Friday, December 21, 2012

Women {not} having it all

Last night I read this article in Jezebel (which I'm warning you is predictably, um, blunt, especially in the combox) about a recent study which revealed that women's sexuality is often negatively impacted by hormonal birth control.  The author of the piece references the fact that we women just can't seem to win, that in attempting to avoid pregnancy we come up short in some way--either unable to experience the pleasure we would wish to, or in exposing ourselves to undue risk.  All the while of course, men remain more or less unaffected and get to experience sex consequence-free, per the usual.

And, it's all really kind of true.

Back before I had any sort of religious or moral objections to artificial birth control, I used that pesky pill myself.  And I did experience a variety of terrible, no-good-very-bad side effects, including some of the very ones listed by researchers in the aforementioned study.  I also had horrible headaches, and emotional issues too.  And when it became clear that my body was not going to simply "adjust" in some matter of time, I threw the pills in the trash.  I told myself I could try a different, lower-dose pill in the future in hopes of having better results.

But then I heard about the potential abortifacient effects of hormonal birth control, and knew that it was officially no longer an option for me.  Sigh.

Truth be told, I actually felt irritated and highly inconvenienced, and distinctly remember thinking, What are we going to do?  I felt like there really weren't any great solutions to the "problem" of fertility, to the big riddle of how do we live as a married couple while simultaneously avoiding kids?

I doubt I'm the only one who has felt this tension.  Of course there are some for whom hormonal birth control works well, but for many of us, it comes with what amount to much bigger problems than conceiving a child with our husband.  Which, as it turns out, is not the end of the world.  And I know this because less than a year after dumping my prescription in the trash, I did indeed get pregnant.  On God's timetable, not mine--I was one week into finishing up my bachelor's degree, and so I made the decision to unenroll from college since I wouldn't be able to graduate by the time baby was born. 

It can be hard to change course, but when I left campus that final time, I actually had a huge smile on my face.  My husband and I were having a precious child, and my own dreams, plans and expectations paled in comparison to God's.  Even though my educational goals (which included graduate school at that point) were certainly good and reasonable, they naturally took second place to my vocation: marriage.  And while it would be years before I found out that married love was intended by God to include the ultimate gift of self--fertility and the powerful potential to create life included--even as a 21-year-old, scarcely married a year, I sensed that there was something very right and proper about life springing forth from the union of husband and wife.

This is why, when I read about studies like this, I think about how women simply can't have it all.

Because there is no such thing as consequence-free sex.  Or consequence-free anything.

Every choice we make and every thing we do carries with it some combination of risk and reward.

Yes we can use the pill, but there is a pretty decent risk of experiencing adverse side-effects to our health and well-being.  Or it might fail altogether, leaving us with a quite unexpected pregnancy--and unsavory "options" like raising a child alone, placing that child for adoption, or abortion.  Either way, it's not out of the realm of possibility that we'll wind up asking the same questions as the author of the Jezebel article. 

And it's also true that men can more or less escape many of the physical and emotional repercussions of sex.  They are quite capable of using women for pleasure while simultaneously avoiding any responsibility for love and selflessness.  But even sadder and more disturbing than this is the fact that women repeatedly allow them to do so, all in the name of meeting a sexual and emotional need. 

Which I don't mean to diminish.  We long for connection, and for love.  We are programmed to want to give ourselves to another, and to receive someone giving themselves to us.  But the number-one predictor of poverty is single-motherhood.  And this fact alone ought to demonstrate that we women are incredibly vulnerable, and that it is far below our dignity to allow ourselves to be used by men who are ill-prepared for marriage, much less fatherhood.  It would behoove us to acknowledge the simple and basic idea that being a woman includes having the capacity to conceive and carry and birth a child.  We just plain should not have to be ashamed or frustrated by the way our bodies work.  Period.

