Wednesday, November 11, 2015

On the Disappearance of Joy & the Weight of Guilt

This usually full of opinions, loudmouth on screen has been unusually quiet as of late. It's been almost a month since my last post in fact. My apologies. While it is not unusual for the blog to go silent occasionally, this time around it has not been due to my terrible abilities to keep a journal going that dates as far back as the sixth grade. Dear Diary and I did not have a steady relationship, but we have overcome our differences. 

For those who have been following along on Facebook or Instagram, I have had a very rough first trimester. Beyond the physical toll of nausea and fatigue, this pregnancy has led me into a battle with some deeper emotional and spiritual demons. I haven't been able to pray - really pray - and while I'm not sure we could classify it as clinical depression, there have definitely been some very dark emotions clouding my senses. 

It is sadly not the tortured artist kind of battling of demons. There is nothing creative that has come out of those moments. I am so thankful for the prayers of those who have been holding me up through this time. There is no doubt that that God has been working through them to lift me up and out for air - whether a card or a text sent at just the right time, an encouraging word about my writing or art, or just a hello from an old friend. 

The only thing I can liken these last few weeks to is what it must have felt like to be tortured by dementors (of Harry Potter fame). It is as though any joy, any ability to feel, has been sucked out of me. While I am keenly aware of postpartum depression and its destructive forces, I've never experienced the effects on the antepartum side of things. I say the following with this caveat - we are happy to be having another child, even if we weren't quite expecting it. And yet...I cannot rejoice. It simply hasn't been in me. Instead, the voice of the enemy keeps screaming in the darkest places.

I am fairly certain that I am failing at all things motherhood and wifely. 
The house is a disaster.
I rarely cook homemade meals anymore.
I'm barely functional during the day and pretty much out of commission after dinner.
There is no desire for writing or creating - it seems pointless.
I have no desire to hold a conversation with most people. 
In fact, I'd rather just hole up somewhere and crawl under a blanket and thank you to leave me alone.
In the darkest moments, I am fairly certain that I am a waste of space.

As I spiral downward into these dark places, I am so thankful that over the last several years I have internalized the voice of the One who tells me the Truth about who I am. While the joy doesn't return, there is the knowledge that the above are all lies. All of it. Well, most of it. The house is a disaster and I rarely cook. I am barely functional. Ok, I know that last part about being a waste of space - I know that isn't true. In fact, I have a feeling this child will be another very important piece of my salvation story. Darkness doesn't fight when it's not threatened, right?

And still, when I remember that all of those feelings are lies, the guilt creeps in.
Guilt for not rejoicing over this new little life with all my heart when there are so many whose hearts continue to break under the weight of loss and infertility. 
Guilt for having thought we were done having children and being okay with that - good Catholics don't do that, right? 
Guilt for closing myself off to others so I can lick my own wounds (not literally, of course). 
Guilt over not being present enough when I am at home.
Guilt over not giving completely of myself when I am at work.
Guilt over having to work, but also over wanting to be home more.
Guilt for dreaming about future endeavors that aren't centered around my children.
Guilt for all the extra things the husband has had to do because I'm not functioning.
So much the weight of guilt.

The darkness of disappearing joy. The crushing weight of guilt. This is not the picture painted when you hear about motherhood and pregnancy. These are supposed to be months of joyous anticipation. What happens when those expectations don't materialize? More guilt. More darkness. More self-imposed isolation. Then there is the pressure of the public face. When people know you, and you are a live-out-loud Catholic, there is no room for doubt and darkness. Being open to life must be all joy all the time. It is exhausting.

I finally researched antepartum depression because I know what I am feeling isn't the same as my last two pregnancies, no matter how much the Hubs thinks it is. While the fatigue and nausea are a constant, the emotional turmoil is very different. In reading different articles and trying to assess whether this is just hormonal or something more serious, I realized that part of what I needed to do was to stop putting on a public face. Yes, I am a live-out-loud Catholic. Yes, I will happily accept the little lives God grants me. But. . . yes, there are struggles along the road to that acceptance.

I realized that I never admitted to myself that I really thought we were done having children. I've talked about my mixed emotions at finding out about our newest little one, but there was a great release when I finally today admitted that there was a large part of me that did not want to be pregnant again. Yet, I cannot wait to meet this little bundle of love. 

I've realized that I need to be more open about what I am feeling with my husband, my friends, and my doctor. So far, no one seems to think this is anything more than hormonal, and that is a little frustrating. I want to be sure we are watching for something deeper since this feels so much different. 

I am coming to realize that I also have to let go of the guilt and just muddle through this time as best as I can. No, I won't get it all right. Yes, I'm going to drop the ball on more than a few things most likely. I'll have to rely on the grace and forgiveness of friends and family. My hope is that we will all survive despite the failures. 

