised there were so many weeds mingled in there to begin with. The bed looks pretty nice from the street and even from a few feet away. Up close though? Weeds everywhere, seemingly all of a sudden, all mixed in with the flowers and dropping their weedy seeds all over the place.

Kinda like your mind, I thought to myself, having not had quite enough coffee this morning.

My self proclaimed stance as a follower of Christ is beautiful from a distance, and probably looks pretty good even to the casual observer, but my mind is often full of garbage (negative thoughts, criticism, sarcasm, envy) that must make the Gardener wince.

It’s true. There are a lot of weeds. They are especially pernicious in the self image department.

In fact, when it comes to my inner monologue, you could almost invert that section from Thessalonians to read: “whatever is false, whatever is embarrassing, whatever is unfair, whatever is tattered, whatever is ugly, whatever is rude, if there is any failure and if there is anything worthy of complaining about, think about these things.”

Doesn’t flow quite the same, does it? And the worst thing about weeds is the effect they have on the beauty around them, vying for space and consuming what rightfully belongs to the flowers.

So all this negativity and this darkness not only gobbles up my resources, but it limits my capacity for kindness and generosity towards everyone around me. It’s awfully hard to be nice to your kids when you’re telling yourself a lie (consciously or unconsciously) about how they’ve “wrecked” your body.

It’s easy to slip into a vicious spiral of envy over a friend’s seemingly outward “togetherness” that makes you blind to her hidden interior struggles.

So I’ve got some gardening to do. And I have a pretty black thumb. I used a pen to write “true, honorable, just, lovely, pure, gracious…” on the palm of my hand this morning to remind myself to flip off that negative track when it starts playing, and it is hard. I can’t believe how much energy I must expend each day criticizing myself. And it really does pollute everything else. It’s impossible to be a cheerful, engaged mom and friend when I’m constantly berating myself for how much weight I haven’t lost or how few clothing options I have heading into summer.

I really want to keep this foremost in my mind as I continue to navigate the challenges that come with the postpartum territory. And to believe that what the Lord says is true. That he wants all of me, body and soul, and that He has a plan He is bringing to fulfillment.

“…may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.

 

Catholics Do What?, Contraception, Living Humanae Vitae, Marriage, NFP, Sex, Suffering

This couple went a year without sex (and lived to tell the tale): {Living Humanae Vitae part 1}

May 14, 2018

Our first contributor wishes to remain anonymous because of the personal nature of her piece, but was generous enough to share her story here. Following the back to back arrival of their 4 children, this couple laid their cards on the table and discerned that in light of the challenges presented by parenting, the aftereffects of pregnancy, and the husband’s mobility-impairing back injury, the best course of action for their marriage was to abstain entirely for an entire year postpartum while awaiting the return of fertility.

What follows is a thoughtful, candid, and inspiring glimpse into one couple’s year of marital abstinence. While this might not be everyone’s story, I know from the comments, emails, and messages I’ve fielded over the years that they are not alone in their struggle or in this seemingly radical decision to table sexual intimacy for a prolonged season.

I’ve heard plenty of arguments for the necessity of regular sex in marriage and I can see those eyes widening at the thought of an entire year of abstinence but…what about couples with a prolonged deployment? With a devastating medical diagnosis? With horrific injuries from a car accident?

The truth is there are plenty of circumstances that require radical fidelity and sometimes, yes, abstinence, throughout the course of a marriage. This is one such story, and you may find yourself surprised by the outcome…

We tiptoe around this. All the time. Heck, most of the time we can’t even keep abstinence, continence, chastity and celibacy straight.

We tiptoe around it when we talk about NFP. We raise eyebrows it and call it “using NFP to avoid a pregnancy.” We talk fertility and charting and real life and all that, but we don’t get nitty gritty.

Why? Well, because it’s too personal. Because it exposes fragile things and brave decisions that stay between a husband and a wife.

But. In the interest of encouraging the many other couples who are either thinking about this, worrying about this or living out this situation currently, I’m going to write, ever so obliquely, about what my husband and I decided was right and prudent for our family, for our sanity, and for our faith in the theology that is imprinted on our very bodies by God: we abstained from sex for an entire year.

It’s funny, writing it out like that now, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal since we’re past it. But at the time… whoa.

I have a theory that I’ve seen play out in my life and the lives of other Catholic women in the past few years: couples take NFP classes, get married, and begin having the world’s cutest babies. Then they have some more. And at some point, whether that’s at the second, third, fourth, fifth, or nineteenth kid, the parents say: UNCLE. We need a little break. And that’s when they get serious–truly serious–about charting and monitoring their fertility.

For us, that came after the birth of our forth cherub. My husband and I had a frank discussion about how we were feeling about more kids in the immediate future. The damage to his spine was flaring worse than ever, making the physicality of caring for little kids a real difficulty. For me, I had just delivered my fourth baby in six years. I felt depleted.

We both knew that the easiest time to get pregnant unintentionally is in the post-partum and nursing phase of fertility, before the menstrual cycle becomes regular again and while hormones are having a year-long fiesta of randomness.

We both felt like for the time being, we were not “open to life”—not forever, not for the rest of our marriage, but for the short term.

So we made the decision together: we’d abstain from sex for, more or less, a year.

How did we survive that? What do you do, when you’re not having sex?

I think in today’s society, we just take sex as a given and marital intimacy for granted. A man can’t really go a year without having sex, right? A couple can’t really be continent for that long, right? It’s impossible and cruel, right?

No, it’s not impossible. My husband and I are very much alive and in love–and the year-long drought is over, we’re both happy to say. And as far as it being cruel, it’s not. It’s actually the very opposite of cruel–it was one of the most loving, generous, uniting crosses we’ve carried together.

So many times during that year, when the kids were sick and the baby wouldn’t go to sleep and the world was caving in around us, I’d look at my husband and say, “I know this is all incredibly awful right now, but. BUT. It would all be so much harder if I was either pregnant or worried that I was pregnant.”