Proponents of birth control will of course continue to tell us that the pill is one of the greatest conventions for modern women, because we are capable of doing so much more now that we can trick our bodies and control our destiny.  We can pursue careers, delay pregnancy until well into our forties, earn doctorates and ultimately (in a sense) be just like men.  We don't have to be restricted by our bodily processes.  And technically this is true--we really can do many of these things with the help of synthetic hormones.  But the problem is that the actual playing out of this great experiment isn't all roses, and tells a much different story--one in which society is plagued by divorce, abortion, pornography, and decreased satisfaction in marriage.  According to the CDC, 40.8% of children nationwide are born to unmarried women, and so while there will always be those who claim it is all working out just fine for them (and I wonder how many of these women are actually attempting to convince themselves), I'd suspect there are countless others who hold a different opinion.

And it may not be popular or well-received, but we owe women the truth.  And that truth is that womanhood, for better or worse, involves the miraculous and God-given ability to bring forth children.  Inconvenient or not, it is part of our humanity, written into our biology, whether we like it or not.  We can fight against it tooth-and-nail, taking sexual pleasure for ourselves while attempting to skirt the consequences of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.  But there is always risk.  Risk that our method of birth control will fail and our boyfriend will leave us alone with a baby to care for.  Risk that we will indeed contract a disease--which, guess what, is statistically more likely for women than for men.  Risk that we will be left completely unsatisfied, even within what ought to be a happy marriage.

Our culture will of course never tell women the truth.  Instead, it will continue to propagate the lie that sex is not only fundamentally necessary for a happy existence, but that it can conveniently and easily be divorced from its procreative function.  This narrative also says that coming of age must include experimentation, liberation through pornography, erotica and hook-ups, and that true freedom comes through doing whatever one wishes.  Meanwhile they won't tell women that while we are certainly free to pursue these options, there is the very real possibility that something might go wrong, and that either way we are placing ourselves in a quite vulnerable position by ultimately allowing ourselves to be used by men.

To this I say that we simply must expect more of people.  Because it is a sad commentary on society when we see human beings as nothing more than animals acting on their most basic of instincts, as opposed to souls created by a just and loving God.  We must acknowledge the concept that dignity is rooted in choice and free will, and explain the world as it is--as opposed to how we want it to be.  The biological and supernatural reality is that men and women have the beautiful and powerful ability to participate with God in the creation of new life, and God thus designed sexuality for marriage, with procreative and unitive purposes in mind.  And womanhood is something to be celebrated, respected and revered, not something to disdain and attempt to erase through oppression and risk-filled methods.

No one can have it all, whatever "it" is, because in choosing one thing you are by default not choosing another.  And so while you can certainly choose to ingest hormones with the hope of enjoying liberated sex, free from the shackles of motherhood, the fact remains that it does not come without opportunity cost.  We simply can't have it all, on a personal or societal level.

And the author is right: so long as we are trying to do so, we really just can't win.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Humble reflections

I really wasn't planning on writing about what happened yesterday.  But I am, most likely because I've been doing a lot of reflecting, and sometimes it's helpful to further process those seeds of thought by putting words on a page.  Even when they add little value to anyone but me.

Suffice it to say that I was, like all of you, positively devastated to return from our jovial homeschool-group Advent party to discover the news coming out of Connecticut. 

There are just no words to describe the horror.  No words at all.

So for me yesterday was a really strange dichotomy--going about my regular business of feeding and caring for my children, while processing through the awful events that left one town, and many hearts, broken.  Meanwhile my kids, who are blissfully naive and don't know anything out-of-the-ordinary happened, had their usual day of playing and arguing and laughing and doing chores.  Oblivious to what the rest of the nation was feeling.

The one thought I returned to throughout the day (because honestly, I could scarcely think of much else) was that there is, without question, pure evil at work in the world--and every once in awhile it breaks out into the open and shows its ugly face.  And when I say evil, I don't mean a generalized or impersonal type of force.  I mean Satan himself, and his hate for God, and his hate for God's children.  I mean his desire to destruct and destroy.

And yet it's a kind of paradox, because even amidst the CNN photos of fearful children being evacuated and of adults crying in the parking lot, there were the photos of burly police officers tenderly holding wee little hands.  There are the stories of brave teachers sacrificing their own lives to save young students.  There is the fact that even if these dear childrens' souls have left earth, love for them lives on, as do their souls themselves. 