Finally, but most importantly, I have to keep my eye on Christ. One of my favorite things about Catholicism is that we have a whole army of warriors to help me through this, and a treasury of prayers that I can turn to when the prayer of my heart doesn't want to flow. The Sacraments feed my spirit when I feel distant from anything else. I am not alone in this battle, even when I forget to, or cannot, pray. I know I have a community lifting me up to the One who will pray through me and for me. 

Please don't think I write this post for sympathy or pity. Partially, it is an apology for not having kept up with the writing, and for dropping the ball if I had promised you a post on something. Partially, it is an invitation to a conversation about dropping the facade of perfection and being open about our struggles to live out our faith, even in moments that are supposed to be easy and happy. It is so hard as a faithful Catholic to admit the failures of our hearts and spirits as we do the work of accepting the will of God in our lives. 

Know that you are not alone. Know that you are loved. Know that there is no shame in admitting the struggle. The battle is real, and we cannot fight it alone. When my joy disappears, when my guilt begins to crush me, it is you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, whose prayers and love bring light back into my life. There is no shame, only love. 

Until next time, let's lift one another up out of darkness and into the light of Christ's love.


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Monday, October 12, 2015

The Diary of Captain Obvious: Why This Pregnancy Is Different

The husband and I did the math last night as I was slowly walking up the stairs. There will be almost four years between Jude and the Sweet Pea. Four years since I have gone down this path. Four years since I have nursed, done night feedings, recovered from the wounds of pregnancy. Four years.

Truth be told, because it has been so long between pregnancies, we kind of thought we were done. Let me explain. We were never done being open to another child or children. We just thought that perhaps God’s plan for our family had seen its fruition. That was a long time of being open with no babies to show for it. Call it secondary infertility. Call it exhaustion. Call it what you will. We were neither happy nor sad about it. While we talked about wanting a large family before being married, we were more committed to whatever size family God was leading us to have. Plus, having two children not quite two years apart brings a new appreciation of what it might realistically mean to have a large family. Either way, we have always remained open to the will of God in the situation.

When we were first married, the first baby was like another milestone we raced to cross, especially since we married a little later in life. Both grandmas were slightly disappointed there was no honeymoon baby, but I didn’t want to talk cycles with them at the time. Truthfully I was still learning all that myself! Then after our first came along, I distinctly remember a night sitting on her nursery floor rocking her back to sleep when I heard very clearly the whisper of God tell me I would have a son. So when the second pregnancy came along right after she turned one, I already knew he would be a boy. Sure enough, he is three now.

Since then God has been kind of quiet. No more middle of the night whispers. No aching in my heart for someone else to complete our family. Every now and then, there would be a sense that we should have another girl. Along with that sense came also the thought of adoption - from China to be exact. That door never quite opened though. God’s voice of recent had not been a clear whisper.

Now here we are expecting our third, and while neither of us heard the booming voice of God, neither of us were surprised. We both had a sense upon seeing that pregnancy test that this was the plan all along. We would begin to dream about never having to buy diapers again, and God would laugh and offer us a chance to try cloth one more time.

Things are different this time around. (Captain Obvious, am I!) I am forty, and while that isn’t knocking on death’s door, my body is definitely different. I don’t remember being so constantly exhausted with the first two pregnancies. (The husband might have a different memory, of course.) I didn’t have any trepidation overall about childbirth. After experiencing complications with my last delivery, now I am anxious about whether there will be a repeat performance. While with my first I had a dream she was actually a cat in a buggy stroller, this time my dreams more vividly reveal my fears of miscarriage because as my support network has grown, so has the number of women I know who have suffered the loss of a child. Enter in also a little guilt knowing the growing number of women who are heartbroken that God has not answered their aching desire for more children.

That’s the thing, though. Light and shadow play together, always. The beautiful part of this pregnancy that was missing for my last two is the large number of women who make up my village. Some of them I know in person, and many of them are a name on a screen. That makes little difference in the connections and friendships that have been formed with my sisters in Christ, my sisters in motherhood. There are now more women I can turn to without fear of judgment whenever I have these crazy dreams which may or may not involve birthing a baby at 27 weeks that looked slightly like a cross between Simcha’s youngest and a manatee with two bottom teeth. (This is NO reflection on your children, Simcha – I promise!)

This baby will be prayed for in a way that the other two did not ever experience (but reap now, of course). These mamas I know will pray me through every fear, will lavish my family with God’s immense and abundant love. I know, because they lavish ME with that love. I have an army of faithful mamas at my side who all choose to parent differently, who have birthed their babies at home and via c-sections like me, who have known grief and felt great joy, who are breastfeeding champions and who mix a mean bottle of formula, who stay at home and who work out of the home, all of whom love their vocation and are struggling through just like me, desperately trying to find joy in the ordinary to make our families’ lives extraordinary.