As Christians, we are called to lay down our lives for each other–and this is, as Jesus taught, the greatest possible love–the love that sacrifices. That’s what we did for a year–sacrificed. And yeah, we watched a lot of tv. HA! But there are no other ploys, tricks, shortcuts, loopholes or secrets to making it easier. The only thing that makes it easier is knowing it’d be harder if you were pregnant.

Well, I take that back. There was one other thing that got us through that year–and that was knowing that it would be, about, just a year. All my kids have pretty much weaned themselves at 12 months. And I knew from charting before being married (and during the space between my second and third babies) that my cycles, post-nursing, go back to being pretty standard, with obvious fertility markers.

And that brings us to now. Our baby is going to be 2 this summer, and due to that year of discipline (coupled with just using days post-ovulation), we’ve earned a little breathing room, and I’m not currently growing a baby. Praise hands.

This isn’t every couple’s story. Some women have zero reliable fertility markers. Some have more yellow stickers than Dr. Hilgers himself. There are about as many different crosses with NFP as there are couples who use it.

I offer this here because that year of abstinence, that was our cross. The crazy thing is though, if you ask my hubby or me about our best year yet as a couple together… we both say it was the past year. How is it that a sex-free year could be the best of your life?

Because intimacy is built one deep conversation at a time–one soul-barring, fear-challenging, dream-sharing conversation at a time. And since we weren’t being intimate in one sense, we learned to channel our vulnerability in other ways–but always toward each other.

It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t easy. It’s definitely definitely definitely not something we want to repeat. But we did grow.

YES, BUT HOW DO YOU HANDLE THE ABSTINENCE??? you say. Ok! I don’t know! You take it day by day! You talk to your sister, your friend, your facebook support group. You surround yourself with voices that tell you you can do this. You keep three things ever before you:

One, this is not forever.

Two, other people are in this same boat with me (send me an email! let’s tawk!).

Three, remember that we ask our priests to live celibate, continent lives EVERY DAY. Pick a priest during your desert experience and pray for his intentions.

For our wedding, a beloved priest and friend gave us a beautifully framed copy of the Exhortation Before Marriage. It was commonly read at weddings in place of a homily in the pre-Vatican II wedding rite. It fits this topic, and so many others:

No greater blessing can come to your married life than pure conjugal love, loyal and true to the end. May, then, this love with which you join your hands and hearts today never fail, but grow deeper and stronger as the years go on. And if true love and the unselfish spirit of perfect sacrifice guide your every action, you can expect the greatest measure of earthly happiness that may be allotted to man in this vale of tears. The rest is in the hands of God. Nor will God be wanting to your needs, he will pledge you the life-long support of his graces in the Holy Sacrament which you are now going to receive.

That exhortation sits on the dresser in our bedroom, which is pretty darn appropriate.

Family Life, motherhood, Parenting

The secret whatever of motherhood

May 9, 2018

First, the good. This has little to do with her birth order and more to do with her temperament, I suspect, but Zelie is an angelic baby. I know this because I have had 4 other babies of varying levels of good behavior (number 2 in particular being a real doozie) and this newest human is an exceptionally calm and delightful varietal.

I love all my kids, but boy do I like this one a lot. She sleeps great, smiles often, and functions as a baby ambassador of goodwill wherever she goes.

If I had given birth to my number 2 child in the number 5 position, I think I’d be sending out a different sort of report right now. But as it stands, delightful Zelie has actually made life more pleasant and in many ways, easier.

Isn’t that strange? That having 5 kids could be easier than having 4? Economy of grace, y’all. His ways are not our ways. All I know is that when Luke (also a very good baby by all accounts) was the age that Z is now, I was one perpetually breastfeeding stressed out and sleep deprived mama. Zelie drinks bottles, sleeps through the night (lowers voice) for going on 6 days now, and lights up with a 1000 kilowatt smile if anyone so much as glances in her direction.

Because I don’t have post-partum depression this time around (thank you Jesus) and because I’m not nursing her at this point (worrisome weight gain on her part and a thyroid issue on mine which inhibits milk production…BUT WHY AM I JUSTIFYING MYSELF TO THE INTERNET? Oh yes, because breastfeeding is often mistaken for a moral issue by the court of public opinion) I’m feeling emotionally stellar. Waking up happy and glad to see the baby. Getting some quality time in at the gym – the pool, specifically – and having almost none of that “I’ve lost myself in motherhood” ennui that so often marks this fragile period after welcoming new life. I don’t feel like I’ve lost myself at all, in fact. I feel like I’ve found myself, if anything. That I’ve finally nailed down some best practices for how I mother and not how the internet/my mom/a book/etc tells me I should mother (note: my actual mom is very supportive and non-judgemental about my mothering. #blessed).

What works is having baby in a separate room at night – until recently, in a bassinet thing on the floor of our walk in closet – and not sleeping thisclose to my head. What works for me is lots of physical affection and following baby’s sleep cues and offering food every 2 hours or whenever she is acting hungry, and not following any kind of a feeding schedule whatsoever (27 year old first time mom Jenny is open-mouthed in horror at the thought) and letting baby nap wherever/whenever she wants to. In a plane, on a train, in the car, at a…bar? Sure. Whatever gets the job done and gets those zzzz’s logged.

Case in point: she is currently napping placidly in the rock n’ play whilst Luke and Evie engage in a knock down drag out screaming match one room over. True to fifth-born form, she seems to prefer ambient noise (lol that’s what we’ll call it) during her daytime naps.

What works is accepting help when I need it, declining invitations when we can’t make it, and not feeling guilty about things like sometimes missing fun parties or about keeping everyone out way too late because we had a fun night with friends and everybody ran around like a fool eating gluten-full hot dog buns and drinking gatorade until 10 pm.

Whatever.

If I had to sum up my secret for being a mom to many it would probably be just that: whatever.