It's a paradox precisely because the truth is that love always wins.  Because God always wins.  And just like the word evil is not some vague concept floating around the cosmos, neither is the idea of love.  It is personal and real, manifest in a God who loves His children and the world He made.  God always has the final word, and even in the darkest of moments He is somehow present and working.  Even when it seems impossible. 

I cannot imagine what the many parents and loved ones of the deceased students, teachers and administrators are experiencing, nor can I even begin to comprehend the difficult road ahead for the first responders and survivors.  I have no words or answers--which would literally be nothing but trite noise coming from me--for these dear people.  So I will simply offer up my prayers, and mourn with those who mourn.

And I will continue going about my own infinitesimally small duties, like loving my husband and my kids, and trusting in the hope that Jesus will one day set all things right.  And even in the meantime evil will never have the last word, ever.  No human being can completely destroy what God has made, and what God loves.

I believe I also have the responsibility to be extra thankful for--and humbled by--the beauty and good I do see all around me: like our Advent celebration yesterday amidst dear friends, and for our own brand of normal that looks more like crazy sometimes, and for my daughters' weekly girls' group at our parish that they attended last night, led by dear consecrated religious women.  And for the fact that we have the Eucharist, and that Jesus is really present all around the world, at all times.  Good amidst evil.  Hope in brokenness.  Love itself.

My girls came home from their group last night with brand-new, specially designed t-shirts.  They were jumping up and down, beyond excited, and couldn't wait to show me.  As I ohhhed and ahhhhed over the shirts in between dishing up bowls of soup for dinner, I was struck by how timely and true the message on the back is.  "Only saints will change the world."  And my heart flooded with hope.  Because no matter what is happening around us, whether in good times or bad, we are called to sainthood.  To the long road of following Jesus and perservering to the end, whenever that may be.  Tragedies and hate and pain cannot have the last word--and quite frankly, they are not worthy of it.  And so even as our hearts break and tears fall, we must also commit to press on and not grow weary, continuing to cultivate and embrace the virtues of charity, hope, and faith.  Putting one foot in front of the other.  It is really all we can do. 

And it is what our desperately hurting world needs.

Holy Innocents, pray for us.

And may God bless and keep all those affected by yesterday's events.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Forming community

Three of my daughters, after Mass, on the feast day of the Immaculate Conception

Recently my husband and I attended a large social event.  There was nothing particularly unusual or out of the ordinary about it--there was the typical wide-eyed incredulousness anytime we answered the magic question of how many kids we have, but that's normal.  We're used to it, and anyway, my six-months-pregnant belly was squeezed into a non-maternity dress that cut off my circulation.  So comments about family size could not be avoided. 

Of course at some point I found myself sitting back and considering social dynamics in general.  And yes, this is what introverts-who-used-to-be-psychology-majors sit and do at parties.  (You are more than welcome to join me sometime, although I must warn you that it will involve alternating between sitting silently, and making occasional and potentially-awkward small talk.  But if you are a true student of social science, you will deem it worth it in the end.)

And my super-stealth observations confirmed that people, no matter who or where they are, are searching for connection.  The concept of community is of course spoken of regularly in religious contexts, but it also plays an undeniably large (even if subtle) role in other settings too--the workplace, school, anywhere that has people.  Because we all have some sort of compulsion to hear someone's story and experience friendship.  This can be a major and often elusive challenge, but few ever truly give up--even us introverts (perhaps especially us introverts) need human connection.

So later at home, I found myself reflecting on how very, um, connection-filled and full my own life is--even if it differs dramatically from that of the average 31-year-old woman's, and makes for terribly dull small talk in between bites of hummus.  There is of course noise, mess, and a very clear sense of my inability to do things well for longer than about two minutes--but there is a heck of a lot of joy and fun too.  And good grief, there is community!  Love, friendship, cooperation, shared goals and values.  Mealtimes filled with conversation and laughter.  A daddy who gives his kids piggyback-rides to bed, even at the end of a long day.  Regular instruction in virtue and lots of opportunity for humble "I'm sorry's." 