While the shadow side of this community includes knowing more of the tragedies that continue to pierce a mother’s heart, there is the overwhelming comfort of having beside me women who have walked the road before me and continue to walk it with me. These women offer their joy, their wisdom, their patience, their encouragement, their laughter, and their tough love when it is needed. I have been able to share my crazy to the tune of, “What? You too?,” in ways that befuddle my husband, because he only knows crazy through my eyes. (Sorry dear, there is a whole cadre of crazy out there – you might want to find their husbands and grab a beer.) I have more confidence that I can do this, over the hill or not. 

There is something beautiful that happens when women drop their facades and defenses. We become sisters. The mommy wars fade out to the understanding that each mom faces her own battle, because there’s nothing the devil wants more than for us to fail in our vocation. I know that it is his voice that continues to feed my fears in an effort to place distance between my heart and the joy of a new child. I know it is his voice that continues to whisper to me all my failings as a wife and mother to keep me from embracing my vocation with confidence. Sadly for that dastardly devil, I have more voices around me now that continue to remind me of the One Voice that matters. The One who tells me that I am never alone, that He will be with me until the end of the age, that He has come to give me life in abundance, that with Him all things are possible, the One who reminds me that His mercy is new every morning – every. single. morning.

So while it is sobering to realize we haven't done this in almost four years, I am also looking forward to this pregnancy in a new way - with an even larger family of sisters to share in my joys and sorrows, come what may. Because these women have shared with me their ups, downs, and in betweens, I know now that there is no shame, no judgement in reaching out for help, for making the best decisions I know how to make for the good of my family. The struggle is real, but many hands and hearts make light the burden . . . and keep me focused on the joy that each life brings.

Until next time, let's keep our hearts open and love the world like Jesus!

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Friday, October 9, 2015

SQT: The One With Link-Tober, Maternal Insanity, Toddler Discoveries, and Young Theologians

I'm working through a little "all-day" sickness to pop in for a little Seven Quick Takes since it is Link-Tober after all, and I have some swag in one of the giveaway packages over at Kelly's place.

Our little sweet pea is now about the size of a blueberry. Too bad either of those make me want to gag right now. Whoever coined the term morning sickness was out of his mind. Let's go with "all-day" sickness. Also, someone please bring me one of those noodle packets with herb sauce or something. Sadly by the time it gets here, it, too, may make me retch. Lo siento and all that jazz.

I know you are all dying to know all the pregnancy crazy from these parts, right? I'm telling you - I have lost my mind. I am thankful to know I'm not alone in this, but I am pretty sure I've gone crazy. First rambling middle of the night thought: so...I'm 40... the chances of twins increases with age... what if I AM having twins, but one is ectopic and one is uterine?!? how will they save my babies?
Take two: Hmmm... I feel like I'm a little bigger this time around and pretty tender... sure, I know with each pregnancy that is a possibility... but I'm 40 and the chance of multiples increases ... what if I'm having all.the.babies and will be the next octomom?!? 

So there it is. Pregnancy at 40 in my head leads to insanity. Moving on...

The kids are excited to have a baby sibling, who they are certain is a girl. She shall be named Bubblegum. Or Elsa. If by chance they are wrong and it is a boy, Jude is fairly certain his name shall be Mickey. He already is referring to the baby as such. Jude also believes he has a baby bird in his belly. 

In non-gestating news, Amazon Handmade went live this week and I have a little shop there. It's got limited items for now as I am figuring it all out (still). But, I've spiffed up my logo . . . ok, let's be honest, the shop now has a completely new logo. You can find me on Amazon Handmade, Etsy, and if you are local, at the Guardian Angels Mom2Mom sale next Saturday (October 17). It will be my first vendor table! 

By the way, if you head over to Link-Tober at Kelly's, you can find my giveaway item as well as an Etsy discount code for the month of October!

Things I have wanted to write about, but just haven't had the energy to clickity clack on out over here: the aftermath of Pope Francis, if the world were more like Cheers, why I don't want to be an ostrich, more on motherhood and pregnancy, some thoughts on St. Paul, and more reflections. You can wait with baited breath. Ok, fine. Regular breath will do just swimmingly.

My sweet Gia got her first school award this week. She was named an Angel of the Month. This bright little girl, who lives in her head a tremendous amount of the time, was not entirely thrilled with the honor. At dinner, I asked why she was a little upset. Poor girl was having an existential crisis. "Mama, angels aren't HUMAN! If I'm an angel of the month, am I not human anymore?" Sigh. Perhaps a future theologian in the making. How many of her could fit on a pinhead do you think? 

The boy is now up from his nap, so we'll call this the Almost Seven Quick Takes. Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

An example from earlier in the week of things
it takes the toddler less than 10 seconds to do.
Independent bathroom use vs. unrolled toilet paper.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain't The Lyceum! Win free stuff during Link-Tober!

PS - Kelly, if my tagging was done consistently (and let's face it, that may not be the case) it looks like this is Quick Takes Lucky No. 69!

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Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Little Announcement From a Pumpkin Patch

If you haven't already seen it on Facebook or Instagram, we will be adding another little set of hands and feet to pitter patter they way around these parts. 

