About Me, Family Life, large family, motherhood, Parenting, siblings

“Mom and dad were right”: big family benefits all grown up

October 19, 2017

I left a comment on someone’s super sweet Instagram post last week (hi, Nell!) of a shot of her kiddos headed down the block to her sister’s house in search of cousins to play with. She asked her followers what their own experiences were like with the adult sibling dynamic, and whether they were in close physical proximity. I think I was one of the few – maybe the only – responders to have the great fortune of having both many siblings and many siblings who live close by. It forced me to stop and reflect on the blessing these people are in my life, and also the unique nature of this intentional community we’ve created for ourselves and our families.

I am the oldest of 7 kids. I grew up as the lead duck in a string of ducklings trailing across grocery store parking lots and filling most of an entire pew in Mass on Sundays. We were definitely not a typical sight in the small, conservative town I spent most of my formative years in, and we were for sure, even at “only” 5 in number, a typical sight in the Bay Area suburb we moved from the summer before my 11th birthday. I got pretty used to the gaping stares, the bobbing, open-mouthed silent counting and eye movement of strangers, and, yes, the occasional insane comment to my mom in the checkout line.


Now that I have my own multiplying string of ducklings, it has become second nature to ignore the interest we occasionally arouse in public. I also think living in a place like Denver, where people are pretty individualistic and open minded (for better and for worse), the shock factor is a little harder to come by. Whatever the case, I’m more than equipped to handle probing questions at Trader Joe’s and incredulous smiles at the playground; I’ve been training for it my whole life.

Baby brother holding baby mine. (If only I could get him to change diapers, payback would be in full.)

If you’d have asked 17 year old Jenny (who was less than thrilled that her mom was pregnant with baby number 7 at the time) her thoughts on being the eldest in a large family, she – I – would probably have snorted and quite possibly rolled her eyes. Deep down I didn’t mind it … much. But now, 17 years later, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Far from being resentful of the more than occasional babysitting shift thrust upon me, or the relative lack of disposable income, I would be able to put my hands firmly on the shoulders of my teenage self and tell her, in all honesty, “these are the best people you will ever know. They will be there for you for the rest of your life, in a way that nobody else can come close to. You think giving up a Saturday night here or there is a pain? Wait until the little girl you’re babysitting right now is a college sophomore spending her Christmas break sleeping in your basement so that when your water breaks you can head straight to the hospital. Wait until the annoying sister shadowing you in the high school cafeteria becomes the best friend you call almost every morning, who picks your kids up from carpool in a pinch even though her minivan is also maxed out. Wait till the little brother whose diapers you really don’t feel like changing becomes one of the best men you’ve ever known, and proposes to a woman so wonderful that you ask the two of them to be your yet-unborn child’s godparents.”

The truth is, everything our parents told us: that we were each other’s first and best friends, that high school would end one day but sisterhood and brotherhood were forever, that we’d always be able to count on one another…it all came true. In spades. When I look across the bustling, loud 9:30 Mass at our parish I can see my sister and her husband sitting with their 4 little blonde children spread out across an entire row, my brother and his fiance bookending them and perhaps holding an errant toddler. Or a few rows further back I spot another sister and her husband with their two darling daughters, flanked on one end by the sister who lives with them and the nice guy she’s dating. (And heck, the only reason I’m not sitting with them is because in some fantastic stroke of divine providence, my in laws moved to Colorado 3 years ago and grandma and grandpa come to Mass with us every.single.Sunday. Hashtag freaking blessed.)

Although our personalities are as wildly differing as our heights, this vertically-blessed lineup includes a half dozen of my closest friends on earth. And truly, that’s a huge motivator when I’m knee deep in exhaustive little kid parenting, wondering if we are, in fact, maybe a little crazy for doing what we’re doing with our own family. 

But then I imagine my 3 boys out for beers and a baseball game, 20 years from now. I imagine them dressed in tuxes for their sister’s wedding. I try to envision whether we’ll have another member of team testosterone join the crew come December, or if Evie will at last have a sister to confide in, fight with, and sneak out of the house with. (On second thought, perhaps I should be hoping for another boy?)

Most of all I envision the relationship the 4 – soon to be 5 – of them will one day have. A group hologram to replace the group text that I enjoy with my siblings, frequent nights out to split appetizers and catch the latest Star Wars flick, regular kid-swapping weekends to spell each other from the rigors of parenting, and always, always, a shoulder to lean on, a friend to confide in, and a fellow traveler on the journey to heaven to reach out to in times of darkness and of joy.

My little sister was instrumental in drawing me, her 3-years-older and sooooo much wiser, world-weary college veteran of a big sister out to a tiny, stinky coal town in Eastern Ohio, where I threw my life away (so I thought) and started over. Turns out that dramatic cross-country leap was the most vertical maneuver I’d make in life, still to date.

4 more siblings have since trailed after, beating a dusty path along Interstate 70 eastbound, throwing in the towel on culture and air quality for 4 years of intensive Catholicism 101; a fifth and final sibling is headed there next fall. Which means, in addition to sharing blood and parents and memories of eating cold Spaghetti-O’s straight from the can, we also share a common faith.

This is perhaps the greatest gift of all (narrowly edging out the free babysitting); that we love Jesus together, that we strive for heaven together, and that we can lock arms in a darkening culture with a diminishing moral compass and, like so many hobbits journeying towards Mordor, reassure one another “I got your back. We can do this. Together.”

And that’s no small thing in a world that loves the darkness.

I pray this for my own children: that long after I am gone, the bonds of blood and brotherhood that bind them together will only strengthen with time, shoring them up in moments of great sorrow and great joy, and that I can await them confidently (fingers-crossed) in the life after this one, knowing they’re helping each other along the way when I’m no longer there to guide them.

motherhood, pregnancy

A gentler pregnancy + some thoughts on body image

October 16, 2017

When I was pregnant for the first time, nearly 8 years ago, I was a pretty stereotypical first-time mom: couldn’t wait for maternity clothes (um, why?), took ridiculous “bump update” progress shots in the full length mirror for Facebook (remember when people put pictures of themselves on Facebook?), took a 14 week long class on the Bradley Method and pushed my heroically patient husband to the breaking point with the recommended natural birth videos (the scars linger), and sat at a desk for 40 hours a week, mainlining White Cheddar Cheezits and wondering why on earth the recommended pregnancy weight gain was capped at 35 pounds while I easily summited 55.

Fast forward about a year and baby number two was on the way. I’d learned firsthand that breastfeeding did not, in my case, yield “remarkable” weight loss results, and that taking Cheezit pounds off was substantially more difficult than shoveling them on.

For little John Paul’s pregnancy, I was determined to do things better. For starters, a gym membership to the local 24 Hour Fitness, whose facilities (and childcare) I availed myself of no fewer than 5 times a week. Through week 40. As I huffed and puffed on the stairclimber and counted carbs, I watched in fascinated horror as my belly stretched to the same pronounced proportions, and the scale crept upward to 50 pounds. Fifty pounds. I remember shaking my head, despairing that an entire 9 months of going easy on the sugar and hitting the gym like a college sophomore only saved me 5 pounds of trouble. The low point for that pregnancy experience probably came the day after delivery, when a sweet and severe nurse caught me on a hospital scale in the L&D hallway (why? why???) trying to calculate how much weight I’d dropped from giving birth and shooed me back into my room with strict instructions “not to look at that thing for a good 6 weeks.”

She wasn’t wrong, incidentally.

By the time pregnancy number three rolled around, I found myself morning sick for the first time and living in a foreign country far from the usual suspects in American junk food options, without a car and so hoofing it around the city with 2 toddlers for 4+ miles a day, and very, very sickened by the smell of diesel and cigarettes. We moved home from Italy when I was 2o weeks along with Evie, and guess how much I’d gained at that point? 4.freaking.pounds.