Whatever works for the actual family, skill set, and personality God gave you. And not only whatever works, but in whatever you do. Laundry, carpool, nursing a sick little one, serving dinner to a cranky elementary schooler, having a hard conversation with a young adult. Every level of motherhood is saturated with opportunities to glorify God in the “whatever” while also doing whatever works for your family.

For me, more food comes out of packages and boxes than it might at your house. I frequently leave the house for an hour or more in the evenings to work out or pray or sit in the car in the grocery store parking lot and stare out the window contemplating the darkness of night. I read too late into the evening and drink a little too much coffee most mornings, but I also have been training myself to stop-drop-and-roll into a horizontal position should all 3 homebound kids chance to sync up their nap times in the afternoon.

I try to keep my eyes on my own page and remind myself that comparison is the thief of joy. That while Satan probably can’t tempt me to abandon my family and run away to Mexico to a margarita farm he can easily nudge me into thinking that mom over there is doing a much better job with her kids/house/spiritual life/body/career and I should probably just give up because I’m failing at all of it.

I’m learning to lean into the harder moments and not escape into a glass of wine or a perma scroll when the going gets tough. I don’t want to numb out the hard stuff, but let that hard stuff build up my muscles for the harder stuff to come. I know big kids will equal bigger problems, and if I can’t referee toddler death matches over the backyard hose I will find myself ill prepared to have all the sex talks and car safety lectures and that await me just around the riverbend.

I’m trying to do more sitting down on the floor and tickling. Kissing my already resistant 7-year-old’s cheeks while he still permits me to. Saying “why not” when they want fudgesicles and rolled up lunch meat as a meal and pushing through praying a family decade of the rosary even when someone is screaming and someone else is curled up in a ball of self pity because the 6 minutes we’re asking of them is too much to handle.

I used to think that this was just survival mode and that things were going to calm down at some unidentified point down the road but then one morning this year I looked in the mirror (figuratively but also literally) and saw a 35-year-old mom with 5 kids who is really, really tired but also fairly happy most of the time, and figured I’d better get about the business of enjoying life in the here and now.

So we go to Mass as a family on Sundays even when it’s rough, we have margaritas on the patio on a Tuesday night because we can’t find a babysitter, and we stay up just a little too late reading most nights because introverts recharge alone together, and we’re going to be pretty tired come 6 am either way.

This embrace of reality has yielded some surprising results. First, that I am actually happy even at my presently overweight size. I know I’ll lose the baby weight and I’m working hard in the pool and at the grocery store to do so, but I also know I’m going to look at pictures of myself from this season someday when I’m older and my nest is empty and think to myself “daaaaaaang, you looked good, girl. No wrinkles. Cute babies everywhere. Shiny thick hair.”

I’ve also discovered that I need about 30% less sleep to survive than I’d ever believed possible. This one is a shocker, and some days I’m convinced God is bending the laws of physics to give me more rest in fewer hours as long as I remember to ask Him for it. So 5 hours can feel like 9? Yeah, sometimes. And that’s wild. Especially for a girl who used to start to cry herself when she was awakened by a crying baby. (Yes, I would actually start crying if I was awakened too many times by a newborn baby. And I have had 5 of them. If that’s not proof that God equips the called rather than calling the equipped, I don’t know what is.)

I have a feeling I’m really going to enjoy the next phase of motherhood because it’s already so much more fun than the early years. I didn’t love my first babies any less, but I definitely didn’t enjoy them the way I’m doing now. I worried and measured and researched and counted ounces and minutes and diapers and just generally felt like I was perpetually way out of my depth.

And now? I know I’m way out of my depth, so I can stop worrying so much. Worrying does nothing besides ramp up my baseline anxiety, and honest Abe I don’t need any help in that department. I know I’m messing up my kids. I’m sure I’ve made some choices that may haunt them one day. And (this is the worst part) it’s probably not even the things I’m consciously worrying about. So I beg the Lord’s mercy over my mothering choices and I pray His words over them as I send them out into the world (or the backyard) each day, and I ask for forgiveness over and over again when I fail.

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” Col. 3:17

coffee clicks, current events

Coffee Clicks: Star Wars Day

May 4, 2018

Howdy readers, happy weekend eve!  First, I’m so excited by the flood of NFP stories that have been hitting my inbox. Seems like the series is going to be a huge success. If you’ve already sent me something, thank you! If you haven’t and you’d like to, go right ahead, but know that I have a pretty hefty stack to share in the coming weeks so I can’t guarantee that they’ll all be included in their entirety. I have been so humbled and inspired by the courage and the sacrifice and the goodness of so many of the couples who have reached out to share their testimony. There are seemingly ordinary people living extraordinary lives all around you.

Also, for my Instagram followers, a heartfelt thanks for your prayers for my dad. His surgery yesterday was a success, so now we wait and pray for a clean pathology report. We are asking Julia Greeley to intercede that he be cancer free and have a miraculously easy and complete recovery.

Our editor did a sobering interview about the grim implications of little Alfie Evans’ death. Eternal rest unto him, the little martyr, O Lord.

I grew up Catholic and straggled away for a while during college, but I was always on board with the Church’s teachings on contraception. (Even as a full-on heathen in college.) But it wasn’t until listening to Dr. Smith’s famed “Contraception, Why Not?” presentation and then reading her impressive volume “Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later” that I really understood that teaching on an intellectual level. She is eminently clear and approachable to read even with her high level of scholarship, and I think every single human person should be forced to listen to Contraception YN at least once in their lifetime. (fun fact, there is a “secular” version of the recording available where she makes the case from a strictly natural law perspective, no religion necessary.

Another gem from that lion of Catholicism, Archbishop Chaput. Fun fact about the good bishop: he has something of a photographic memory for human beings. So if he has met you once or twice and then seen you not at all for years on end, he will probably look you in the eye, call you by your (correct) first name, and ask you how your kids/job/parents are doing. He’s astonishing.

