coffee clicks

Coffee Clicks: August

August 3, 2018

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

I can do better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When deferred maintenance hits the fan

August 1, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am horrified as a mother.

I am horrified as a mother of sons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 25, 2018

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

Progress, eh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 24, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For now, feast your eyes on the improvement:

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

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

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

July 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

Fair enough, passing pedestrian. Fair enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calling on heaven – the feast of St. Zelie Martin

July 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so it was.

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

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

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

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

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

Talk about having connections.

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

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

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

St. Zelie Martin, pray for us.

large family, motherhood, Parenting, toddlers

Leaving baby land

July 11, 2018

I just had a 5 minute conversation with my seven year old where I used words like “extroversion, introversion, resources, and primary vocation. He blinked his understanding to me and I really felt like we were having a moment, a real meeting of the minds.

I asked him if he understood what we’d just covered, and he nodded. Then I asked if he had any questions.

“Yeah. Uh, Mommy” he began, hesitantly. “Can I go put some pants on now?”

I’m in a weird in between place right now with family life. Everyone is still heavily dependent upon Dave and I for almost all their basic needs, but there are also glimpses of a shifting landscape. Just now, the child I was conversing with wandered off to find pants and, finding none, ran a load of damp laundry through the dryer of his own volition.

Folks, that’s what we call a paradigm shift. Also in this category: baby sleeping through the night, school aged kids who are able to empty the dishwasher, a preschooler who no longer needs intensive bathtime supervision, and sufficient energy (or desperation) to rise early from sleep and steal an hour for prayer and exercise before the kids are up.

I’m having these moments I can only describe as existential lurch”- where I have the distinct feeling I should be doing something and I’m not really sure what that something is. I look around and yes, the floor needs to be mopped and I really should finish those school forms and that project isn’t going to write itself, and also, why is it so hard to remember to fill up the gas tank before the empty light goes on? It’s weird to come out of survival mode and to look around and wonder “do I still know how to be a functional adult?” after so many concurrent years of night wakings and mopping up barf.

We are by no means out of the baby years, as the current stakeholder baby in thaet positionfamily is only 6 months on the job, but it’s a totally different landscape to have an almost 8-year-old and a 6 -year-old along for the ride. The 2-year-old is mentally unbalanced, and I say that with the utmost charity, truly, but last month I opened the bathroom door and started screaming, finding him perched (naked) on the countertop, drinking water directly from an older brother’s dirty soccer cleat as water from the still-running facet flowed over the basin, spilling onto the floor.

But, you’re probably thinking, this kid is feral and unsupervised and it serves you right, you neglectful social media peruser.

Nay, I say to you, I was standing just outside the doorway at the kitchen counter, chopping vegetables for a healthy dinner, audibly supervising what I had reason to believe was a valiant toileting effort in progress.

You should see some of the stuff he does when he’s actually unsupervised.

But even with crazy Luke, even with little teeny baby Zay, life is still a little… easier? Less physically grueling? than it was a baby or two ago, thanks to the maturity of my older kids.

At the same time, I now lie awake at night pondering the day’s events and agonizing over my mistakes and shortcomings. I feel very much out of my depth to parent a kid with a conscience, and, just like breastfeeding was agonizingly difficult the first time around, so is trying to explain the existence of evil, or what is really happening at Mass and why it’s necessary for us to go every week, and how come the neighbor kid can’t actually move in with us, and where money comes from, and why cemeteries exist, and why you can’t use Siri without mommy and daddy’s supervision, and, and, and…

I’m going to be honest, I’m terrified to leave babyland.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m exhausted. I’m more than ready to drop the 40 lbs I can’t seem to shake after this 5th pregnancy. And boy oh boy, am I ready to sleep (consistently) through the night again, but, control freak that I am, parenting older kids scares the hell out of me.

What if I mess up and they (insert trauma here)? Spoiler alert: I will. I have. I am. And they might, and they could, and they are.

I know this on an intellectual level and I always have, but it’s easy to look down at a trusting little baby or even a mischievous little 4-year-old and think “You’re never going anywhere. I’ll always be able to hold you in my lap and keep you safe.”