Eureka! I recall thinking as I stepped on the scale in my American doctor’s office. I had found the secret, and it was not owning a car or living near a supermarket that sold Ben and Jerry’s or Doritos. Except, you probably know how this story ends, and it ends with an 18 week nosedive back into mostly-sedentary American living and the occasional flirtation with Domino’s pizza.

Still, I strapped that stupid FitBit on every day and made sure I hit my 10,000 steps. I rejoined a gym and made up the difference there during inclement weather. I ate Paleo 90% of the time. And the end result? 44 pounds. Which means I gained 40 pounds in approximately 4 months, and it was exactly as comfortable as you’re imagining it to be.

Perhaps at this point you’re seeing a pattern, and perhaps as someone living outside of my body, it’s easier for you to accept: there seems to be a predetermined weight – or at least a range – most of us hit during pregnancy. For some women it may indeed be 20-30 sweet, fluffy pounds. Bully for them. For me, it’s a pair of preschoolers.

By the time baby number 4 came into existence, I was still hitting the gym, but more for sanity’s sake (hellooooo, kid’s club) than from any real desire to sweat. But sweat I did, still remaining faithful to my 10,000 + steps and managing to separate my pelvic joint prematurely, necessitating much hobbling and many, many trips to the chiropractor from week 28 on.

What I’ve finally figured out this time, 5th time around, dense as I am, is that my body is going to pack on the pregnancy pounds like the potato famine is beginning anew and the only thing it can about it do is convert every calorie consumed directly into a carbohydrate (Irish genes are smiling). I can go to the gym, but nothing is going to move that needle southward (or slow it’s northern ascent) other than delivery and, for me, for the final 15-20 stubborn pounds, weaning.

I have no gym membership this time around. Lacking both the time and money, I’ve contented myself with neighborhood strolls with the preschool set and lots of trips down to the basement laundry. The other day while moving outgrown maternity clothes into storage (the indignity!) I came across my abandoned FitBit and strapped in on just for fun.

The result for an “average” day, puttering around the house, grocery shopping, car pooling and kid wrangling? You guessed it: 10,000 steps.

You better believe lol’d at 10 pm when I peeled that sucker off, because I distinctly recall doing laps around our rental house, 2 pregnancies ago, desperately trying to hit that 10k mark before bedtime but only at like, 7k or something for the day. (I guess my advice to people looking to be less sedentary would be to have a kid or four, because hoo boy, will that get you up and movin’)

I’ve noticed a funny little correlation this time around, too, between not obsessively hitting the treadmill for 60 minutes a day and my hips not splitting apart prematurely like a Trader Joe’s shopping bag. I feel better, overall, even despite the usual litany of heartburn, an achy back, and the stress of carrying around a couple dozen extra pounds.

When I feel particularly worn out, I’ve started implementing this bold new strategy where stop what I’m doing and …sit down. Revolutionary, I tell you.

I’ve also given up (almost completely) on monitoring what I’m eating. Perhaps this one is a terrible idea that will haunt me come January, but as long as I’m not bringing terrible junk into the house or hitting the Chicfila drive through too hard, I’m basically eating a well-balanced diet. Is it THM-compliant? Ha. The first trimester put a swift end to that fantasy. Is it Paleo? Well, that depends if ever a caveman were to be found eating peanut butter toast at 1o pm. (For the record, I think he’d have eaten it, if he could have located it.)

Hand in glove with the novel approach of not policing my own plate like a caloric parole officer has been the compete absence of any scales during this gestational go-round. We don’t have one at home to begin with, but I’ve taken the extra step (ba dum ching) of climbing up on the doctor’s scale and turning around to stare blankly at the wall over the nurses’ shoulder while she adjusts the  slidey thingy. Wisely, she caught on pretty quick, and so I have no idea what I weigh at this moment, nor am I obsessively calculating “how many pounds per week to stay under x number by December 31st?”

Which is nice.

I’ve noticed that it’s making me a little nicer to myself, too. I catch a glimpse of the belly bulk in the mirror and instead of recoiling in horror I only give a mild startle before telling myself (sometimes audibly) “this is worth it. You are worth doing this for, baby.”

And I feel like I’m kind of starting to mean it.

Obviously I’ve felt it was “worth it” with each of my previous children, but pregnancy has always been, for this recovered bulimic, a battle in self loathing and no small amount of panic over the process of gaining weight. For 10 years I worked diligently, obsessively, to the point of illness, in an attempt to control my appearance and, when failing, in an effort to punish my body for perceived misbehavior. Some women find the experience of pregnancy and motherhood healing for their poor body image and disordered thought processes. I found it exacerbating and, if you’ll forgive the use of the word, “triggering.”

I’m still battling those demons, but they are far more effectively tamed by words of truth – “you are fearfully and wonderfully made,” “you are the light of the world” – than by act of self punishment and caustic self criticism.

I’m hoping I can hang onto this slightly rosier self image after delivery, because as anyone who’s ever made that first trek from the hospital bed to the bathroom knows, getting the baby out is only half (or in my case, usually about a quarter) of the battle.

So, arriving in a long-winded fashion at the summary, here is what’s working for me this time around:

No weighing in. Not at home, and not at the prenatal visits

Positive self talk, both in the mirror and randomly throughout the day. Especially effective when responding to negative cognitions like “I feel fat. I’m so huge. I’m so gross. I can’t do this.” It sounds silly, but sometimes literally just reversing the statements “I don’t feel fat. I’m not that big. I’m carrying new life. I am great at being pregnant!” does the trick.

Positive self talk out loud, in front of my kids e.g. “You guys are worth it. Yes, isn’t mommy’s belly getting big? It’s full of the baby, isn’t it exciting? This happened with each of you” etc. etc. I really, really don’t want to saddle my kids with the guilt of feeling in any way responsible for my own dissatisfaction with my body and/or the effects of motherhood. (I would say for Evie in particular, but honestly, I want my boys to have a healthy appreciation for what is normal and beautiful about motherhood, so they can affirm and appreciate their wives and their sisters and their female friends as adults.)

Not policing my plate. I’m trying to not like, go crazy, but I’m being a lot more lenient than usual, and I’m finding that while I’m probably eating more junk food from time to time in terms of frequency, I’m not doing the death spiral of “oh crap I ate 2 cookies, better finish off the bag because NOW ALL IS RUINED.” So I ate a couple cookies and also had a handful of Luke’s french fries at lunch. Oh well. Now I’ll eat a handful of mini cucumbers. (<— is this how normal people interact with food, btw?)

Just buying (or borrowing) maternity clothes that fit. (and not wearing the ones that make me feel gross) I’m not recoiling in horror if the tag has a “L” on it, nor am I settling for something just because “I have it” or “someone lent it to me.” Rather, my litmus has become, is it a. comfortable and does it b. makes me feel reasonably good? If so, winner.

I’ve found (thanks, Eliz!) the magic equation this go-round to be tight-fitted black top + flowy cardigan/vest/jacket + skinny jeans to be foolproof. The belly is clearly and flatteringly defined, the problem areas (read: arms and back) are nicely camouflaged, and the jeans stay up. I basically wear the same outfit 6 days a week, switching out top layers and jewelry as needed.

Not killing myself on the treadmill. It’s counterintuitive to everything I (thought I) knew about health and fitness, but getting my activity from daily living this time around instead of clocking in 5 days a week at the gym is so much easier on the not-so-young-any-more pregnant bod. If you can work out all through your pregnancy, you are a rockstar, and I salute you. And I no longer feel the need to compete with you. Liberation, thy name is sitting down.

Finally, I’ve been more cognizant this time that this could be the last baby. (Future me is LOLing and rolling her eyes into the back of her skull) but really, it could be. We’ve definitely come to regard our fertility as an unwieldy and unpredictable gift, and there’s really no guarantee we’ll get to do this again. So even though I’m counting the days till delivery, I’m trying to savor the 29-weekness of things too, you know? Like, what if I never feel a little person rolling around under my skin again? What if I never experience the sweet dynamic of a two-year-old whispering proclamations of love to my stretched out belly? What if I never develop heartburn again simply by smelling the food that I’m cooking? (Okay, I could go without that last one.) 