This mom is a superhero for her daughter and put together a really practical and compassionate how-to for talking with little kids (read: big mouthed hams) about classmates who look/act/sound different than the “average” kid. I really appreciate this as a primer for helping my own crew (especially Evie, ahem) navigate those moments in the checkout line in a more constructive and loving way then pointing and yelling WHY IS THAT MAN REALLY REALLY FAT, MOM? WHY? (I don’t know, sweetheart. Maybe his metabolism works about as well as mine does. Now please let me crawl into a hole and disappear.) An interesting aside: my kids have only rarely pointed or stared at someone in a wheelchair or with an obvious disability. They’ve never said anything about our favorite checker, Kami, at King Soopers, who has Down Syndrome. They don’t bat an eye when we drive through downtown Littleton and see a bunch of students with canes crossing the street across from the Colorado College for the Blind. But if you are overweight or happen to be in possession of a pair of  long ponytails as a grown man? Look out. My 4-year-old is about to publicly humiliate her mother again.

Check out this hilarious, interactive, and exhaustive multimedia coverage of the imminent Royal Wedding and any religious or political differences aside, someone is getting married in a princess dress this weekend and I AM HERE FOR IT. (Not responsible for any questionable content you might stumble upon whilst reading the New York Times.)

Any big cinco de mayo plans? We’ll be having margaritas and celebrating a Lord’s Day dinner with a group of neighborhood families and hopefully putting all 30-something collective children into the backyard, weather permitting, because it snowed yesterday. Snow, I tell you. Only briefly and it didn’t stick but I tell ya what, I am well and truly done with laundry and am ready for swimsuits ‘n activewear season where my kids can run wild and free and go through only 1-2 articles of clothing a day. Which is a significant downtick from the 15 items they are currently soiling per day.

Have a wonderful weekend! And, even  more importantly: May the 4th be with you.

Catholics Do What?, Contraception, Culture of Death, Evangelization, Family Life, Living Humanae Vitae, Marriage, motherhood, NFP, Sex, Theology of the Body

Living Humanae Vitae: stories of faithfulness to the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage

May 1, 2018

How many times can she write about NFP?

I can write about it as many times as it takes in order for me to internalize the seemingly simple concepts undergirding this most perennially misunderstood of Catholic teachings: openness to life.

I’ve spilled plenty of digital ink on the splendors of HV in the past, and I don’t retract a single character of any of it, but boy, living it out day-to-day is a little different than studying it in abstraction.

I just finished reading a trilogy of stories set in ancient Rome, around 70 years AD, and the grit and virtue and boldness of the early Christians whose lives it chronicled astonishes me. Not only because of the certain death in the arena at the jaws of wild beasts which they faced if their clandestine faith was exposed, but because they were truly – at least in the fictional narrative I read- in constant conversation with one another and with God about His will.

It reminded me a little bit (and only a little bit) of practicing NFP. The willingness to look foolish, to feel foolish, and to be subject to some degree of rejection – varying from bemused to downright nasty – by the culture at large. This comparison both consoles and shames me, because on the one hand I probably don’t need to worry overly much about imprisonment and martyrdom in 21st century America (not at this precise moment, at least) and on the other hand, how embarrassing that the relatively benign cross I’ve been asked to shoulder feels so crushing upon my feeble shoulders.

Because for all the beauty and truth and goodness I perceive in the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage, living it out is often none of the above. I don’t want to spend the next 12 to 14 months “getting my body back” only to balloon to an unspeakable number on the scale again with another pregnancy. I don’t want to practice copious amounts of abstinence within marriage, feeling more like a roommate than a spouse while I learn the ropes of (yet) another method of NFP. I don’t want to peer anxiously into the mists of my 40’s and wonder if I’m going to be one of those lucky women who keep ovulating well into their 5th decade, thereby prolonging the suspense and surprise of another baby in the very twilight of my fertile years.

I don’t have the faith of Sarah and Abraham. I don’t have the confident humility of Mary. I lack Elizabeth’s joyful surrender. I spend a lot of time worrying about all of this, to be perfectly honest, and for the first time in my life, I can wholeheartedly empathize with the temptation of contraception.

But.

(It’s a big but.)

God knows my heart better. God knows our needs better than we do. And God asks so relatively little of us modern Christians in the developed world. My children have food and medicine and beds to sleep in. There is no conflict in our region that daily imperils their lives. We have medical care to bring them all, almost certainly, to adulthood, a reality unthinkable only a few generations past. We are richly, richly blessed. My life is not without its challenges, but should I come face to face with a Christian mother from the ancient world, I don’t think she would recognize my suffering as such. Maybe she would look around at the vast temptation all our technology affords us to ignore God – to become like gods in a real sense – and she would nod her head in understanding at the real difficulties this presents in raising a faithful family. But I think she would probably also look at our overflowing closets and dishwasher and running water and marvel at the sheer wealth and provision we tend to take for granted.

And I wonder if she would look at me with my access to a clean, safe hospital (and epidurals!) and good maternal healthcare and a supportive, faithful husband and no known health issues and steady employment and wonder why I was so afraid of bringing new life into the world.

I wonder that, too.

Is it because I’ve been conditioned to not overdo things in the gestational department by a culture that hammers us over the head with the message that two is plenty? Is it because I have unrealistic beauty standards for myself based largely upon the availability and use of contraception? Is it because we have little to no daily support outside our extended family (which alone is an enormous advantage) as we parent these children of ours, the village having since passed into the realm of history and metaphor?

All I know is that we had 5 babies in 7 years, and I’m tired. I want my body back. I want to sleep through the night again. I want to eagerly count down the months until all 5 kids are in school full time and my professional life can ramp up again during those 35 available hours a week.

Basically, I want motherhood and child rearing to have been a fleeting season that flies by (as I am repeatedly told by strangers at Target) and is gone in the wistful blink of an eye, but I also want to reject the cultural narrative that my children are somehow holding me back and that my fertility is something to be tightly managed, suppressed, and ultimately discarded.