I think this may be what all those older moms in the checkout line are getting at when they wistfully or ironically assure me that it all goes by so fast.

It does, and it doesn’t.

I’m crawling along to mile marker 5 of the marathon of parenting and I’m recognizing I have years ahead of me, some of them grueling, but I’m also looking back and seeing the ground we’ve already covered and sort of pining for it, retrospectively. This current season, too, will surely be one I long for in the years to come. Zelie could be our last baby, for all I know.

The frontier we’re crossing into is uncharted territory for us. These are years my kids will remember. These are experiences and lessons that will shape their personalities and mold their characters.

I am not up for the task.

I am inadequate.

And no amount of reading or research or application of guaranteed magical techniques can ensure a good outcome.

Then again, neither did any of the one million baby books I consumed like manna from heaven. If only oh crap 3 day potty training had delivered as promised. If only having the happiest baby on our block had more to do with my mothering prowess and less to do with dumb luck and genetics.

I want an instruction manual. I want the promise of perfection and a guarantee of success. I don’t want to parent kids to adulthood in this scary, crazy world full of suffering and violence and chaos. I want heaven now. I want the resurrection without the cross. I want victory without death. I want God to speak directly to me and to be able to hear Him, crystal clear, and to be able to follow His suggestions effortlessly and without hesitation.

I don’t know that I’m up for this next level of motherhood. And I have five kids who won’t stop eating and outgrowing their shoes and so level up I must, somehow.

This is the part where I tie it all together with an uplifting or inspirational realization. Except, I don’t have anything to offer. That is what it feels like at the end of another long, hot day of summer parenting. They all wore sunscreen and they ate a couple vegetables, but in the grand scheme of things, I tend to feel like I’m failing them a little bit every day, one day at a time.

I guess that’s the lesson? I guess parenting, like life, is the sort of gig that humbles you as you go along, and instead of progressing in acumen and technique you become ever more convinced of your inadequacy and suspect that it might one day become apparent to everyone around you that you are, in fact, making it up as you go along.

Younger moms, you are in the most grueling and physically intense thick of it right now. I always tell people who express wonder at being able to handle more than two that however many kids you have, you are maxed out. Full stop. There is nothing harder than having as many kids as you have right now. And when you’re knee deep in the baby trenches and literally can’t remember taking a shower by yourself, you think this is your life now, forever. And that it will never get any easier.

It will not be easier. But it will be different. That’s the scary part, for me. Stepping out into the unknown and wondering if the gps is offline, and can I really do this part? The baby part you just have to do. They are crying and fussing and depending utterly and you have no choice.

It feels like this part of parenting has more agency, more heft to it, besides the glaring and obvious burden of, you know, keeping a helpless human being alive and fed.

My kids can forage for granola bars and fill their own water bottles now, but they cannot shape their own hearts. And I look around and realize, with a start, that they’re all looking to me. And it feels crazy! Isn’t there a grown up somewhere who is running this show?

Permanently 17 on the inside, I’m telling you! But I fake a smile and put some more hot dogs in the microwave and pray that grace will cover my multitude of sins.

Living Humanae Vitae

The Weight of Motherhood {Living Humane Vitae part 7}

July 9, 2018

For one of the last entries in the Living Humanae Vitae series, I wanted to share something from a contributor that has more of a reflective feel to it. We’ve heard from more than half a dozen brave women over the past several months, some of whom felt comfortable sharing their stories only under the condition of anonymity, and others who were happy to be “outed” about their culturally subversive sexual practices. Some of the stories were filled with suffering and struggle, and some were marked by a peace born of surrender and experience. What they all share in common is a fidelity to the Catholic Church and all Her teachings on human love and marriage, and the humility to share a part of their journeys with you all.

I hope that for my non Catholic readers, these pieces have been informative and have answered some questions you might not have known that you had!

For my Catholic readers, I hope they have been challenging, encouraging, and convicting. If you’ve struggled and fallen short in this area (raises hand) or you think yours is a hopeless case and that the only answer is to walk away from Jesus’ Church, think again.