Whew, that was a novella. Not sorry enough to edit it down, though. And to be perfectly transparent, I still have moments of texting my best friend (oh, like, earlier today, for example) “I can’t do this for another 10 weeks, how can I keep doing this?” slash whining to my sister about how bad I look in all my clothes. But. It’s a work in progress. And as the proverb says, “better to make progress than to curse Cheetos in the darkness.”

Or something like that.

throwback to 35 weeks with my first little Cheezit. (Or full term with twins, in someone else’s genes)

And now, at 29 weeks with current occupant (Photo cred: my awesome brother in law at Mast Media)

Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, coffee clicks

Coffee Clicks, {October 13th aka the Fatima Edition}

October 13, 2017

Today marks 100 years since one of the most widely-witnessed (and reported) miracles in recent human history. On October 13th, 100 years ago in field outside a small village in Portugal, 3 shepherd children to whom the Blessed Virgin Mary had been appearing (along with a crowd that journalists in attendance estimated at 70,000 witnesses) waited in expectant hope for what was to be her final appearance.

This was the backdrop against which Mary, in 1917, appeared to three shepherd children – Lucia dos Santos, 10, and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto, 9 and 7 – in a field in Fatima, Portugal, bringing with her requests for the recitation of the rosary, for sacrifices on behalf of sinners, and a secret regarding the fate of the world.”

The basic message of Fatima, for all the mystique and intrigue that tends to surround it in some corners of the internet, is childishly simple: personal conversion of heart, repentance and reparation for one’s sins and the sins of others, and frequent recitation of the Rosary. By those small efforts towards personal holiness and mortification, Mary promised, the world could be saved.

A century has passed since her last visit to the muddy field that miraculously dried to dust as the sun whirled and dipped in the sky, inspiring awe and terror in the observing crowds. The argument might be made that it was the bloodiest century on record in human history, when one accounts for all the genocides, epidemics, wars, and abortions which have ravaged civilization. So the question persists: have we done what she asked, and has it been done satisfactorily?

Good question, right?

I don’t have the answer, but I do have 5 must-read pieces about Fatima and it’s continued relevance to our lives today:

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Cardinal Bertone talks about the third secret

“The “third secret of Fatima” refers to a message during the apparitions predicting suffering and persecution of the Pope and the Church. Unlike the first two secrets – a vision of hell and a prediction of World War II – the third secret was not initially revealed by Sr. Lucia. At first, she said that Mary had not yet permitted her to reveal it to the world. Later, the Vatican chose to keep it secret until 2000, when it was finally revealed.”

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Everything you need to know about Fatima: {part 1}

“…Every local bishop since has approved the apparitions and deemed them worthy of belief, the highest recognition a Marian apparition can receive from the Church.”

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… And {part 2}

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3 ways to obtain an indulgence for the 100th anniversary of Fatima

“For the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, Pope Francis has decided to grant a plenary indulgence opportunity throughout the entire anniversary year, which began Nov. 27, 2016, and will end Nov. 26, 2017.”

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The times are urgent and we must heed the warnings of Our Lady:

“In 1981, Our Lady of Fatima warned through Lucia that the final battle will be against marriage and the family and that anyone who tries to defend them will experience persecution and tribulation. And here we are. Even at the highest levels of the Church, certain priests and bishops mislead God’s people. Meanwhile, clergy and faithful who seek to uphold marriage are dismissed as pharisaical, rigid and unpastoral. This was also confirmed by Our Lady of Akita in Japan:”

Tonight our Archdiocese will be formally consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary through the hands of our good and holy Archbishop Samuel Aquila. There are hundreds of priests and bishops around the world doing the same thing for their parishes and dioceses today, which is pretty amazing. Make it a point today to pray a Rosary, to share the story of Fatima with your kids or roommates around the dinner table, and to make a little act of sacrifice for the conversion of hearts – first and foremost, our own.

Skip a meal, ditch the cream in your coffee, go to bed an hour earlier than you’d like, pass on that glass of wine. (Or, you could like, always chug a half liter of glucose solution and then get your blood drawn 😉

Our Lady of Fatima, Sts. Jacinta, Lucia, and Francisco – pray for us!

Family Life, Marriage, motherhood, NFP, Parenting, pregnancy, Pro Life

In defense of “another” baby

October 10, 2017

(Note: this is not a post claiming “there’s never a bad time to have a baby.” Hopefully if you’ve read more than one thing I’ve written over the years, you’ll know that’s not where I stand. End painfully necessary disclaimer.)

I have fielded a lot of comments about the timing of this latest little bean. I guess for good reason. For anyone who’s just tuning in, I’m 7 months pregnant with baby number 5. My oldest turned 7 last month, we just bought a house in a crazy expensive real estate market, and my husband is not a doctor.

Neither my husband nor I necessarily dreamt of a humongous family when we got married, though if pressed, Dave will say he anticipated probably having “five or six” which is rather on the largish side, if you ask me, while I anticipated “having kids” in the same way I anticipated that I would one day finish college and get a mortgage. So it’s not that I had a specific number I was hoping/dreaming for, or even that I was particularly looking forward to motherhood with any kind of instinctive longing, just that it’s something I assumed would happen if I got married.

(Please don’t get me wrong, I see my beautiful sisters who are struggling to have a baby, and I am achingly aware that our fertility is a gift and I for sure love my kids and am thrilled to be their mom. I’m just trying to set the stage for where younger Jenny came from, and it wasn’t from a place of dreaming about being a mommy, naming my future children, or even discussing how many of them I hoped to end up with one day.)

We got married in the Catholic Church, and so we took our vows to heart when we promised to accept children lovingly from God and raise them according to the law of Christ and His Church. Growing up in families of 6 and 7 kids, respectively, we had a preeeetty good idea that if things worked as intended, barring any unforeseen medical circumstances, marriage = babies. And we were on board.

(Sometimes when people cock their head at me in utter disbelief that I’m having number 5, the knowledge that I am myself the oldest of 7 puts them at ease. “Ohhhh, that makes sense; you’re from a big family yourself.” I mean, I guess it does? Anyway, if my kids ask one day why they have so many siblings, I’ll just pat them on the head and tell them I wanted to make their trips to the grocery store less socially awkward, should they themselves decide to raise a small army.)

Still, all this to say: I did not set out to have a big family. I love each of my sweet children with a love I wouldn’t have believed possible, but they were very much received as gifts – sometimes surprising ones – and have not necessarily come about as the result of meticulous and strategic planning.

Our approach to NFP has its seasons of meticulosity, for sure (postpartum period, I’m looking at you) but we also have plenty of months where we’re having the vv stereotypical (at least according to marriage prep classes) “where we at?” conversations about avoiding vs. being ready to conceive. I want to tell you it’s marriage building and exhilarating and totally! fulfilling! on an existential level, but to be honest, it can feel a bit more like crunching the numbers during our monthly financial summits when we’re plugging numbers into Every Dollar.

An imperfect analogy, because sex is a little more meaningful than budgetary allocations, but it can still feel very much like a process of drilling into the “numbers,” so to speak, and weighing resources versus expenditures.

For example, is my mental health in a place where pregnancy would be safe and prudent? Is his? Are we trying to hit some serious financial goals that would best serve our entire family if we focused on them for another 6 months? (Note: I don’t think finances are a great yardstick by which to plan one’s family size. But temporary, short-term goals like getting out from under a large debt or saving for a down payment on a house might make postponing pregnancy a wise decision for a season.)

Usually though? I don’t find ordinary financial matters to be sufficiently compelling to merit identification as “grave reason,” at least not in our marriage. We’re not talking “can’t keep the heat and lights on” finances here; more along the lines of “would like to go on a decent vacation and pay private school tuition” circumstances.

Obviously every couple has to discern this for their particular family, but I think overall, as a culture, we tend to veer much, much too conservatively in the “I can’t afford a(nother) child” direction.