I want it both ways.

I want to live in harmony with the culture of which I am a part while also raising children who transcend the culture to seek the Lord’s will over their own. I want to be confident in our choice to live faithfully the Church’s call to marital chastity and fruitfulness and also look great in jeans and effortlessly drop the pounds that pregnancy hangs on my diminutive frame. I want to fill my home with happy children and also be handed the keys to a Nissan NV with a wink and a smile from a God who, as it turns out, subscribes to the health and wealth gospel Himself, despite what the actual Gospels say, and will surely reward my faithfulness with material abundance and children who sleep through the night from birth.

I want a lot of contradictory things.

And my greatest discomfort lies in that friction between what I claim to want as a subject of Christ and what I pant enviously after as a citizen of the world.

I have some stories to share with you from friends and fellow Christians in the coming weeks as we approach the 50th anniversary of Bl. Paul VI’s prophetic text, Humanae Vitae, in July. They are stories of suffering and heartache. Stories of loss and betrayal. Stories of hope, of fidelity, and of a peace that surpasses understanding. They are the stories of ordinary men and women who are using NFP and struggling, failing, confessing, and getting back up again to keep at it because the struggle is worth it. Because the Church asks us to do this thing in Her wisdom, not in Her sadism. Because either we trust in the Apostolic authority handed down from Peter or we are each our own little magisterium and, as such, are tasked with an exhaustive and impossible list of things to discern for ourselves using the quivering compass of our own consciences.

The Church asks us to do much harder things than what Humanae Vitae contains. We worship the Creator of the Universe contained in a scrap of bread. We proclaim the Resurrection of the dead and immortality. We turn our cheek to let an enemy get a better angle for the second punch. And yes, we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice even in the bedroom, which is the very last place our culture encourages us to exercise any sort of restraint or charity.

It’s a wild ride. It’s an impossible mandate without Jesus. And it is going to the stuff that 21st century saints are made of, I’m firmly convinced.

I think after reading some of the stories I’ll be sharing over the next 2 months, you’ll think so, too. We hear plenty of stories of people who find the demands of Christ impossibly high and, like the rich young man in the Gospel, walk away.

But sticking with it when the going gets tough? Relying on the unfathomable depths of Jesus’ mercy when we inevitably stumble and fall?

Now those are some stories worth telling. 

 

Culture of Death, motherhood, Parenting, Pornography, Sex, technology

Pornography, technology, and being the parent who says “no”

April 25, 2018

We had some sweet little friends over recently during a rare spring-like burst of warm weather and had the snacks flowing and the sprinkler turning in the backyard, and I had a very “I have become my mother” sort of interaction with one of my son’s buddies.

He had his “phone” with him – an old iPod or a very original iPhone, I’m not qualified to confirm which (though it looked more like a phone to me) and was asking for our wifi password to connect to the internet to play music videos off of Youtube.

“Sorry buddy, we don’t do screens without parents in our house.”

“But it’s just music, Miss Jenny (I don’t ask them to call me this, but it’s fairly adorable/extremely aging that they do).”

“Yeah bud, I trust you, but I don’t trust the internet. Here, I’ll pull up a Pandora station on my computer.”

He continued to fiddle with his device for a few more minutes until I had to gently lay down the law: “bud, you’ve got to turn that off and put it in your pocket, or else you need to take it home.”

Thankfully my kids are not old enough to be mortified by me yet, but I imagine at some point they will feel exactly the way I did when my mom poked her head into the family room and caught my girlfriends and me watching a “Sex in the City” VHS (Lolol) tape that we’d rented from Blockbuster for a sleepover one Saturday night.

“Girls, you’re better than this. This is garbage. You can’t watch this in our house.”

I eye-rolled her haaaaard (and also rebelled like a hellion in college), but my mom was right. And she wasn’t afraid of me – or of my friends – thinking that she wasn’t cool. She didn’t have any ego in her parenting as far as morality was concerned. If it was wrong, she let us know, and while there is room for improvement in everyone’s parenting decisions, this was one area that mine got pretty right.

The funny thing is, even though my parents were known to be less permissive than some of my friends’ parents, if only because they were more likely to be home and therefore less likely to let us host raging parties during their weekends away – my friends flocked to my house after school and on weekends, many of them specifically seeking out the counsel and friendship of my mom. Even though (maybe specifically because?) she often told us “no.”

Fast forward 20 years and I know that we are in the minority in our parenting choices where media and technology are concerned. Our kids don’t have iPads, they don’t have internet access without us peering over their shoulders, we don’t have cable, and we (try to) vet anything they watch on Netflix before they see it. Are we being overprotective? Hell yes we are. Will they someday have unbridled access to everything the www has to offer and go hog wild, glutting themselves on the raunchiest content available? Yes… and hopefully, no.

We’re trying to train them to make good choices in that realm, just like we’re coaching and micromanaging the things they eat, the time they spend on their homework, and the physical activity they get each day. I’m not planning to follow my 18 year old around checking his cell phone any more than I’ll be trying to sneak bites of broccoli into his pasta sauce at that point: the hope is that the training and coaching will have paid off by that point and he will be captain of his own ship. But between now and then, it is our job to teach, guide, coach, protect, and, frankly, look like a jerk in front of his buddies who have their own tablets.

He may never thank me for it, or he may look back in his early 30’s and be glad we tried our best. Either way, it is not my job to be his best friend. It is my job to help him become the best version of himself. And in 2018? That means being super, super cautious where the internet is concerned.

It isn’t a matter of if my kids will eventually see porn, it’s a matter of when. And it isn’t a matter of whether they see the darkest and most degrading, chauvinistic violence committed onscreen, but at what age they first encounter it. I’d just as soon they be twelve than seven, since by that point we will have had several dozen conversations about dignity, sexuality, abuse, consent, and addiction.