Get to confession. Bring your spouse with you, if they’re Catholic. Have your marriage blessed if you were married outside of the Church. Look into having your vasectomy reversed, or, if your sterilization was permanent, consider asking a trusted spiritual advisor for some direction. I have heard from sterilized couples who practice periodic abstinence in their relationship as a penance, even years later.

My point is, it is never too late and no case is “too far gone” for God. And there is a reason your story unfolded the way it did – nothing is outside His plan.

There is nothing that He cannot redeem, and nothing that He does not long to redeem for us.

Never forget that the rules and regulations that God asks us to live by – the morals and matters of faith which govern our lives – are not the prison fence surrounding incarcerated inmates, but the protective walls of a playground, encircling beloved children whose Father wants the very best for them.

God loves you, and He made you the way He did for a reason. He wants you to be happy, too, believe it or not. We have such a warped and puritanical view of God in this country (and I speak here as an American) that we too often relate to Him more like a forbidding judge or a vengeful superpower than a doting Father who literally died for love of us.

God did not make “rules” regarding our sexuality in order to thwart our freedom or limit our pleasure; God designed us and knows exactly what we need to fulfill us on the deepest level.

We might desire comfort, but we were not made for comfort, to paraphrase Pope Benedict XVI, we were made for greatness.

I hope you were able to see a glimpse of that in some of the stories you’ve read here. And I’m happy to report that I’m working on a larger project along these lines that I look forward to being able to share with you in the not too distant (fingers crossed) future.

There is a fact of my life that I have come to know well in the last twelve years.

It is a fact that I love and that some days I hate.

It is a fact that delights me with its great glory and one that scares me; one that fills me with one of the greatest gifts in the universe and yet strips me bare, laying me open, vulnerable to the elements of the unknown.

As a married woman, blessed with fertility and striving to live the fullness of Catholic faith and teaching, this fact is my biological ability to conceive and bear children.

This is my great blessing and my deepest hardship, a reality wherein lies my power and my inadequacy.  

The great calling of women to motherhood, this mandate to all of us of “openness to life,” is the Story, the mystery of my life, month in and month out, for as long as I shall hold within my body the ability to grow a child.  This mystery is one which I do not understand. I do not understand the power, I do not understand the responsibility, I do not understand the cross.  

But I understand that I am living a Story, a Calling, that is beyond me and my small needs or wishes.   It is ultimately the Story of the building of the Kingdom of God.

A story about growth and love beyond what I thought I could imagine.

A story about loving so much and dreading so much.

A story about awesome, unbelievable responsibility and awful, frightful inability.

A story about late-night tears, breathless prayers and trying, trying, trying to trust.

A story is about vulnerability to a different outcome, one that seems too hard, or too messy or too embarrassing.

The story is about the promise and also the threat of eternity always before my eyes.

The story is about the greatest moments of a human life being given to me . . . me!

I know there is glory in this gift of fertility.  But there is also trial in the eternal weight of all of that glory.

Whether I am pregnant, whether I am in a postpartum phase, whether I am asking and trying for a new child to join our family, whether I am actively working, praying and participating with God on a plan for my family that involves postponement of pregnancy through the use of NFP, this is my life.  I am, at all times, not in control (even if I think that I am). I am not in control of my body. As a woman, I have the capacity, more than most men ever can, of quite literally giving over my very body in carrying out the plan of God.

Of God.

Not of me.

The plan of my life, as is shown to me every day of the month, is in the hands of Someone Else.

And every fertile month this story is played out.  Every month goes by in terms of another child or not, another soul or not, the next step in the plan of God.  The month of a fertile, married, Catholic mother literally is defined by the needs a child — the one being carried within, nursed without, the one tried for.  There can be the need to avoid one, and the needs of the ones that surround her.

This very fact of my life is one that I find, many days, exhausting and testing.  Exhausted in my prayers, my thoughts, and my hopes. Testing my trust, my patience, and my stamina. So many days, I think, how can I do this? Why must I be entrusted with such weighty decisions, ones with eternal ramifications? Why are there so many months of fertility?