Baby is due late May, so I am in the thick of the first trimester. Between a baby who is killing me softly during my prime writing hours, and suffering from Pope Francis withdrawal (or as Kate put it, PopePartumDepression), I am trying to get into a new rhythm of writing and creating. 

There is more to come. I promise. It may just come more slowly.

Until then, keep lovin' 'em like Jesus, friends!

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Talking about Pink On This Feast of Michaelmas (Michael-what?)

"I began to be afraid you would never come back again. People did say you meant to quit the place entirely at Michaelmas; but, however, I hope it is not true. A great many changes have happened in the neighbourhood, since you went away. Miss Lucas is married and settled. And one of my own daughters. I suppose you have heard of it; indeed, you must have seen it in the papers. It was in The Times and The Courier, I know; though it was not put in as it ought to be. It was only said, 'Lately, George Wickham, Esq. to Miss Lydia Bennet,' without there being a syllable said of her father, or the place where she lived, or anything. It was my brother Gardiner's drawing up too, and I wonder how he came to make such an awkward business of it. Did you see it?"

Bingley replied that he did, and made his congratulations. Elizabeth dared not lift up her eyes. How Mr. Darcy looked, therefore, she could not tell.
Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice 
How could I pass up starting a post with an excerpt from Pride & Prejudice? While so many of my friends are floored that this is not my number one favorite book of all time, it is definitely a staple of my reading (and re-reading) library! Additionally, it is perhaps the first time I was ever introduced to the feast of Michaelmas. 

Michael-what, you ask? Quite literally, the Mass of St. Michael. Or in the current calendar of the Church (liturgical calendar) the feast of the Archangels (Michael, Raphael, & Gabriel). We call on St. Michael in particular for protection against evil.

For more on what Michaelmas is, and how you can celebrate it in your home, visit Haley over at Carrots For Michaelmas (I mean it's right in her blog title, right?). 

What I find particularly interesting about this year's Michaelmas is that it falls squarely after the visit of Pope Francis in the United States, and on a day that Planned Parenthood has chosen to declare a "pink out day" in support of its organization. I don't normally write about the more controversial topics here, but I can't help but notice a rather ironic choice of dates. On the feast of St. Michael, who defends us against the devil, Planned Parenthood has chosen to hail their battle cry. 

If you have been under a rock or uninterested over the last several months, Planned Parenthood has been embroiled in controversy after a series of videos exposed some rather stomach turning practices by the clinics. Even if you believe that Planned Parenthood provides essential services, these video are hard to ignore. Yet, for many, that is exactly what they have been doing. Justifying. Calling into question the method of obtaining the video (which I'm not a fan of, admittedly). Dodging the real, essential issue. Are these babies actually babies? Should ANYONE be treated so callously or seen as a profit margin? What if they were puppies - would we be more outraged? Why not root out the evil so the good work can remain untainted?

I have to admit I did not fully watch the video. I cannot. My stomach and soul cannot handle it. I am not burying my head in the sand, however. They do exist, and the practices they expose if even half is true . . . the practices are evil. We must start to call a spade a spade, or what kind of world are we leaving for our children? 

On this Feast of Michaelmas, while much of the world will "pink out," I am thinking back to the words and actions of Pope Francis. While it is tempting to go into combat with Planned Parenthood, I wonder if instead our response shouldn't be to love more - to love better. In the end, this isn't just about abortion. It is about the value of life itself. No one is a commodity. No one is disposable, part or whole. No one.

So this Michaelmas, I invite St. Michael to do the dirty work, and I'm going to stick with the love. I say we stand for the dignity of ALL life - from conception until natural death - by our words, but more importantly, by our actions. Take a meal to the hungry. Help a young, pregnant woman find strength. Stop talking about others as though THEY are our enemy, regardless of their actions. 

Here is an image if you want to "Pink Up" in love. Let's show the world what we are FOR, instead of always barking about what we stand against. Love one another . . . all anothers. If this post angers you, are you open to a discussion? Please, don't just walk away - let's chat. Let us look at each other in love and get to the heart of our disagreement. Maybe we won't change each other's minds, but at least we can say we listened to each other, right? 

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Monday, September 28, 2015

How One Simple Act Challenged Me To Love Better

“If there are any among you who do not believe or cannot pray, I ask you to send good wishes my way.” These were the words of Pope Francis to the people in the crowd outside the Capitol Building after his address to the United State Congress.

Of all the profound words he has shared thus far, these words alone moved my heart in a way that challenged me to look beyond what I already knew. I know that every soul on earth is created in the image and likeness of God, but . . . did I truly believe that every person has something to offer, some way to impact my life for the good?

Read more over at, and check out their many other articles on faith, family, and all things Catholic!