And speaking of community, Saturday was the feast day of the Immaculate Conception, and so we went to Mass.  My oldest daughters had new-to-them dresses to wear, and my four big kids eagerly got all the little ones ready, dressed in their finest for the occasion.  The kids were ecstatic in the car on the way over--a local bishop would be celebrating the Mass, and there was to be a reception afterwards.  And as we joined a full room of fellow parishioners afterwards for food and celebration, it struck me how not only full and rich our home life is, but how positively wonderful our faith community is too.  Everywhere we looked there were friends and people who are so very dear to us.  My kids have great buddies to play with, even outside of church events.  There are families with whom we have dinner and even take vacations. 


And I don't take that for granted.  At all.  Because we don't go to Mass to make friends or to socialize, nor did we become Catholic in order to find people who think like us so we could take a trip together.  But God has brought us into contact with some pretty fantastic people (which we could never have foreseen) and we continue to be richly blessed by them.  It is a beautiful thing to be connected to so many by such a deep--and eternal--bond, and through whom we are continually encouraged.

This is something that I think the world-at-large craves desperately.  True community, purpose, life.  You can be in a room with 300 people and feel a tangible emptiness, or you can be with but one other person and feel connection, or sometimes it goes the oppositve way.  Because everyone is looking for inclusion and for something around which to center and build community on.  Some foundations are sturdier than others.  Some are merely superficial.

So as I've been thinking about how genuine community really works, I've decided that it must first and foremost be focused at home--concentrated within the family--and then extend outward to ideally include parish life as well.  Of course it's not easy to cultivate this sort of community within our families because there is, frankly, a lot of competition.  Outside activities, time-consuming interests, and even the media subtly and easily infiltrate and dominate our world, replacing the natural rhythms of family life--shared meals around the table, praying together, natural conversation--with their own brand of noise and culture.  But a flourishing family culture is worth fighting for, in part because strong families make for strong churches.

I read this thought-provoking article yesterday from Archbishop Charles Chaput.  The piece ended with:

Nothing is more powerful than the witness of Christian men and women loving God and serving God’s people; working together; and sharing lives of courage, joy, and friendship. In an age of aggressive individualism and the isolation it breeds, the new ecclesial movements offer two absolutely priceless gifts: community and purpose.

Isn't that really it?  Can't so much of what we seek be wrapped up in those two words, community and purpose

Of course regularly attending church will not automatically translate into close friendships.  It is an ideal to embrace and a goal worth working towards--especially for Catholics who truly are united in belief and purpose--but there are a lot of other factors at play.  Sometimes there are seasons in life that are less conducive to being part of a community, or sometimes there simply aren't people to connect with.  And that's okay.  God has different things for different people at different times. 

And regardless of the externals, the core building block of community (mirroring the Holy Trinity) is that of husband and wife--which naturally extends to children--and so we can strive to create beautiful and genuine connection in our homes.  It will be imperfect and loud, chaotic and tense at times, but love is always work, and always in a state of becoming.  And this community, rooted in charity and virtue, has the capacity to flourish and nourish, and extend outwards to others. 

A full life is not necessarily one with lots of public recognition and accolades, or worldly success, or fascinating stories to tell around the shrimp platter. 

Sometimes it is merely living in authentic and loving community--with my own crazy family.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The art of detachment

The Apotheosis of St Francis de Sales

Confession: I used to be a bit of a packrat.  I liked buying stuff and having it, even if I wasn't really using it regularly--because just knowing I owned those cute candle holders or that pretty area rug made me happy.  And finding pants on clearance (whether or not I already owned two pair just like them) was cause for excitement.  This is probably part of why I love thrifting so much, because it's an inexpensive way to buy things that maybe I'll use some day.  While I was never much of a consumer in the sense that I didn't feel the need to have the newest or best products, I still liked stuff, in general.

But the problem is that I also value an orderly home--and detest clutter.  And it turns out that when nine people share a living space, there is the constant tendency for the toys and clothes and stuff to take over, making for a rather uphill battle to achieve that orderly, clutter-free home.  Who knew?