Are babies expensive? Sure. They can be. But everything in life is about making choices and having to leave other options behind.

And I can’t think of anything I’d rather have – including a smaller mortgage and a more reasonable grocery bill – that is more valuable than the 5 little souls in our care.

I don’t say this to downplay grave financial stress by any means. (Should I write that in all caps? Because I know someone is going to come at me with that very accusation. Hashtag you can’t please ’em all.) But many of us who identify as middle class Americans are, in fact, wealthy beyond most of the world’s (and much of human history’s) wildest imagination.

The thought of having another child is often depicted as being fraught with hair-pulling stress over calculating the rising cost of higher education and travel soccer fees, making adjustments, of course, for 18 years of inflation (at least, to read much of what the media and popular mom blogs on Pinterest have to say about things), but in fact it’s hardly possible to plot out exactly where you’ll be as a couple that far down the road.

(Anecdotally, we’ve found that as our expenses have increased, so has our income. Sometimes miraculously so, as in a pair of reimbursement checks showing up the second to last day of the month. Or an unexpected bag of like-new clothes in all the right sizes. God does like to show off, when the occasion arises. And giving is good for both the receiver and the giver. We tend to forget that.)

Secondary to the financial objection, I hear from plenty of parents who “don’t know how we do it” and “could ever handle more than _ number.” My answer is always, honestly, yeah, I didn’t know either, until I started doing it, and yes, you probably could. Parenting gets both more intense and, like with any well-practiced skill, more do-able, the more you do it.

Plus, they do tend to entertain each other. I’ve noticed a horrifying uptick in sibling violence when my two eldest are in school and the 2 and 3 year old start scrapping like feral hyenas. You can bet there are some afternoons I’m counting down the hours until school lets out and my kid count doubles, because in some backwards, heavenly arithmetic, very often 4 is easier than 2.

And finally, there’s this: I’ve yet to meet a parent who has told me they wish they’d had fewer children.

I’ve never seen anyone’s eyes glaze over in that dreamy, far-off gaze into the distance and heard them whisper “if only we’d never had Tommy, we’d have that Disney timeshare by now.”

But I’ve met lots (and lots) of middle-aged and older moms (mostly moms) at Costco and beyond who confide to me how much they wished they’d had more kids. And 90% of the time, they follow that admission up with “but I couldn’t have more because of my cancer diagnosis/I had to have a hysterectomy/my husband said 2 was enough/I didn’t think we could afford it.” And my heart breaks a little each time, because their longing is still fresh, the grief is still real, and more often than not I find myself embarrassed by my cart that is overflowing (sometimes literally) with blessings who share my last name.

All this to say, in a world where so many people want babies and can’t have them, and where there are so many who suffer from a lack of love, isn’t it a grand thing to bring another little bearer of light into the universe, a human candle crafted in the very image of the Creator, shining in defiance of the darkness? (And yes, fostering and adoption are also beautiful, holy vocations. And this post is not about those vehicles of parenthood.)

You can’t tell me I’m not rich. I know we’re wealthy beyond my wildest dreams. It just doesn’t look like zeros in my checking account. More like noisy, sticky upturned faces around the dinner table. Costly, yes. And worth every penny.

 

 

 

 

coffee clicks

Coffee Clicks {October 6}

October 6, 2017

What a week. I’ll cut to the chase and get right down to assigned reading.

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I was curating a more somber list and then this gem popped into my newsfeed and HOO BOY. Now, if the government could go ahead and get it across the goal line by broadening the exemption to include non-religious entities too, that’d be great. You don’t have to believe in God to understand good science.

Still, it’s a good start. And I hope somebody buys the Little Sisters of the Poor a round of mimosas this morning for the hard work and excoriating press coverage they’ve endured.

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I found this piece fascinating and deeply troubling. Let me preface it with a personal story. When I was 15 years old, during my sophomore year of high school, I vividly recall sitting at the usual lunch table my friends and I occupied in the cafeteria, passing back and forth a copy of Seventeen magazine pouring over an article about Bulimia Nervosa. My girlfriend, who I’ll call Sydney, confided in us that she’d started making herself vomit during the past summer break, and that it was really helping her keep her weight down. After we’d all passed around the article and peppered her with questions about how it was done, she offered to take us into the bathroom and give us some pointers in self-gagging.

I took her up on it.

I would spend the next 10+ years of my life battling on and off with bulimia – severe enough to cause medical issues at some points – and I can confidently trace my foray into the clutches of that eating disorder back to that table in the lunchroom. The contagion effect is real, and it jolted me to the core to read the theory applied to the astonishing, pandemic rise in gender confusion we are currently experiencing.

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Did you see this piece on “the digital colosseum” pop up on social media earlier in the week? I thought it was a fascinating, fresh angle on the nature of the kind of pornography we consume as a culture, and what it says about us as consumers. I found the analogy between spectators in a gladiator fight and consumers of violence behind a screen oddly compelling.

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Gun violence. Do we really have the answers? The argument I’ve been having all week isn’t that we shouldn’t be looking for ways to limit access to the more destructive, military-grade firearms that some mass killers avail themselves of, but that the bigger – and often completely neglected – issue we’re facing here is why is this happening in the first place? Why the incredible spike in mass violence of this sort, whether it be a machete-wielding madman, a fertilizer bomb, rifles unloaded into a crowd of schoolmates, a truck plowed into a pedestrian crowd or a hail of semi-automatic machine gun fire over a concert venue?

The argument could be made, I suppose, that ours really no more violent than any other age, that the 20th century, for example, had a particularly bloody footprint of a different nature, that all of human history has been pockmarked by warfare and strife…but this seemingly random killing, the utter banality of the settings chosen, the panic of not feeling safe in a public setting…that seems relatively new.

I think the answer has more to do with an increasing secularization and a wholesale rejection of moral law than it has with any laws or regulations that government could enact in an attempt to legislate away evil. So my 2 cents is not that we shouldn’t discuss regulating certain firearms, but that we’re having entirely the wrong conversation in the first place. It is conversion of hearts that will save our floundering society, and the rebuilding of that most basic of social units: the family.

So sure, let’s have the conversation about how to keep military-grade weapons out of the hands of psychos, but let’s also be clear-eyed and sober in our understanding of the human heart and free will, acknowledging that evil exists, that the technology genie has already been let out of the bottle, and that legislating away the problem isn’t the cultural panacea some of our politicians (and lots of people on social media) believe it to be.

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I really struggle to get in a daily rosary. I’m tired, it’s boring, I’d rather read, I have a million excuses, none of them great. But I always come back to the notion that in all of the approved modern Marian apparitions, it is precisely what Mary asks for: conversion of heart and frequent recitation of the rosary.

She doesn’t ask us to start up a new Bible study small group, to go to Confession once a week, or even to attend daily Mass; it’s the rosary she is continually asking for, and so I figure, if she’s that into it, the devil must really hate it and must be really, really pleased by how many of the faithful struggle with integrating it into their daily prayer lives, whether out of distaste for it, boredom, or an inability to connect with it on an emotional level.

I’m asking for the grace to be more faithful to praying the rosary – really praying it, not just mumbling in carpool line and getting it over with (though that’s better than nothing!).

Have the best weekend. We’re looking at a 75 degree Saturday and then our first shot at snow (eeeeei!) for the season on Monday, so I’ll be scrounging for sunscreen and mittens simultaneously.

About Me, Family Life, Parenting, pregnancy

Life lately: the state of the crew

October 5, 2017

I don’t share a ton of pictures of the kids on the blog anymore, both because they’ve gotten older and the internet has gotten weirder, but it can feel a little heavy around here sometimes, like I’m only sharing a small sliver of my life, when it reality it’s mostly toasting frozen waffles for these goobers and buying a hundred dollars worth of diapers/pullups/wipes a month. (Don’t @ me about cloth diapers. There isn’t enough tequila and Tide in the whole world. You’ll get nothing but a maniacal cackle.)