It’s not enough to say “well, it’s out there, we have to assume our kids are going to find it,” throwing our hands up in surrender. It *is* out there, and yes, our kids are going to find it. And it is up to us as parents to arm them with the training in virtue and common sense to do with it what they ought: identify it correctly as dehumanizing garbage and reject it as such.

Will they falter and fail? Almost certainly. Will they pick themselves back up again after they stumble, and have the courage to start fresh? That part is up to the grace of God and the best efforts of the adults in their lives to form them, pray for them, and model lives of repentance and virtue.

Our culture eats purity. It feasts on vice and mocks virtue, and signals to parents that any wild oats our kids may sow are simply inevitable stages in modern life. We are told our kids will – and, in fact, should – question the gender we “assigned” to them at birth. That pornography is healthy and normal. That sexual activity among preteens and even younger is only natural, and is best managed with a box of condoms, a scrip for hormonal birth control, and a well-supervised setting where they can experiment “safely.”

This is asinine and more – it is diabolical. We throw our children to the wolves and then we cry out in horror when they themselves become the wolves. We have to be the grown ups, and not to get too Daniel Tiger up in here, but groo-oohn-ups pro-tect.

And say no. And generally do things that make them super unpopular with kids, like withholding matches and credit cards and car keys and, yes, even technology, until and unless the child proves himself capable.

I’m already sweating over the inevitable “how to recognize pornography” talk with my seven-year-old, and came darn close to it last month when his kindergarten brother came home wide-eyed from a trip to the modern art museum and regaled the back seat with tales of “naked people” paintings. We had a decent conversation about the beauty of the human body and how there is a difference between “art” and “bad pictures” like someone might take with their phone and…we stopped there. On the one hand, I’m grateful for the anecdotal point of reference to be able to return to as the conversation continues over the years. On the other hand, I’m going to have 3 teenage boys in my house in less than a decade and come Lord Jesus, come.

What are your best practices for modeling – and expecting – good behavior with technology in your home? Are you already getting the eye rolls from your kids? Do you have good, open communication with their friends and have clear expectations for what flies in your house?

coffee clicks

Coffee clicks: April 20

April 20, 2018

Long time no curate, faithful readers. I hope everyone is headed into a spectacular weekend of still-Easter proportions. We have a “birthday party” planned for our freshly-minted 6-year-old (read: a trip to the indoor trampoline park with his brother and two cousins which might as well be Disneyland in his mind) and then a party for my mama on Sunday. I also have big plans to, um, go to sleep before 11pm tonight.

We’ve been working on our budget big time this month, and so I’m writing this from my one and only trip to a coffee shop in all of April. That might seem impressive to you or it might seem sad, depending on how good you are at self denial. Me? I’m a pretty miserable nickel and dimer and known for rewarding my own “good behavior” by frittering away $4 here and there on designer coffee, so having gone 20 whole days without succumbing to the siren call of the green mermaid feels pretty great. It’s also immensely satisfying to see so little activity on our checking account when I log into our online banking system. I’m also really, really enjoying this decaf mocha that I did not prepare for myself, because a treat is much nicer than a boring old routine entitlement. (Even nicer? Being out of debt a little sooner because I’m not being an idiot and spending $$$ on flavored milk and mediocre coffee.)

1.

A really gorgeous reflection by Msgr. Charles Pope on why God keeps the Church so close to the cross. This section in particular really moved me:

“At the foot of the cross we must suffer with the Lord for the sake of the Church. Now is a time to multiply our prayers by being more faithful to the Rosary and adding the Divine Mercy Chaplet. The Lord may be calling us to fasting and abstinence beyond the mere requirements of Lent. Perhaps He is calling us to Eucharistic adoration, increased visits to our church, or attendance at daily Mass. In addition, we must attend to our own sins more seriously. Perhaps there is one sin or sinful attitude that we can curb by God’s grace.”

2.

Another case of horrifying government overreach in the UK, and another sweet baby boy being sped along on his way to the grave because the adults in charge (not, oddly enough, his parents) insist they know what is best for him. Alfie’s father made a desperate plea to Pope Francis on Wednesday of this past week, begging the Holy Father to intervene and asking permission that his baby boy be transferred to Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome where he could perhaps undergo experimental treatment not offered in Britain:

After the Supreme Court decision, Alfie’s parents issued a statement saying: “Our son’s life is not futile. We love him. We value him. There are people willing to treat him and we have the state saying ‘it’s not worth giving him the chance.”‘

 3.

A thoughtful piece on social media – Facebook in particular – in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, inviting us as to do some soul searching about the nature of online sharing and the concept of privacy, both our own and our neighbors’.

4.

The connection between Satan and … porn? You’ll definitely want to read this.

5.

“The sign of the cross is our badge.” I appreciated the Pope’s encouragement to “teach your children” to unabashedly cross themselves before prayer. We’ve been working on our little savages at mealtimes to slow down and actually physically make the sign of the cross before launching into the world’s fastest and least sincere rendition of blessusolordandthesethygifts on record, but it’s a work in progress, especially for Luke who is generally 2 fists deep into his pasta before we get to “Amen.” But it’s important. So, we’ll keep trying.

 

Wishing you a beautiful weekend of warm weather and springlike festivities. Over here we’ve got a mixed rain and snow vibe headed our way so I’m trying to summon some kind of warm feelings for this November-esque weather on the cusp of May. If only pumpkin spice anything were still readily available to keep the flame alive.

Catholic Spirituality, large family, Marriage, motherhood, pregnancy, self care, Theology of the Body

“His body, your body”

April 17, 2018

About a month ago I was talking with a priest friend on the phone, sharing some difficulties about this present season of life with a whole lotta babies and a really wrecked body. Wrecked not only in the sense of “I don’t like the way I look” (though, sure, there is that) but in the sense of “everything hurts when I walk down the stairs, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to run comfortably across a parking lot again, let alone a mile.”