But sometimes I catch my breath in a moment — when I feel a baby move for the first time inside of me, when my children overwhelm me with their preciousness, when I think of what I will miss so much in later years — and then I am so grateful for this gift of fertility. I am grateful in a weak, incomplete human way that I could never express in words.

What did I ever do to deserve the honor of living out this blessed story?

Thank you, my Lord, for letting me be a woman.

Family Life, Parenting, siblings

Mommy time, daddy time, and “dating” your kids

July 5, 2018

One morning when our oldest, Joey, was around 4 years old, I was walking out the door for a meeting or a couple hours’ work at a coffee shop, leaving him and his then two younger siblings with a mother’s helper. I heard a bang as the screen swung open behind me and heard a loud sniffling. I turned back to see my normally stoic firstborn crying in the doorway: “Mommy, I just want to beeeee with you.”

He loved his babysitter, and it was only a couple hours a week that I was away from them at all, but he was sensitive to the fact that I was not giving him much quality time at that point.

And I couldn’t, to be honest. I was newly pregnant with baby number four, still working full time-ish, and we had just begun hustling in earnest to save for a down payment for our first house. If we did spend much one on one time with each kid during that season, it was probably a quick bedtime story, a diaper change, or a snuggle before lights out. And that was fine, because it was appropriate for the season we were in!

That being said, even with – perhaps especially with – a larger than average family, it is important to me that each of our kids feel individually known and loved by us. To that end, we’ve started to block out intentional, specific chunks of time each week to spend a few minutes one on one with our older kids, and we’re already starting to see returns on the investment in alone time. Our kids call it “mommy time” and “daddy time,” and I call it taking them on dates, at least in my head.

This morning, for example, I took Joey with me to run an errand and on the way back we stopped at Starbucks to go inside rather than hitting the drive through (big thrill for him) and I got him a $3 breakfast sandwich. He felt like the king of the world retrieving his very own order from the bar, and for about $6 we made a sweet little memory together.

I joke with Dave that we’ve been parenting on defense only for about the past five years, but now that our oldest is approaching eight, we’re starting to feel like we have a little bit – like maybe a couple inches – of breathing room, and so we’ve been trying to do things a little more proactively. (N.B: our youngest is only 6 months, but she’s bottle fed and that has made a world of difference for me in terms of returning to stability postpartum. Usually by 6 months out I’m still feeling pretty touched and tapped out, but with Zelie being a fabulous sleeper and anybody with two thumbs being able to serve her a meal, the return to “the new normal” has been a little more swift).

Growing up in a family of nine, it sometimes felt like there was always another person around. Because, um, there was always another person around.

But! My parents were really great about usually grabbing a kid or two to run an errand, make a grocery trip, or (and this was the holy grail) hit up McDonald’s early on a Saturday morning for hashbrowns with Dad. I remember sneaking downstairs at 7 am and seeing him slipping out the door and running to catch up. I think the unofficial rule was if you were up, you could come. Sometimes it would be just you and dad, and that was always a huge (cheap) thrill.

Several of my kids have, unfortunately, inherited the early riser gene and have begun to beg to accompany me on a morning walk before Dave leaves for the office. Some days I know that I desperately need the alone time to prepare for the day ahead, but other days I’m able to green light them for a little mommy time. It is always so bittersweet to see how happy it makes them, because I know they’re longing for more time with me and also that sometime in the not-so-distant future they’re going to stop asking. So I try to say yes.

My hope is that with every stop at Target and run through the car wash, we’re laying down another layer in the foundation of our relationship. I don’t want to be my kids’ best friend; but I do want to be the biggest influence in their lives. I want them to come to me with big things someday, having become accustomed to running to me with small things.

And so I’ll feign – or is it cultivate? – interest in Pokemon cards and Lego Star Wars and imaginary cat tea parties with the hope that many little yeses during the adoring little years will add up to greater harmony in the adolescent years. I figure if I’m letting them hang out with me now when I’m the coolest person in the universe to them, perhaps they’ll return the favor when the tables are turned in the next five years or so.