Joey, the intrepid eldest child, consummate sanguine, and dyed-in-the-wool extrovert (translation: where the beep did he come from?) turned 7 at the end of last month, and about 6 weeks out from the big day something super crazy happened: he started acting sort of reasonable. Like, obeying right away, showing true contrition for his transgressions, and just generally being awesome, funny, and helpful. He’s always been the first two but rarely the latter, so it’s been a nice surprise coming into the home stretch with bebe number 5. Like maybe I can holler for diapers and ask him to empty the dishwasher while I’m baby-bound on the couch come January.

He asked for – and received – an entire coterie of Nerf guns for his birthday, which he is almost as delighted with as two-year-old Luke is. Joey prefers to fire the darts while Luke enjoys biting off the suction-cup tops and spitting them into the carpet. Joey has taken to sleeping with his entire stockpile in his top bunk, so traumatized is he from the 40% loss of his brand new darts. (Luke is part puppy, btw.)

Now in first grade, Joey’s interests include kickball, football, basketball, soccer, comic books and, oddly enough, poetry. #oneofthesethingsisnotliketheother. Classical education for the win. His teacher this year is like a prettier and more spiritually balanced real life Miss Frizzle from the Magic Schoolbus, so he actually loves going to school in the morning, which is a small-m miracle for our pint sized party animal.

Next up in the line up is John Paul. At just 19 months younger but completely opposite on the personality inventory spectrum, JP is deeply melancholic, thoughtful, smart as hell and in possession of un uncannily deadpan delivery for a 5-year-old. He asks really weird and fascinating questions about the origin of time, recalls memories from his first and second year of life, and just generally cracks us up with being a consummate old man with a zest for art and the written word. In his spare time he enjoys full-contact wrestling, reciting poetry (again, winning with the classical schooling), riding his two wheeler (self taught and proud) and building Legos for hours. He is our snuggliest kid and demands a hearty dose of physical touch each day to keep his universe in balance. He’s also my only introvert (as yet identified) and so while I totally “get” him in a way I don’t always get the other three, he also has a knack for making me nuts. I frequently escort him into a quiet room with a stack of books and invite him to take a mental health break, and he’s catching on that it’s actually really effective. Takes one to know one, buddy.

He says he’s maybe going to be a priest when he grows up, and while he certainly has a natural piety to his nature, we’re careful not to put too much stock in it since his daddy is of a similar temperament and had loads of well-meaning adults over the years tell him what his vocation was. They were incorrect, as I can personally attest to. A religious vocation is a beautiful thing, and we pray for all our children to be open to that if God calls them (and make a point to expose them to the tons of awesome priests and religious in our social circle), but we’re careful not to push it or make any kind of prediction based on natural tendencies and personalities alone. Because super sporty sanguines make great priests, too. And the world also needs thoughtful, prayerful husbands.

Evie. Where do I even begin? All throughout this current pregnancy people have asked, upon finding out that we haven’t found out the sex, “have you ever found out?” to which I answer: once. And it was with her. And boy, was I glad to have the 5 month’s heads up on the extra estrogen joining our crew. She is a spicy meatball, this little pseudo-Italian. She can scream and gesticulate wildly with the best of the little signoras in the marketplace, and putting her to bed is a nuclear exercise in patience and precision. Don’t miss a single step or she’ll be at your bedside at 1 am, having been awakened by her searing sense of justice confirming that yes, you did in fact skimp her on 3 minutes of “tickles” and additionally, you poorly swaddled her stuffed calico cat and will now be forced to re-roll her in the dead of night by the bleary light of your alarm clock.

She is passionate, wildly imaginative, LOUD, and very, very cute. She runs this town, and I guess it couldn’t be any other way, because with 3 brothers she has to assert herself from the pack. She is intensely physical, whip smart, and really great at putting on a dramatic waterworks show at preschool drop off (and then turning on a dime, batting her still-wet lashes at her teacher, and happily asking what’s up first on the agenda for the day. As I have observed from creeping around the corner of the hallway and listening in. Dangerous little minx, that one.) She has what the big boys call her “Irish accent” which makes zero sense because it sounds nothing like a brogue, but she does have a really unique pronunciation pattern and a hilariously high pitched voice. Especially entertaining when she’s mad as hell, which is often. #shehashermamastemper

Just a Basic preschooler

Her current passions include riding her “Plasmer cawr” (there’s the accent) weaving elaborate spoken-word stories about the adventures of her “babies” (a menagerie of stuffed cats in varying hues and sizes), watching Moana, singing Moana, demanding Moana undies from the laundry pile (and none else will do) and fighting me like a wet cat when it’s time for a shampoo. She has turned suddenly and adorably maternal as of about 2 months ago, and can be found dragging around her litter of 6 and tucking them into her shirt (her “Ergo”), swaddling them in muslin blankets, changing their diapers, perching them on fake potties, and building them elaborate “cwibs” to sleep in. She saw me carrying our loaned-out Rock N Play into the house the other night after a friend had returned it and she intercepted me en route to the basement and pointed, announcing loudly “I want that.” It’s now set up at her bedside and filled with her babies, which she tucks in beside her with exacting precision and rocks intermittently throughout the night. (I may be recruiting her in about 13 weeks if she’s all that gung-ho about it.)

Living his best life

Last but not least, there’s Luke. Luke the duke. Luke the loud. He turned two at the end of August, but he talks at a rapid-fire clip like a 6-year-old. His vocabulary is out of this world, I guess because he’s never had a day of silence – either in the womb or outside of it – in his short life. He doesn’t like wearing pants but he does like “spicy water” (Mommy’s precious La Croix collection) and he will steal and consume an unattended can quicker than you can sneak away for a bathroom break. He is very, very physical and enjoys “flying” off any piece of furniture he can scale. Fingers crossed, but no ER visits to date.

His interests include food (33 whopping pounds, which is 2 more than nearly-four-year-old Genevieve), hugging, screaming in outrage if a sibling dares cross him, yelling in Mass, yelling in the car, peeing on the potty, fruit snacks, and Wild Kratts. He’s a real Renaissance Man. He’s also wicked fast on a plasma car and super coordinated athletically. He shocks strangers in Costco by chatting them up and then revealing his tender age after the fact. He is terrible to take to church and absolutely delightful to parent. Luke can translate to “light bearer” or “light bringer” and that is exactly what this little man is.

He is built like a penguin, so part of his disdain for clothing on his lower half might be because nothing but sweatpants fits him. When he’s not busy emulating Regina George he spends a lot of his day biting off the tops of those aforementioned Nerf darts, seeking and destroying Lego creations, raiding the fridge, and ripping my shirt up to “kiss my baby, mommy.” He’s going to be a great big brother.

And that leaves just leaves…Pia. Our petite little calico, adopted a year ago this month from a family in our parish. She’s the most dog-like cat who has ever lived and is utterly adapted to life in a big family. Last night one of the kids was pushing her around in a toy shopping car and she acquiesced. We joke that she’s either the most good-natured feline on earth or lacks any sense of a survival instinct. We let her keep her claws to give her a fighting chance against the kids, but really they’re all very sweet with her and she is very sweet back. She sneaks food from under the table, uses her little box fastidiously, and snuggles in onto the top bunk for a nice long nap at night.

We’ve recently started letting her explore outdoors in our new, very sleepy neighborhood and she is thrilled to have her run of the yards. My neighbor texted me a picture of her kids playing with her last week, happily they don’t mind having an occasional visitor. I was a little mortified when she let herself into their house last Saturday morning, however, which further confirms my suspicion of a limited survival instinct. And don’t worry, we bring her in before dusk to avoid coyotes, and her shots are up to date. I know she’d live longer as an indoor cat, but she’s depressed as hell when we keep her indoors, so it’s a quality over quantity situation. Plus, there are a few feline friends who prowl the hood alongside her, so it seems a relatively cat safe area.