Getting old is hell. But it sure beats the alternative! And I’m not really that old yet, at 35. I remind myself of this when I see a haggard specter of my former self peering back at me in the mirror pre coffee most mornings, startling at the stranger with the same colored eyes. It’s more the mileage, not the manufacturing date, at least in my case.

One baby was hard work. Two babies was nuts! (Hardest transition by far, from one to two. If you can push past that point you’ll be golden; you’re never in the position of doubling your workload again. Unless, I guess, twins?) Three was like, nbd we got this down. Four gave me a little pause for the first couple months. And five? Wrecked. Beleaguered. Losing my keys in the car door, putting my phone in the fridge, and still carrying around a good 40 extra pounds at almost 4 months postpartum.

Worth it, though. Worth it, worth it, worth it.

And yet still really, really hard.

It’s hard to lose yourself for the sake someone(s) you love, no matter what that looks like for you. For some people it will take the form of caring for a sick or dying parent or spouse. For others it could be a more literal application, like sharing a kidney or physically shielding someone from a deadly blow. For parents it often looks like death by a thousand night wakings. A slow trickle of self denial and stress that can carve away at solid rock as surely – albeit more slowly – as a raging river.

I was telling my friend, Fr. J, that the most difficult time for me by far in terms of how I’m feeling about myself is the 30 minutes before Sunday Mass once I’ve gotten the kids dressed (with lots of help from Dave) and I’m frantically trying on option after too-tight option, the discard pile rising on my closet floor along with my blood pressure. One Sunday, probably 7 weeks or so after little Z was born, this phenomenon came to a vicious head as I stared bleakly into the bathroom mirror, rejected outfit combos strewn about my feet.

I hate you. I seethed silently at my reflection. And then I jumped, physically startled by the vitriol of my self talk. Out loud I had the wherewithal (grace is real, y’all) to say out loud, “Jesus, that wasn’t from you. Help me. Show me how you see me.” and immediately the image of His battered body hanging on the cross sprang to mind.

This is how I see your body, dear one. A sacrifice of love.

I was floored. And, I wish I could add, also completely and irrevocably healed of my subpar self image. But … work in progress.

But it sure did help to reframe things that morning.

I shared this little experience with Fr. and he was quiet for a moment. A longish moment, actually, during which time I suspected – correctly – that he was praying. When he did speak again, it was to share the following beautiful image with me.

“Jesus is showing me His body in the Eucharist, and then pointing to your body. He seems to be saying ‘His body, your body…they are connected. You cannot worship the one while despising the other.”‘

I have never heard that particular connection made between our bodies and His, no matter how much lip service I’ve given to the notion of being a “temple of the Holy Spirit.” I guess I’d always mentally categorized that one into the “do not defile with sin” category, neglecting to acknowledge that it’s not enough to just refrain from defiling the temple…one must also approach the temple itself with a rightly ordered sense of awe and reverence.

I don’t know about you, but I typically do not revere my body in any way, shape, or form; from the negative self talk I engage in to the poor food choices I make to the self deprecating humor I frequently employ to mask the shame of feeling not enough.

I was quiet as I mulled over Fr.’s image, recognizing for the first time that it must not only be displeasing to Jesus to hear my negative self talk, but it actually hurts Him.

Before we hung up, Fr. encouraged me to make it to Mass to receive Holy Communion as frequently as I could manage, kids and all. “The Lord has specific graces He wants to pour out for your healing and wholeness each time you receive the Eucharist. Go as often as you can.”

Guess how many times I’ve made it to daily Mass since that conversation?

Yeah, zero.

Sure, I have a super little baby still and a double shot of preschoolers at home, but helloooooo priorities. Clearly I have work to do in that area.

However, on the Sundays between now and then, I have meditated on Fr.’s words before and after Communion, asking the Lord to really double down on those healing graces in between swipes to keep a toddler off the baby’s carseat and pulling someone’s dress down over her underwear. Again.

I can’t say whether it’s “working” yet in the sense that I’m feeling like high-fiving myself when I look in the mirror now, but it is foremost in my mind now to at least try – for Jesus’ sake – to see myself and the sacrifices of motherhood through new eyes.

I think this is probably a lesson I’m going to be learning for the rest of my life, and while I’m not going to stop begging Him to remove the thorn, neither will I refuse any help He wants to offer in tending the wound.

It’s funny, because it was the obvious beauty and truth of this very concept that so attracted me to JPII’s Theology of the Body – that our bodies are good and holy and that they speak to us of God’s heart, of His plan for our eternal union with Him. And then I entered into my vocation and began the purgative process of actually living out the Theology of the Body and whoa, nelly, is it a little tougher to believe that a fluffy, saggy mom bod speaks a language of truth, goodness, and beauty nearly as well as the body of a single young twenty-something does.

His body, your body. Unbelievably difficult to accept. But if it’s true, it changes everything. Calls to mind this quote from St. Teresa of Avila:

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

 

About Me, budgeting, self care, social media

Habits, virtue, and making it easy to be good

April 11, 2018

I almost worked “self discipline” into this title, but to be perfectly frank, habit is getting me much further than self discipline during this particular season of life.

I’m at the point in fluffy not-quite-middle-age where if something is going to happen that is good for me, be it spiritual or physical in nature, I nearly always have to trick myself into doing it.

I could fib and say this is only because my domestic obligations are at an all-time high or that I’m suffering from that familiar fourth-trimester sleep deprivation, but the more accurate explanation is that I’m lazy.

How can a mom with five kids and a job be lazy? Oh, it’s pretty easy, actually. It looks like sending my older kids to fetch diapers while I sit plopped on the couch scrolling through my phone. It looks like falling asleep in bed while reading because I am “too tired” to pray. It looks like making a bad food choice at lunch and then mentally shrugging at 4 p.m. when confronted with leftover chocolate chip granola bars from the carnage of after school snack time and telling myself “I’ll start over with good food choices tomorrow” before popping the detritus in my mouth.