Some other easy (and cheap!) date ideas:

  • Grocery story buddy: helps grab each item off the shelf, holds open produce bags, selects bananas, pays cashier, etc. Hard and fast rule with this one is you get to ask for one “special” item, like a box of granola bars or a Gatorade or a piece of weird fruit, and that’s it. Habitual begging will get you sidelined from grocery-buddy duty.
  • Starbucks date. We have one walking distance from our house, and the bigger kids love to walk the ½ mile there and back with me.
  • Hardware shop run with daddy. He’s so fun that he even lets them build the craft if they’re there at the right time on a Saturday morning.
  • Adoration. I like to stop by our parish’s perpetual adoration chapel for even a five minute visit, depending on how many kids I have with me. If I only have one and it’s an older (read: quieter) child, we’ll stay a little longer, maybe as long as 15 minutes. The more often I do this, the better the kids respond to it.
  • Ice cream run. Self-explanatory. My kids had their first Dairy Queen dipped cones last week when we hit a record high of 105 degrees, and they were on cloud nine.
  • PetSmart. My kids loooove to look at animals I will never buy them, and it’s cheaper than the zoo. Sometimes we might pick up a small cat treat for the single pet we do own.
  • A neighborhood walk where we distribute “kindness rocks”. We found one on a stroll one day and the kids were instantly enamored. It’s just a smooth, flat rock that is either painted or colored with crayons with a kind word or message. My kids like to draw emojis or write Scripture verses on their rocks and then leave them at the base of mailboxes throughout the neighborhood, which is very 2018 of them.
  • Letting one kid stay up late for a special date night with mommy. I usually do this if Dave has a late night at work or an event that keeps him out. I’ll pull a kid after bedtime (never before. #lessonlearned) and we’ll creep downstairs for hot chocolate or a nail-painting session while everyone else is (allegedly) sleeping.

Some other suggestions I’ve come across and haven’t tried yet include running/swimming/playing tennis with an older kid (I think this will become especially valuable with my boys as they age and are no longer interested in dating their mother at a coffee shop); writing a “conversation journal” back and forth – some friends with daughters have started to do this and are seeing great fruit in their relationships with their tween and preteen daughters; going to Daily Mass alone with just one kid; grabbing someone at lunchtime for a fast food run for a surprise break from the school day, or even a whole weekend or night away with one kid for a special family tradition once they turn a certain age.

What are some things you do with your kids to foster one on one time? Did your parents do this with you? Do you have logistical suggestions for how to make it work with a bigger family? I’d love to hear.

Budget hack: a kid’s hot chocolate split into 2 cups comes out to about .$75/kid, and is plenty of sugar.

 

Uncategorized

The confounding joy of being Catholic

June 28, 2018

I’ve been spending some time reading through the “Instrumentum Laboris”, the working document for the Vatican’s upcoming Synod on Youth to be held in Rome in October. (A synod is a gathering of Catholic bishops from around the globe who come together with the Holy Father to discuss and debate on a chosen topic. It has become customary to release a working document prior to the gathering that outlines some of what they’ll be working on and talking about.) This particular document isn’t a terribly uplifting read, but it is helpful and eye opening, especially for anyone who is in ministry, to form a clear understanding of the present moment.

First and foremost, the Church has an image problem. A massive PR problem, honestly. And it deals largely with Her members. This line, among the many, stood out to me with utter clarity: Young people are attracted to the joy which should be a hallmark of our faith.(pt. 7, paragraph 2)

Are you a joyful Christian? When people find out that you’re Catholic, are they shocked because you seem so fun and so…normal?

Do they widen their eyes in surprise because they didn’t realize that someone could profess a sincere and orthodox faith and also drink wine/smoke cigars/run marathons/attend concerts/work with the homeless/throw great parties/produce incredible art?

I remember when I started my first semester at Steubenville as a very jaded party girl transferring in from a state university, I was shocked when I discovered not only was there a vibrant (perhaps occasionally too vibrant) off campus party scene, but that the parties were more fun than the wildest ragers I’d attended in Boulder.