And then there’s this little peep. I’m 27 weeks and some change, so conceivably (lol) he/she could come as soon as ten weeks from now. I tend to go early, anywhere from 37 to 38.5 weeks, but watch this bebe hang stubbornly out until January. I’m starting to slow down a bit but still sleeping great, I have no idea how much weight I’ve gained because I haven’t looked at the scale since week 7 (moral victory here), and I’m doing my best to build a cold weather maternity wardrobe out of 3 pairs of jeans and a handful of tops, vests, and cardigans. I hate maternity dresses/skirts, and they hate me back, whether because of my short torso or 5 foot 4 frame. I look like a tootsie pop if I don’t wear pretty much all black, form-fitting tops and skinny pants with an elongating layer up top, so old navy $15 vests are my bff rn.

 

So there you have it folks, in a long-winded nutshell: our life at the moment. I can’t wait to see who this newest little person is, and how they’ll impact the dynamic upon their arrival.  For now I’m relying on a whole lotta PBS kids, pb&j’s, and thanking the Lord for the still-temperate afternoons that mean we (they) can play outside until dinner.

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How can we “be not afraid” in the face of terror?

October 3, 2017

(I wrote this yesterday in light of the horrors in Las Vegas, but didn’t feel ready to hit publish until today. Praying that there be peace on earth that begins with me.)

I woke up this morning like much of America did, most likely. A blinking icon on my phone indicating a new WhatsApp message from my sister: a mass shooting at a country concert in Vegas. 50 shot, 20 dead. I swallowed a horrified gasp and re-directed the attention of my curious pint-sized audience. As the minutes past 6 am rolled by, the number climbed steadily, sickeningly, and after the school rush had settled, I sat down in front of my computer to, what? To watch amateur video of people being slaughtered? To read opinion pieces, gleaning information about the deranged killer? To form an opinion of my own?

After 20 minutes I slammed the laptop shut, feeling sickened and drained. Sick and tired of consuming stories of death, violence, and terror like so many electronic anti-vitamins, weakening the human spirit with a kind of paralyzing despair over the state of the world.

If the primary target in a terrorist attack is the physical crowd being preyed upon, the secondary victims fall along more etherial lines, stricken with horror from afar, overwhelmed by fear as they observe the chaos and confusion from a distance, wondering, if only to themselves, “could it happen here next?”

I scooped up the two year old and drove to our parish for an unplanned stop at daily Mass. An unfamiliar man with a strange hairstyle walked in halfway through the liturgy of the word and slid into a pew halfway up the church. My mind immediately started conjuring images of violence, and I mentally calculated the distance to each exit door, formulating a hypothetical escape plan should bullets start flying.

That is sick.

And that is exactly what the devil, that great and primary terrorist, wants for us: fear, consuming anxiety, distrust, and even hatred of our fellow man.

If I couldn’t keep my focus on God in the place where, in just a few minutes, He was about to become truly and physically present, then the enemy has won a decisive victory in my soul.

The reality is that none of us know the hour nor the circumstances of the end of time: our individual deaths. It could be an easy breezy commute home from work one night ending in a crunch of guardrail and a blinding flash of light and broken glass. A heart attack in the workplace. A freak accident at home. The slow crush of cancer. Or, yes, a hail of bullets from a madman’s weapon.

The only real control we wield in this life is over our own hearts.

And I am asking myself hard questions about my heart today, about whether I’m willing and likely open it up to a friend in need, a child, a stranger in distress, my spouse, or even someone I really can’t stand…do I navigate my day with an eye towards drawing in the lost, the lonely, and the grieving? Do I make myself available to a meddling neighbor, a grieving co-worker, a struggling friend, even a distraught looking customer service rep? Are there things in my life that take precedence over the precious human souls whom I encounter every day, all day long? Even if only online or in Costco?

59 people lost their lives last night in Las Vegas, as the current tally stands, including the shooter himself. Each one of them met their Maker under the most tragic and unanticipated circumstances, their lives cut violently and senselessly short while tapping their feet along to live music and enjoying adult beverages and a temperate desert evening. I imagine each of their loved ones are running through the “what ifs” of the events leading up to the concert. What if he had missed his flight? What if she hadn’t gotten the time off school? What if I’d given her something besides concert tickets as a birthday present? What if I’d begged him to stay home?

Terrorism wants us to believe that the world is a dangerous, hostile, and unpredictable war zone. That none of us are safe, no matter where we go. That the end is near.

And the truth is, we are at war in this world that is not our home. And at any moment, death, that final enemy, may come for any one of us. It could be something as innocuous as choking on a piece of food or something as horrific as a rain of bullets from the sky, but all of us are going to die one day.

The real question I should have been pondering during Mass this morning was not “how far away is the nearest exit?” but “What is the state of my heart? Am I ready to meet Him?”

The answer to that question should be the only thing capable of terrorizing us.

Take a moment today to lift up the people of Las Vegas in your prayers. And spend a little time this evening performing an examination of your own conscience.

The greatest evil any of us can face is an eternity of separation from God. This vision towards eternity should be the motivation behind our actions, our words, the way we live our lives, and the way in which we love each other. Terrorism will be defeated not by force, by law, or by political evolution, but by conversion of hearts. One soul at a time, one time-consuming, eternally-conseqential personal encounter with God after another.

May God give us peace, not as this broken, sin-wearied world can give, but the peace He alone can deliver.  And may our eyes be lifted from our screens and the minutia of our own little daily dramas to truly see the people who we encounter, because, in the immortal words of C.S. Lewis,

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

Technology fades. Babies are born, college degrees are earned, companies are founded and fold. Terror campaigns rage and wars begin and end. But eternity is forever.

“And do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. Rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28

coffee clicks, Culture of Death, ditching my smartphone, feast days, infertility, liturgical living, Pornography, social media, technology

Coffee Clicks {September 29th}

September 29, 2017

Hey it’s Michaelmas. Which means you can totally get away with ordering chicken wings for dinner and calling yourself a liturgical boss. (Just don’t skip on the diablo hot sauce.)

This past week felt so heavy in the news. I mentioned on Facebook on Tuesday that I’ve started taking Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays completely off of all social media platforms, and it has been awesome. Super good for the head and the heart. And it has really catapulted my book-consumption rate through the roof. This past week I devoured one of my favorite blogger’s debut offerings, Anne Bogel’s “Reading People,” along with a book Dave passed on to me, “Beneath a Scarlet Sky” (depressing but well written with a shocker at the end; a rare glimpse of WWII told from an Italian perspective), two middling modern fiction/YA offerings “Holding up the universe” and “Forever, Interrupted,” and am halfway into both “Hidden Figures” and “Today Will Be Different.” (First one is good but very statistic-y. Second is meh. I liked “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” better, by the same author.

Suffice it to say, I get a lot of reading accomplished when I’m not numbing my brain with newsfeeds and the perpetual cycle of What Is Offensive This Week. Even if none of it was particularly deep or scholarly. It was all very Josef Pieper, truth be told.

I’m getting into that home stretch (that’s a stretch) of pregnancy where suddenly decaf isn’t cutting it in the morning, and an afternoon nap is looking more and more like a daily necessity. 27 weeks but who’s counting? If I hadn’t done this four times already, I’d swear there’s no way my belly could get any bigger. And the general public would tend to agree with that assessment. Just you wait till December, helpless passersby. Things are going to get real.

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While I spent a nice little chunk of time away from social media, I was still aware enough of the outside world to note the passing of cultural icon Hugh Hefner. Arguably the single greatest driving force behind the prolific spread of pornography, we should all take a moment to pray for the response of his soul. I said as much on Facebook and was a little shocked by some of the vitriolic responses from fellow Christians, who apparently missed the memo of Jesus praying to the Father “that none may be lost.” Also, color many people vv confused about Purgatory and the Spiritual Works of Mercy. I’ll have to write a whole piece on the big P one of these days. This examination of the legacy of Hefner is worth a read (and do offer a Hail Mary for his soul).