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Friday, September 25, 2015

SQT: Seven Lessons from Pope Francis

This is the All-Pope, All-the-Time week, right? There is a grand buzz throughout the land! Since landing in DC on Tuesday, we just can't get enough of him here. It seems the mainstream media cannot either. Nor celebrities. Once again, Catholics are crawling out of the woodwork. Now, not everyone is thrilled - there are of course those who get a little concerned that people are worshiping a man and not Jesus. Rest assured, ye who doth protest, we do not worship the Pope. Mark Hart explains why we even have a Pope here better than I can in this space. All I can do is assure you that the Pope leads me closer to Jesus, and that is a good thing.

While the pundits and politicians are spinning the message of the pontiff, here are seven lessons I have learned in just this very short time.

"Speak tenderly to them. Let there be kindness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile, in the warmth of your greeting. Always have a cheerful smile. Don't only give your care, but give your heart as well." Blessed Mother Teresa
If you've been around these parts, you know I love me some Mother Teresa. I don't think it is a stretch to say that the Pope is a fan too. While there is a lot of bellyaching on social media . . . well many media . . . about whether the Pope is Catholic enough, this right here is the lesson he is teaching us, I think. Speak tenderly to them . . .  Who looks upon the Holy Father and sees anything but joy, kindness, compassion, and love? (Ok, don't answer that.) I cannot look upon his face and see anything but that, even behind the seeming exhaustion of a grueling schedule on this trip. 

No, he didn't take his moment on the White House lawn to publicly reprimand President Obama. There is a great lesson in that discretion. He recognizes that there is a dignity inherent to every person, and ridicule and reprimand are not the way to uphold that. Speak tenderly to them, whoever they may be . . . 

" are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face." Pope Francis to the United States Congress
...the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face. This is perhaps the great commission of Pope Francis - to see in one another the image and likeness of God. Too often we label one another based on assumption and our life's situations. It is time to throw the labels aside, and as Christian disciples, see through to the imprint of God on the person. Every person. Regardless of ability. Regardless of political inclinations. Regardless, really, even of threat. We as citizens of a nation should be working to protect that inherent dignity of all people. 

"But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners." Pope Francis to the United States Congress
If we were to reduce our stories to read "righteous" or "sinners," I think it is safe to say that we would all be overflowing in the latter category. It is tempting to fall into the mindset of the older prodigal who, believing he has done everything the father has ever asked, is angry when the father welcomes with open arms his younger brother who has gone more than just a little bit astray. How is that fair? We must remember that God judges us by our own measure, and not in comparison to one another. Any movement toward the right path should be encouraged. We should be looking to help people along the journey to God rather than focusing on all the baggage that they may still be carrying with them. I should always rejoice when someone returns to God or turns toward Him in the slightest. 

"Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life." Pope Francis to the United States Congress
Sacrifice. Ooof. Right. I don't get to have everything I desire (not need, desire) while others are in need. It is my duty as a citizen, and more so as a Christian disciple, to discipline myself against consumerism, against a privileged attitude, so others can also share in the wealth of this country. I'll tell you - as a lower-middle class family who struggles at times to make ends meet on our own, that's hard to swallow sometimes. However, we have the benefit of family and friends who help us along. We aren't entitled to work that lets us make more than we need. It would make us more comfortable, but it is not our right. God provides. He does. Sometimes, God provides through others' generosity. While there is definitely a difference of philosophy on how we provide for the common good (private action vs. social safety net), we must provide. We have to be willing to make sacrifices to provide for one another's needs.

"It is not about preaching complicated doctrines, but joyfully proclaiming Christ who died and rose for our sake. The “style” of our mission should make our hearers feel that the message we preach is meant “for us." Pope Francis to the US Bishops
The message of Christ is a message for everyone. If people feel excluded from the mercy and love of Christ, then we must examine how, or if, we are proclaiming it. I wrote some time ago about how we might make Catholicism more attractive. Pope Francis is living it! God help us, the world knows what the Church is against when it comes to today's cultural norms. They do. Really. It is time to start preaching a Gospel that invites people to see themselves as part of the integral life of the Church, regardless of their scars. It is time to invite people to open their hearts to a Church that proclaims Jesus as one who lifts burdens, not imposes them. 

"We must avoid the temptation to discard what seems troublesome." Pope Francis to the United States Congress
Have you seen the face of Francis? I don't have an image that I have permission to use. But seriously, have you seen his face when he greets the people on the street? He is beaming. He stops the motorcade to bless the disabled and he is pure joy looking on the face of children with special needs. He stops into the Little Sisters of the Poor (who are fighting a battle with the government on the contraception mandate) to show them he is with them. He is the face of love and joy to all, but especially to those who others may see as an inconvenience. Are we?

"If there are any among you who do not believe or cannot pray, I ask you to send good wishes my way." Pope Francis to the crowds outside the US Capitol
These words, this act by the Holy Father, struck me as the most profound moment of his trip thus far. The pontiff, the Vicar of Christ, is asking those who have no belief or disposition to pray, to lift up their hearts to him anyway. This certainly makes me take a second look at how I approach those who have little to no belief - or if I approach them at all. I delve more into the details of why over at on Monday, so stay tuned!