A lot more fun, now that I think of it. People were drinking beer and playing guitar and flirting and even (gasp) smoking the occasional cigarette and they were genuinely enjoying their lives and the company of their friends.

Typically, at least in our circle, nobody got drunk enough to throw up or lose control of their faculties (of course there’s always an exception, Franciscan is not some shining city on a hill where nobody sins), and more often than not, a party might end with praise and worship music around a bonfire, a robust discussion of Thomistic philosophy at 1am, or somebody ducking out before midnight because they had a Holy Hour they’d committed to.

It was really weird.

Imagine my surprise when I realized life could not only still be “fun,”but that life was, in fact, better with Christ.

When I realized that I could live without throwing an artificial barrier up between my “religion” and my “real life” and that, in fact, it was actually pretty hypocritical to do so, it was immensely freeing.

I have never stopped relishing in that freedom.

Finding a community of joyful and like minded Catholics has proven absolutely essential to growing in and nurturing that freedom.

I first found “my people” during my time at Franciscan. And I’ve found my people over and over again since then. Some of us served as FOCUS missionaries, some of us went to grad school and studied theology, some of us work for the Church in some capacity, some of us graduated from a completely secular university and found Jesus after college, some of us were strong enough to keep hold of His hand all throughout…but the unifying factor in our friendship is the pursuit of holiness through living in fidelity to the Catholic Church. We are artists, businessmen, nurses, engineers, stay at home moms, home educators, public school teachers, and work from home moms. There is no one size fits all to our makeup, beyond Christ.

The joy that unites us is, I hope, authentic and approachable and always, always welcoming to outsiders.

There is not much point in grimly gritting your teeth and trudging through the Christian life resentful of the perceived shackles of the Church’s view of morality and human nature. Either reject it outright, or embrace it to the full and believe that God knew what He was doing when He laid down the (natural) law, and pick yourself up and get to Confession when you do fall short again (and again).

I think often of the GK Chesterton quote that “the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been f0und difficult, and left untried.”

I think there are plenty of young people who think they know what Catholicism is all about, or at least have a pretty good idea of it, either from their own upbringing, a lackluster experience in a lukewarm Catholic school, or a grumpy, aging relative who doesn’t like the way they dress.

They hear “Catholic” and their brains automatically jump to the “shalt nots” rather than to the joyful “fiats.” So instead of Mother Teresa’s joyful smile and fruitful mission springing to mind, they go directly to all the things that popular culture tells them the Church finds Herself on “the wrong side of history” from.

How powerful if you could turn that tide for someone.

How incredible if you and your family, if you have one, could single handedly help rewrite someone’s script of what it looks like to be Catholic.

There was another line from the document that stuck with me, and I’ll paraphrase, but it’s that the Church is not merely an institution or a building, but is people.

When non-Catholics and even non-practicing Catholics think of “the Church” they aren’t usually thinking of “the Vatican” or even “the Pope”…they’re thinking of Mrs. so-and-so who taught 4th grade religion, or of that one bad priest they ran across in their youth, or maybe even of an estranged family member.

As individual members of the body of Christ, we have profound power (and a grave responsibility) to transmit the joy of the Gospel to the people in our lives. And not just those with whom we share a pew on Sundays. With our atheist baristas, our gay neighbors, our Protestant mail carriers and our Jewish pediatricians. With our ex-Catholic orthodontist and our nothing-specific business contact.

There should be no sphere of life that is “safe” from your Catholicism.

That illusion of faith belonging to a specific and finite aspect of your life has done more harm than good in our rapidly-secularizing culture.

The more that Christians retreat in reticent and so-called politeness, shying away from bringing their relationship with Christ into every aspect of their daily lives, the darker and less humane our world becomes. It is up to us to bring that transcendent joy into our offices, our driveways, and yes, our happy hour meet ups.

Let your joy be cause for someone else’s head scratching. Lead with joy. See what follows.

Pope Francis’ seminary yearbook/mugshot. Everyone’s got that one pic …