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Fr. James Martin. Sigh. So much ugly electronic ink spilled on both sides of the aisle lately. His prickly responses to perceived or actual criticism of his work make it hard to root for him, and, unlike other “controversial” churchmen like Chaput or Gomez, he seems particularly unwilling to dialogue with those who hold opposing viewpoints. This interview with a baptist theologian sums up the consequences of his theological understanding of homosexuality, according to his controversial book, “Building Bridges.”

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I actually burned out on HGTV after Luke’s pregnancy. By the end of my third trimester with him, I was spending hours each day, counting the gym + nightly soaks in the bathtub, consuming endless reruns of House Hunters (International and local, thankyouverymuch) and Fixer Upper, and it actually made real life house hunting really, really painful. Forget granite countertops and his and hers sinks; how about a foundation that isn’t failing, an intact roof, and a clean bill of mold free health? This piece hilariously (and a little bit disturbingly) sums up what is so addictive and so destructive about this particular genre of reality tv.

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My friend Emily Stimpson Chapman wrote a beautiful and hard and brutally-honest piece exploring her foray into the world of infertility. It’s actually the best thing I’ve ever read about the heartache of hearing “no” to the question of new life.

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Guys, I know it’s nearing the season of spookiness and all-things-creepy, but everyone knows that actually, um, dabbling in the demonic is utterly and irrevocably opposed to faith in Jesus Christ, right? Right? Okay, well just in case there is any residual confusion over the matter, give this a look, and remember that just because something seems innocuous or fun or even “worth it” in terms of risk taken, doesn’t make it so. Stay far, far away from the occult, from Satan, and from all his empty works and promises.

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This is what real power looks like. This woman’s story beggars belief and begs the question: “what grudges am I holding on to that I have been unwilling to release?” If she can forgive the infamous Dr. Mengele of Auschwitz, what in the (literal) hell is holding me back?

And on that mind blowing and uplifting note, I bid you the happiest weekend filled with restorative, leisurely activities and authentic worship. And many hours of consecutive, uninterrupted sleep.

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Learning to be provided for

September 27, 2017

I’m sitting in my new dining room as I write this, looking out a large bay window onto a quiet, early-autumn morning. If I’d been keeping track, the number of cars which have driven down our street in the 20 minutes I’ve been sitting here, it would probably add up to fewer than the fingers on one hand. We get more cat and dog traffic than auto traffic, which is dreamy.

It’s Wednesday so it’s a little-kids-only day at home. We’re not doing complicated STEM crafts or visiting the library; they’re watching a Wild Kratts marathon in their pajamas while I clean up from breakfast and make vague plans for the next 8 hours of life. Okay, maybe we’re all in our pajamas.

Facebook reminded me this morning that two years ago today we were pressed up against a barricade in the streets of Philadelphia, clutching a 6-week-old baby against our chests and then dangling him out enticingly like so much human sausage to be snatched up by the Pope’s personal motorcade guards and thrust into the air for a drive-by pontifical smooch.

I remember the exhilaration of the moment and locking eyes, ever so briefly, with the Holy Father as he rolled past our spot in the crowd and he laughed at me. Head thrown back, big south-American style belly laugh at the stricken and slightly hysterical expression on my face/noises I was making while my baby was passed back to me over the metal fencing.

It felt like a real gotcha moment from Heaven. A wink and a nod and a full-blown cackle over how easy it was – is – for God to gob smack us with things we neither deserve nor have any business hoping for, if we’re being honest with ourselves.

God has done that to me so many times (and I don’t just mean via Pope kisses, though that be true enough); He relishes in providing extravagantly and coming through in the clutch. But obsessed as I am by control, planning, and managing life down to the micro minutia, I miss it. All too often.

Right now we’re broke. House poor, they call it. Ridiculous to imagine we’re anything other than wildly, luxuriously wealthy in this house filled with clean clothes and running water and, yes, 3 entire toilets. But technically, based on assets-held and cash in the bank, we’re dancing perilous close to the red.

We knew it would be, buying again in this rip-roaring housing market, and we were not sorry to part with our hard-earned and long sought after down payment when we signed on the dotted line back in August, but the reality is, now we’re back to square one, so to speak, but with a roof over our heads and a bank willing to let us repay them oh-so-slowly for the privilege of calling it “ours.”

Normally this would make me nervous. And while I am not thrilled about the zeros in our checking account that remain stubbornly on the wrong side of the decimal point, I’m aware that it is consistently in these moments of apparent desolation that the Lord delights in coming through. Whether it’s with an unexpected freelance check, uniform pants in exactly the right size for a growing first grade weed, a freakishly-low electric bill for the month, or, yes, a quick smack on the cheek from the Vicar of Christ, our God is the master of “gotcha.”

The thing is, I’m a planner and a choleric and a first born and the right Meyer’s Brigg combo to get me lumped in with Mussolini, so I like to plan things. I like to be in charge. I feel powerful when I’m calling the shots.

But when I’m the boss, the miracle stream slows to an anemic trickle. Sure, I might get the dishes all done, the lunches all packed, the essay completely edited, the inbox cleared, and oh yeah, all the bathrooms scrubbed to perfection (bear with me, this is a dream sequence) but it is almost always, always, at the cost of my sanity and the peace in our home.

I had a wonderful encounter in the confessional this past weekend (after, ahem, taking my own words to heart and just getting in line) during which father gently reminded me not to chase perfection. Not to expect perfection. And as I sat there mentally rebuffing his suggestion with the Scripture passage about being perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect running in all caps across my brain (this gives you an idea of exactly how intensely neurotic I am, no?) he spoke the words aloud: “You know we are to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, yes? Well that perfection is in love. Not in productivity. Not in human achievement. Love.”

I lowered my reddening cheeks and conceded the point to the Holy Spirit. Nicely played, omniscient one.

That’s the thing about God. He already knows what we need, and He knows better than we do how to achieve it for us. But most of us moderns – and hyper-technological Westerners in particular, I’d wager – rarely give Him space to operate. Our days are so scripted and our risks are so carefully and calculatingly managed that it’s nearly impossible to experience His provision in a tangible way. I mean, does God provide the skills and means for my dentist to operate his practice and therefore to give me quality dental care? Well, sure. But it’s a little harder to keep that in mind when I’m paying using my debit card and the insurance our employer has provided through Dave’s compensation plan, driving there in the car we payed off and wearing shoes that fit that I bought at Target.

It’s easy to lose sight of God when it feels like we’re calling all the shots ourselves.

I think that’s why these seasons of scarcity have such a capacity to build faith and stretch us into the next level of trusting Him. I spent so many years floundering in anxiety during the leaner times, lying awake at night not in prayer but in paralyzing fear of the “what if?”

I don’t care to spend my nights that way any longer. And what a gift that I don’t have to, that I’ve been freed from the prison of anxiety with a new capacity for discomfort and expectant hope in Him. And sure, it’s a combination of the right meds, the fact that we’re snuggling in “our” house, no longer canvassing the entire metro area by minivan every afternoon between 2 and 5 pm, and a general chilling out in the frenetic pace of life as compared to the summer we just survived, but it’s also that I’m allowing myself to be vulnerable because I have little choice in the matter.

I’m more emotionally and physically vulnerable when I’m pregnant. And rather than fighting that, this time around, I’m choosing to embrace it. I’m more tired than I’ve ever been, because I’m older than I’ve ever been (which my doctor is fond of reminding whenever I raise another “is this normal?” question at appointments) and because my body has done this quite a few times in the past 7 years. I’m having to let standards slide (cough, cough, Netflix) and allow dishes to pile up in the sink while I lie down and close my eyes, knowing with perfect confidence that those dirty pans will still be there at 4 or 9 pm, and that the universe won’t stop spinning if I step off the ride for a little breather.