I can't wait to dig into the words of the Holy Father during the rest of his visit. Today's attempt at listening to the UN address was foiled by a restless toddler. He did really well for the Congressional address yesterday, but another morning was too much to ask . . . even with M&Ms!

What has been your experience of having the Pope in the United States?

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain't The Lyceum!

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Monday, September 21, 2015

Pope Francis, Catholic Identity, Sex, Mercy & All The Things I Wish I Would Have Said

The Pope is one day away from landing in the United States, and Popemania is well afoot. From bobbleheads, to t-shirts, the merchandise is ready for the selling! While I'm not able to go, and my dread of large crowds is a big factor keeping me away, I am among the millions who are excited for this visit and eagerly anticipating what this beloved Pope will have to say.

Pope Francis has had an interesting effect on American Catholics. On the one hand, there are those who have been away from the Church but are returning (or contemplating a return) thanks to his candid style and mercy-focused message. On the other hand, more traditional Catholics fear that Pope Francis is throwing out the baby with the bathwater and risks compromising doctrine. In American Catholicism, you can scarce escape the influence of political partisanship, which leaves its mark on the faithful. "Conservative" Catholics are concerned about what they believe to be the socialist tendencies of the Pope. "Liberal" Catholics are eagerly hoping the Pope will roll back what they believe to be "repressive" doctrines, but are dismayed when the Pope curiously remains steadfastly Catholic.

Last week, thanks to a friend, I was invited to sit on a panel of local Catholics for a prime-time special being aired by our local NBC affiliate, WDIV Detroit, "Pope Francis: Calling On America." Devin Scillian (a news anchor) sat down with three others - Nalani Miller, Clark Durant, and Stephen Henderson - and me to discuss our views on Pope Francis, the impact he is having on American Catholicism, and what the impact of his visit may mean. (The show is available online in five installments here - I highly recommend checking it out. The panel is the 4th installment and linked above.)

L-R: Devin Scillian, Nalani Miller, myself, Clark Durant.
Not pictured: Stephen Henderson (he had to leave immediately after taping)
The whole experience was fantastic. My introverted self was beyond nervous that I didn't know the questions ahead of time, but I said a little prayer to the Holy Spirit and just let it fly. Devin Scillian did an excellent job of asking the required questions (do you want to see change in the Church, what about the teaching on birth control, etc.), but remaining perfectly respectful even amid clear disagreement. I can say from experience that not all journalists afford Catholics the same respect. I am deeply thankful for his professionalism and openness to hear the answers I had to give, even if they were not what he was expecting, particularly on birth control. It always comes down to sex in the end, doesn't it? ;) 

Naturally, ever since the taping, I have been replaying the questions in my head and thinking about the answers I could have and should have given. Having now seen the segment, I think I did okay, but I think I missed some key opportunities to share some beautiful truths about what Catholics believe and teach, even if the world would rather not hear it. Granted, I was one of four on a panel that had all of about 10 minutes, so I couldn't say it all.

First up, is being Catholic an all or nothing thing? Do you have to believe everything to call yourself Catholic?

To give a little context, this question was based on a conversation about the Archbishop's statement that those who advocate for positions contrary to Catholic doctrine should not receive communion. It is hard to go into the theology behind what we believe as Catholics about the Eucharist in 30 seconds, especially when the question didn't directly ask. Very quickly, we believe that the Eucharist is the real presence of Christ - body, blood, soul, and divinity. We believe that when we receive the Eucharist, we are by our action admitting our full union with Him and His Church. The response upon receiving is, "Amen" or "I believe." So, there is that.

Getting back to the "all or nothing question," I personally think the difference in identity comes from the disposition of our heart. There is a difference between saying "Jesus . . . Church . . . y'all crazy wrong, and I am going to believe what I want, how I want, when I want,"  and "Lord, I don't believe - help my unbelief." Both people disbelieve. Both are struggling through a teaching or doctrine. One gives God the assent to change their hearts. The other does not. At the end of the day, the answers lie with the person, God, and their confessors as to whether they were of clear conscience when they received Jesus in the Eucharist. We are none of us truly at a point where we give our all, so praise God for His mercy that He gives us infinite chances to try again. Being Catholic isn't an all or nothing thing as long as we are seeking the face of Christ and His mercy when we fall short.

Next up . . . birth control - part one. Could the Church do MORE good in poorer nations if we simply lifted the restriction on birth control? 