So a couple of years ago I did what turned out to be one of the best things I've ever done: I scheduled a pick-up from our local thrift store.  I assumed I would give away some old clothes that no longer fit, and some toys my kids no longer loved.  Easy peasy.  But the thing was that they called me again the next month!  Asking if I had any donations, and offering to come and get them.  I cautiously said yes, and discovered that I was able to cull even more things from my home.  And this pattern has continued.  Every month they call, and every month I say yes, whether I have something in mind or not.  My record for one month is probably 15 large trash bags' worth.  This month I only had two.  But no matter what, it has completely revolutionized my ability to maintain sanity and peace in my home.  It has freed up my mental and even physical energies.  It has enabled me to buy things that are actually truly useful and beneficial for our family.  It has lifted a huge burden I didn't even know I had--namely that of simply having much-too-much to manage.

And not only has this helped tremendously in my capacity for keeping things tidy and organized, it has borne some major spiritual benefits too.  I find that my thinking has shifted in terms of how I view possessions and wealth, in that I now see material goods as gifts from God to be used as needed, instead of as things to accumulate, prize and collect.  I find myself regularly practicing detachment, which enables me to acknowledge and embrace that the truly important things in life are those concerning eternal souls--relationships, virtue, God, and vocation. 

This of course doesn't mean that I never buy things.  I do.  But now before I make a purchase, I evaluate if it is something I will actually use, that will help me to better accomplish my duties as wife and mother and homemaker, or that will enhance our home.  And the funny thing is that I actually care less about the price-tag than I used to!  When my small food processor recently gave out on me after years of use, for example, I went to the store and bought a new, much bigger one--while more expensive, it is much better for our family.  I don't on the other hand go thrifting every weekend anymore, and when I do go, I stick to the areas of the store where there is something I need (the book section to find some readers for my sons, or the kids' shoe aisle if my daughter needs new church shoes.)  And when something is too broken-down or old to use, I get rid of it and find an affordable new (or new-to-me) replacement. 

Can I just tell you how amazing it is to not be storing up junk or using my small closets as overflowing museums?  I'm no longer buying sheets or high-heels or trinkets just because they're a good value, or simply because I like them.  There will always be sales, and there will always be lovely things on the shelves begging to be taken home.  I now literally only buy something if I need it, or if I know precisely where in my home it will go.  We are only capable of using so many of this or that during any given time period anyhow, so why pay money to store unused things?

Saint Francis De Sales writes this in Introduction to the Devout Life: 

So also you can possess riches without being poisoned by them if you merely keep them in your home and purse and not in your heart.  To be rich in effect and poor in affection is a great happiness for a Christian.

I admit that I simultaneously love and am challenged by those words.  We all sense we must live this way to some degree, but it is an entirely other thing to actually live it--in our minds, hearts and deeds.  But I'm trying.  In viewing material possessions as temporal tools and gifts, I am learning to rightly order my priorities, and to value the unseen more deeply.  And I am learning that there is more mental and spiritual capacity for communing with God and with loved ones.

It follows then that a healthy detachment from worldly goods is something I hope to cultivate in my children, as well.  We have conversations about how something may be nice or fun, but that doesn't mean we have to own it.  My kids are actually fairly good about this in general--because they are homeschooled and because we don't spend hours browsing the toy aisle at Target, they remain fairly sheltered from the latest-and-greatest gizmos.  There are certainly things they occasionally see or hear about and want, but on a typical day, they're busy with schooling and playing together.  None of them spend a ton of time holed up somewhere with a toy.  Instead, they love to play big, inclusive games of pretend.  They love to dig through the dress-up box.  They love to draw and color and craft.  My girls love playing dolls and my boys enjoy riding bikes.  A couple of nights ago, I found them all huddled in a circle on the floor, playing a game of Numbers Bingo.

Ultimately I believe I am thinking more about the actual purpose of goods, and how that relates to the tasks God has given me.  How will this or that item better serve my family?  Or enhance our lives?  Or help us to love Jesus?

And, as always, even the things we do own I try to hold loosely.  A challenge to be sure--just yesterday one of my children was sweeping, and accidentally broke the small nativity scene that Kevin and I bought on our trip to Rome.  Ouch.  I admit that I did not respond very well, and even in the midst of my angry outburst I could hear Saint Francis' words ringing in my ears.  Which was convicting and, quite frankly, kind of annoying (oh how I wanted to be mad about the loss of my sweet little statue with sentimental value!), but also good.  Really, really good.  Because I was able to, later, really think through how I am still not as detached from the world as I ought to be.  I was able to resolve to do better and rely more on God, and to reaffirm my commmitment to keep material goods in their proper, less-valuable-than-people place.