Even this little reflection, typed in a moment of quiet at a dirty breakfast table, could have come together in 30 minutes rather than 50 were it not for the sweet baby from that picture, now a loud, opinionated two-year-old, perching stickily in my lap and forcing me to reach awkwardly around his precariously balanced penguin-shaped bulk to type.

But every few minutes he turns around and yells “Mommy, I love you so much!” and if I weren’t willing to endure a few (or maybe more than a few) misplaced keystrokes and having a SUDDENLY AND MYSTERIOUSLY DAMP LAP, well, I might miss the gift.

And I don’t want to miss the gift. I don’t want to miss the provision because I think I know best, or because I insist on my own way. I’ve spent far too many years living that lie, and it’s time for something new.

Let Him show off. He almost certainly will. And if you’re anything like me, once you see it happen, you’ll be curious enough to let Him try again, even though you secretly doubt Him every single time.

Lucky for us He likes showing off.

Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, deliverance, Evangelization, prayer, spiritual warfare

I must confess: building a habit of the Sacrament of Reconciliation

September 21, 2017

When I was a Catholic kid growing up, like most Catholic kids I’ve ever known, I hated going to confession. I hated the sinking feeling in my stomach as I stood in line, palms sweating and heart speeding up as each penitent in line ahead of me disappeared behind the door with the red light overhead. I hated coming up with a list of things I was ashamed of and having to whisper them aloud to another human being, and I hated most of all knowing that Fr. Bob could probably tell just by my voice exactly who I was.

In short, I had a very human (and very typical) understanding of confession. That it was a painful, inescapable, and necessary (but why?) part of being Catholic, and I just had to soldier through it.

I think a lot of people stay in that place of understanding their whole lives. I think that’s why in a recently-released CARA study, data indicated that only around 2% of actively practicing Catholics go to confession at least once a month.

(An aside: the Church only requires us by canon law to confess our grave sins at least once a year. But, like dental hygiene and aerobic exercise, this is definitely one of those “more is more” situations).

When I was a senior in college, freshly transferred to Franciscan University of Steubenville, one of the most striking realizations I had during my first few weeks on campus was how into the sacrament of reconciliation everyone was. Daily Mass was one thing, but to see lines of college students 30, 40, 50 deep, wrapping around the back of the church not only on Saturday afternoons but during every single Mass on campus, seven days a week…that was something else. What was the deal with these kids? Were they struggling that intensely with some habitual sin that merited returning over and over and over again for fresh absolution and more grace?

As it turns out, yes.

But also, no.

Yes, they were in need of more grace, of more frequent absolution, and of greater accountability from their spiritual directors and priests. But it was precisely because they were growing in holiness that the hunger – and the need – for this beautiful sacrament of healing was that much more acute.

To borrow an analogy from the sporting world, as Michael Phelps or Philip Rivers or any other pro athlete increases in ability and performance, so too does awareness of the need arise to log more hours in the pool, to spend more hours watching film.

As God increases His activity in a soul, the sensitivity level rises, so to speak. St. John Paul II made a habit of weekly confessions during his papacy. I remember reading that sometime in my twenties and being like, um, what? WHAT? What could he possibly be getting into that necessitated 4 trips a month while I was getting by with Advent and Lent?

Holiness, it turns out.

Intimacy with the Father, bred through familiarity and a desire to conform oneself more and more closely to the heart of Jesus.

As I began to study about the sacraments on an intellectual level during my classes, (thanks, Dr. Hahn) the reality of the gift I was in possession of by nature of my baptism began to unveil itself to me on a heart level. I found myself wanting to go to Mass more than only on Sundays, not because I had to, but because I felt drawn to the Eucharist by familiarizing myself more and more with Jesus’ presence there. I was attracted to late-night Holy Hours and trips to the Port, not out of guilt or shame but because I was falling in love.

And while I’m no longer in a state of life where I can keep a weekly 2 am Eucharistic rendezvous in a shady adoration chapel downtown (Holla at me St. Pete’s) I can still avail myself frequently of the powerful, healing Sacrament of Reconciliation just by hopping in line on any given Sunday at my parish. (5 priests on staff and confessions before and after every Mass, 7 days a week. I know – we’re insanely fortunate.)

I’ve come to understand that confession is actually less about what I’m doing wrong and more about what God wants to make right in my heart. That bringing my sins into the light of His mercy and refusing to hide behind my own pride – masked as shame, but pride nonetheless – is the bravest thing I can do.

And oh, yeah, while it’s not for everyone, I stopped worrying about whether Father was going to figure me out from behind the screen and started plopping down in the chair right across from him. Half the time I have a squirming baby or toddler on hand, anyway, so what’s the point of keeping up the pretense? He’s heard it all, I’ve confessed the same sins so many times as to be, frankly, bored by them myself, and it’s a good dose of humility for me, to boot. Face-to-face might not be everybody’s jam, but it’s definitely my cup of tea now.

Father isn’t there to judge my heart or my actions on a human level, anyway. In the same way his hands elevate the consecrated host during the Eucharistic prayer, becoming the hands of alter Christus “another Christ,” he embodies the priestly person of Jesus once again in the sacrament of reconciliation.

It’s not magic, but it is mystical. And it’s just another part of our faith that defies explanation. Confess your sins to a priest? How absurd. 

Yep, kinda like resurrecting from the dead. A virgin birth. Tongues of fire descending from heaven. Seas parting. Dead men sitting up and hopping out of bed.

Turns out there are plenty of things to choose from if we’re going to chat aspects of Christianity that beggar belief. We moderns just have some we more readily assent to than others.

A final thought and some practical notes on confession: sometimes it doesn’t feel good. Sometimes it feels really mechanized and routine and not at all mystical or transformative. Most of the time, I’d say. It feels about like it feels to fulfill your Sunday obligation and make it through Mass with a writhing lap-octopus whining a sustained C-minor into your ear for 60 minutes straight.

And that’s okay. I’m sure Michael Phelps has plenty of bad workouts and disappointing races. They, too, are necessary components of a larger training program and necessary building blocks in the larger puzzle of his elite-level success, same as the gold medals.

We should do hard things, even if they don’t feel good. We should humble ourselves before the Lord, allowing Him to show us mercy even when we least merit it, and take the chance of being surprised by joy when we least expect it.

I find it helpful to jot down some habitual sins or present struggles in my daily planner/journal/scraps of Target receipts I find in my purse. There’s no shame in bringing a list to the grocery store or into the confessional. And if you think it feels good to cross “cleaning toilets” off your to-do list, imagine how good it feels to drill a fat, black line through “gossiped about mom” or “swore angrily 4 times at that jackrabbit who cut me off on the freeway”.

Real good, I’m telling you.

Let’s make it to confession twice before the year is out. It’s late September, but that seems a reasonable target to hit in the next 14 weeks or so.

Sometimes it’s what God wants to do for us that matters far more than what we are asking for ourselves.

St. Padre Pio, St. John Paul II, St. Faustina, St. John Vianney, and all you other saints who made frequent recourse to the great Sacrament of Healing, pray for us!

*Updated to add: Dear Fathers, pastors of souls, if you are reading this, please accept my deepest gratitude for your sacramental ministry. Thank you for bringing us Jesus. I have heard stories of many of you who sit week after week in an empty confessional on Saturday with nary a penitent in sight. I have also heard from countless parishioners the world over how logistically difficult it is to get to confession, how little they’ve heard it preached about, how inaccessible their current parish model is. Would you consider in your insanely busy, sacrificial schedules, carving out an additional hour or two a week, perhaps on a Wednesday or Thursday night, and letting your flock know the light will be on? Would you consider sloughing off some lesser but organizationally pressing need to an admin or business manager, in order to make this logistically feasible for *you*?

I know it’s a lot to ask and our priests are so busy, but we need the graces of this sacrament so desperately. And I’ve seen it happen in my own parish in real time: if you build it, they will come.

So, if I may be so bold as to implore you: pick a night, open the box, preach it on Sunday from the pulpit, and invoke St. John Vianney as your patron of this new effort towards the holiness of your parish and your parishioners.