I was definitely taken aback by this question. What do you mean more good with birth control? The Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world - we just don't really market it - but more good with birth control?? The simple answer is no, and I gave that for very good reason. However, there is a longer answer to this. The first part of that is that once again, we are boiling everything down to sex and the creation of children. Do we value money or children more? Do we view children as a blessing or a burden? In countries with high infant mortality rates, is having FEWER children a solution to their problems? In countries facing AIDS epidemics, is providing the means for a false sense of security the means to teaching responsibility?  Does rich America coming in to tell poor Africa that the answer is to stop having babies seem a little, I don't know...elitist and arrogant? Has having wide access to contraception helped our own poor? Leaving the philosophical issues behind, my friend Tara who served as a missionary in central America had this to say: 
In my experience living in the third world, most of the women don't want birth control. Then there's the logistics of even basic health care or clean water, access to clinics (many of our clinic patients walked for hours or days to reach us...) Oh, and teaching the women how to read their own fertility signs cost nothing, was not something they had to wash or store properly, and was something they didn't have to know how to read in order to manage.
I have heard similar stories out of India as well. Pope Francis goes so far as to call it "ideological colonization." 
"Gender ideologies from the wealthy Western world are being imposed on developing nations by tying them to foreign aid and education, in a form of “ideological colonization.”
Let's move on to birth control - part two. Rampant use objectifies, sure . . . but what about between married couples? 

My very short answer was that even in marriage, birth control threatens to become an impediment to the marriage. I so wish I would have kept talking so I could share why I believe that. I wish I could have said to Devin and whoever was watching, that the reason birth control becomes an impediment to marriage is because in marriage, I give myself wholly unto my spouse through God. Wholly. All of me. One flesh. Not 7/8. Not divorcing my fertility from the rest of me. When contraception enters into the equation, suddenly there is no longer one flesh, but a coming together of two partial people. When we stop our bodies from functioning as they should, we do not truthfully give ourselves to the other. 

This in no way means that all Catholic families are called to have a football team of children, as is the common stereotype. It simply means that we are called to never divorce the procreative (child making) aspect of sex with the unitive (the emotional, pleasurable part). El fin.

Let me be clear. I understand that I am in the minority, not only of the population, but also of the Catholic population. Every person and couple has to discern these things for themselves. My hope is simply that people will remain open to what God might have to say about it all, and not be blinded by societal norms. 

Last, but not least, let's talk about the "thou shalt not"s versus the "blessed are you"s. 

This little phrase popped into my head, and it has struck a chord with many friends who commented on the segment. Why is that? 

I was certainly not intending to say that the Commandments are not important. They were given out of love by God to his people to keep us out of harm's way. Just as we do with our own children, God gives His children boundaries to keep them safe. 

But. seems like all the Catholic Church is known for these days are our boundaries. That breaks my heart. At its core, the Church is not about its rules and teachings. The Catholic Church is about sharing the real live person of Jesus Christ - His love, His mercy, His joy, His hope. If people can no longer see that, then we have to change our approach. We cannot simply keep doing what we are doing and say "they" just don't want to get it. As Nalani said on the segment, we have to open ourselves and take the message out to the people - not wait for them to come to us. 

This was the message of St. John Paul II who gave breath to the new evangelization. This was the message of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who pleaded with us to share the Gospel (GOOD NEWS) in love. LOVE, not condemnation. This is now the call of Pope Francis. Stop debating. Stop talking. Start doing. Love one another. Lift up one another out of the depths of despair. The world is hurting. Give them Jesus so He can shoulder their burdens THROUGH YOU. Break out of your political mindsets and begin to try to think as Christ would have you think, not as any ideology would have you mimic. Stop making ideology an idol of itself. Stop making holiness an idol of itself. We are all sinners. Let's get ourselves to Christ - together. 

Thanks Vickie Figueroa for thinking of me and passing along my name to Channel 4, and thanks to the other panelists for a great conversation! Thank you, Ro Coppola and Devin Scillian and all the guys back in the production booth for letting me be a part of this special. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute, and yes - 11 minutes went by at very quickly!

Until next time, let's get out there and love 'em like Jesus!

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Saturday, September 19, 2015

SQT: On Lazy Mornings, Dancing, Dreaming, TV Appearing, Debating, and Seeing at 40

We are back in business! Microsoft has released my computer from Update Purgatory and I'm ready to type type type away until I go thrifting with my mom this morning. So we're gonna make it a real-quick takes seeing that it's already almost 9:30. It's a kid-free morning. I'm uncaffeinated. I've been moving slowly. Maybe that is our first take right there!

See above. Kid-free you get more accomplished or find yourself taking advantage of a muuuuch slower pace? Admittedly, I haven't been sleeping well, so I am moving more slowly than usual, but I find if the kids aren't here to get me going, my non-morning person self isn't suddenly the energizer bunny. 

Gia started her first dance class this week. Cue the cuteness . . . and the subsequent meltdown when we got home because she loved it so much she didn't want to leave. While the meltdown was no fun, that she enjoyed herself so much was a beautiful thing. As I have been praying and dreaming for her, I have been intentional about staying watchful that I am not living my unfulfilled dreams through her. She is her own person, who will have her own dreams, talents, and interests. Admittedly I signed her up for dance because . . . see above for cuteness. That she loves it is a wonderful gift in return. How do you gauge what you sign your children up for as activities? How much is too much?