Since I lack sorely in self discipline and rightly-ordered passions, I’ve noticed that if I make the good things I’m trying to accomplish sort of idiot-proof, I’ve a much higher incidence of success.

So, for example, during Lent I got into the habit of putting a cute decorative tote basket in front of my place at the dining room table each night which contained my prayer materials: Bible, copy of the catechism, Blessed is She planner, and the Take Up and Read Lenten journal. Because it was there in my face as soon as I came downstairs to sit with my coffee, I dug in and had a little prayer time most mornings, however sparse it might end up being per my darlings’ demands. On the mornings when I’d forgotten to move the basket from it’s daytime perch in the bay window? Nada. I would sit 5 feet away sipping my morning cappuccino and stare at that sucker and prayer time would.not.happen.

Another example. I’m dehydrated more often than not from a strict regimen of breastfeeding, coffee guzzling, kid wrangling, and a strange aversion to filling simple glasses of water to drink from. Some days I would get to dinner time with a pounding headache and realize that I had maybe – maybe – consumed 12 ounces of water all day in the form of a single can of LaCroix. As POTUS would tweet, SAD! Very Disappointing!

I picked up a $4 glass water bottle with a sippy top at Marshall’s last month and started carrying it around the house with me and, what do you know, I’m drinking close to 100 ounces of H2O these days. Sad, right? But also really effective.

I’ve started to do the same thing with exercise. Feeling a little burnt out on my walking routine without Starbucks dangling at the end of the route like a luxurious carrot (more on that later) I was finding my strolls around the neighborhood a little less enticing. I did the math on what I was saving in burnt cups of coffee in a month and reckoned that I could probably afford a basic gym membership to the club down the street if I were completely coffee-shop abstinent. (My entire “fun” category every month is spent on takeout coffee. Speaking of sad…)

So I dug out an old black speedo from a few summers back, tossed a swim cap and a pair of goggles into my purse, and took the plunge, literally. I logged close to 200 laps last week, all because I’ve arranged the necessary materials and started forcing myself to leave the house precisely at 7 p.m. on the nights when it works for our schedule, promising Dave and myself to be back in 60 minutes. It gives me enough time to get the babies to bed and leaves him with some quality time with the older set at the end of the day.

Habit builds on habit. And I’d venture further, saying that virtue builds on habit. When I’m already being good, it’s easier to continue being good.

When I have that big glass of wine on a school night (biiiiig mistake at age 35) I know that the next morning it’s going to be harder to get up to pray. And that if I don’t get up to pray, I’ll probably yell at my kids at some point during the day. And that we’ll be so burnt out on each other’s company from all that yelling that by 4 p.m. that I’ll succumb to the Netflix sirens and surrender my laptop while I cook dinner, feeling hassled and defeated.

I remember hearing Fr. Michael Scanlan, the spiritual powerhouse behind the revitalization of Franciscan University, tell parents during an orientation video that Steubenville was intended to be a place where it was “easy to be good.” By that he meant not that we would be so constrained by rules and regulations that we would have no choice but to behave, but that there would be so many options for choosing the good – and so much positive peer pressure to do so – that it would become a real hotbed of virtue and excellence simply because the true, good, and beautiful was readily available. 24 hour adoration? Check. Three or four daily Mass options a day? Check. Intramural and community building activities through Households and dozens of ministry opportunities? Check.

So yeah, you could show up there a hardened party girl and stay that way, no problem, (Lee’s Place or Jaggin’ Around, anyone?) but you could also throw yourself headlong into the transformative atmosphere of excellence that permeated the campus, and ease into a routine of virtue that was considerably less challenging than the previous four years I’d spent stumbling drunkenly through the more typical college experience at a major public school.

So I’m trying to create a vice-proof, virtue and habit supportive environment in my own home where I am the boss, after all, making it more foolproof for me to misbehave, and less likely to fall headlong into a bag of Doritos* and a late-night Instagram binge session. (Note: Doritos are on the ever-expanding list of things I’ve come to realize that I just can’t have in the house.)

A couple other hacks I’m employing as training wheels right now as we transition from newborn survival mode to new normal:

  • No alcohol on weeknights (unless it’s a major feast day or a date night)
  • 3 non-negotiable exercise sessions a week. Doesn’t matter how long they take or what I do, just that I do them.
  • Instagram only on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings. (I uninstall the app from my phone and reinstall it on those days. Sad? You betcha. Effective? Indeed.)
  • No Facebook or Twitter at all. Just posting content there as I create it and then walking away, so to speak.
  • No shopping at Target or Costco, for the moment. (Diapers and wipes from Amazon, because I am not tempted to overspend when I shop online, whereas walking into brick and mortar is like entering the lion’s den for my budget.)
  • Grocery shopping only on Fridays. Y’all, this one has been HARD. But it’s helping our budget so much. I think I probably saved almost $200 last month from cutting out all the “just one quick thing” trips that always, always result in at least $40 of “oh, yeahs!”

I feel like my thirties have seen me get super into self-knowledge and understanding temperament and personality type (INTJ and choleric/melancholic, for what it’s worth) in an attempt to reprogram the direction of my own life. I guess I’ve been waiting for years and years to just magically “change” or grow out of ___, when actually I’m pretty much the same person I was at 18. I haven’t become more naturally disciplined to go to bed earlier, or less interested in french fries, or more eager to make phone calls I’m dreading. So instead of waiting for me to change, I guess I’m focusing more on “acting as if,” hoping that my tired old self will come plodding along down the path of least resistance I’m working to create. Hey, it works with my kids and a 4 p.m. veggie platter deployed against the whining “I’m huuuuungries” that interrupt dinner prep!

What habit-building hacks have you employed that have made noticeable improvements in your life? Is there an area you thought you’d never see improvement where you’ve been surprised by growth – and grace?