Things at the shop have been moving along. As I turned 40, I decided that if I was going to dabble in this side "business" of creative work, then maybe I should really spend some time focusing on making it more of a business and less of a hobby where I spend valuable time and energy (and money). So . . . I applied to be an Amazon Handmade vendor, and was accepted. You can find me on Amazon now!  I'll also be a vendor at our school Mom2Mom sale in October. While it is all exciting, I also have my reservations. As opportunities surface, this will be a year of discernment about how big I want this to grow and where I want to spend my energy. Thank you to those who have supported me and cheered me on thus far. We will see where the Spirit leads me!

The Pope is coming! The Pope is coming! Hey . . . did you know the Pope is coming to America? (Does anyone else hear Neil Diamond in their head? Just me? Never mind.) There is a lot of hype and hoopla about the pontiff's first visit to the United States. In a timely manner, Facebook reminded me that I wrote this piece about Pope Francis back in the day when he shocked the world with his candid in-air (not on-air) interview. All I said then still rings true today. 

Our local NBC affiliate, WDIV Detroit, broadcast a one-hour prime-time special on the Pope's upcoming visit here and in Cuba. As part of the special, I was invited to sit on a panel (along with three others) talking about the Pope's influence and the significance of his upcoming visit. While I talk a good game in a small group setting, the thought of being on-air answering questions I haven't been able to vet gave my poor introverted heart more than a few palpitations. Thank you to all who prayed for me! I was mostly calm by the time we taped the segment. Mostly. Surprisingly, I had a lot of fun, did not ever want to throw up from nerves, and felt very much at ease by the end. It must have brought out my old debater instincts. 

Anyway, the show aired last night, but will be available online in the near future. In hindsight, there are many things I wish I had said, but we will save that for another post (or posts).

While we are on the subject of leaders and television, has anyone else been as irked as I am that the Republican candidate "debates" have been on pay-cable stations? It seems to exacerbate the image of the Republican party as exclusive. I know that most people have no interest in watching such a debate because it does, frankly, cause a headache. That said, the fact that a conversation, whatever its quality, about the future of our country and candidates who may or may not progress to the next level of the electoral process belongs on a platform open to the public. Regardless of whether you subscribe to cable or have access to the internet to live-stream, you should have the ability to participate in the democratic process. Whether you choose to or not is a different story, and one I will also save for another post. I warn you - the post will explain why even migraine-inspiring dialogue should not keep us as faithful Christians away from full and active political participation. You can't really expect any less from someone who wrote a study guide to Faithful Citizenship and majored in Political Science, can you?

One of the reasons I didn't get these quick takes up last night was that we were celebrating our 6th anniversary. Microsoft had certainly commandeered my computer for the afternoon, but my love commandeered my attention the rest of the evening. Six years have flown by, especially once the kids came along. In the trenches with little children, spouses can take a bit of a hit when it comes to how much attention they get. Little hands, feet, and faces are more up front about their demands. Luckily, neither of us entered this marriage with expectations of all-romance, all the time. Beyond that, what we viewed as "romantic" differed from the rom-com writer's fantasies. That, I believe, saves our marriage time and again. While my husband has faithfully gotten me a bouquet of roses on our anniversary every year, even when I tell him not to, his selflessness and patience with us on a daily basis is far more important. It is more romantic to hear him say he would rather be at home with us on a given evening than have to go back to work a second job, but that he makes the sacrifice to do that so I can stay at home part time. It is more romantic that he bathes the kids before I get home from work so that our evenings can be a little less hectic. Sure, I will gladly take the roses and chocolate (dark chocolate, of course), but I much prefer the little acts of sacrifice. 

Lastly, a frivolous quick take. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have helped me pick out a new pair of glasses. The eye doctor was most gentle when she told me that at 40 pretty much the eyes go to crap, so welcome to 40, go pick out your glasses.

You all picked a winner . . . and here they are! (They were pair #4.)

That's all for this installment! For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain't The Lyceum!

Until next time, let's get out there and love 'em like Jesus!

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Friday, September 18, 2015

The Dog Ate My Homework

Ok. We don't have a dog. And I don't have homework. I was, however, hoping to get out a Quick Takes post today to fill you in on all the excitement around these parts and schedule another post filled with all the things I wish I had said on TV that came to me well after my 11 minutes on air. 

I had the best of plans! I even scheduled my computer upgrade for last evening when I would be away so I could hit the ground clicking! Sadly, the upgrade didn't launch last night. No, it launched when I opened up the computer to fill these pages with my prosaic brilliance. (Yes, you may laugh.) It's been a little over an hour now, and here we are.

It's our anniversary, so I don't know if I will get to those quick takes this afternoon after all. (Yes, you may weep.) It just goes to show that for all the planning, and all the "don't open your computer in the morning - play with the child," discipline today, I should have opened the computer. 

Until Microsoft returns control of my computer back to me, here is hoping you're having a splendid Friday! I'll be back to tell my tales - pinky swear.