And all of this is not to say that we shouldn't care for the things we do have.  It is not to say that we should regard with disdain or callous indifference the gifts God gives us, or that we are all meant to take a vow of hard physical poverty.  It is not to say that we should never buy things that bring us or our children joy.  God loves beauty and feasting and celebration--just look at the beautiful cathedrals of France, or the Sistine Chapel and major basilicas in Rome.  There is stunning, unparalleled beauty and reverence in these incredible works of art.  Which I would argue that our world quite desperately needs.

But it is to say that detachment from material wealth is an objective good.  It's not necessarily easy, but it is rather simple.  And I confess that I am more than a little thrilled to be discovering the many spiritual and practical (which are always related) benefits of pursuing this detachment in my life. 

Monday, December 03, 2012

Advent: one without the other

Being a convert to the Catholic faith, I lived most of my 31 years largely unaware of the season of Advent, in spite of the fact that all three Protestant churches I attended throughout those years used an Advent wreath in December.  I knew each candle represented something different.  And I knew it was somehow intended to be a countdown to Christmas.  But like so many other traditions borrowed from two-thousand years' worth of, well, Tradition, it had been watered down, divorced from some of its original meaning.

Which the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains here:  When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior's first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming (524).

Advent is a season of preparation and heart conversion.  Where we look to the hope and salvation of the Christ-Child.  It is a season when we examine our sin and our lives and our hearts, and resolve to do better and to love better.  It is a season when we hunger and thirst for Jesus' coming and presence in our lives.  And where we anticipate His second coming, too.

And it feels strange, Advent, because we Catholics are observing a liturgical season of penance and praying and waiting while the majority of the culture is feasting.  We aren't technically celebrating Christmas yet, but of course everywhere we go, it's already Christmas--what with the music and trees and snowmen and Black Friday sales.  It's Christmas devoid of much religious meaning, period.

So I'm finding that Advent is a bit of a shift for me, because I love me some Christmas festive-ness.  The egg nog, candy canes, and Bing Crosby songs make me positively giddy.  I love the twinkly lights on our Christmas tree and the Russian Teacakes and fudge I bake each year.  I love family traditions.  And, well, food.  And I'm used to kicking all of these things off the minute the calendar flips to December, because December 1st has always signaled Christmas to me. 

But I'm reorienting myself a bit, attempting to hold off on some of the specifically Christmas celebrating, while embracing the anticipation, and the opportunity to really examine my heart and my need for a Savior.  I admit that I'm not rejecting any and all premature Christmas festivities (I have a carton of egg nog in the fridge, and I do plan to do some baking), but I am focusing more on Advent than on Christmas right now.  And you know what?  It's a really remarkable thing.  Spending four weeks contemplating the Virgin Birth, and the world's desperate need for hope and salvation, is actually really beautiful in its own right.  Plus, preparing for and desiring Jesus in this way makes Christmas itself that much more monumental and joy-filled.

The rhythms of the liturgical calendar are good for our souls. 

I've talked before about how finding the Catholic Church (or really, it finding me) has been like discovering an endlessly vast and bottomless trove of treasure.  The richness, steadfastness, beauty, wisdom, depth, and fullness are a priceless gift.  And so, while I think it's lovely that assorted faith traditions still give a customary nod to Advent each year through the weekly lighting of the candle, I also regret that so much has been lost in translation about this important season in the Church. 

So at 31 years old, I am doing a bit of catch-up in implementing Advent in my home.  For anyone interested, here is our plan for the coming weeks:

We have an Advent wreath and candles displayed on our dining room table.  Where of course we spend a lot of time.  Each Sunday night we will do our Advent reading and light the appropriate candle, while singing an Advent hymn.  This is such a simple and beautiful tradition, and the kids are loving it. 

Yesterday, the first day of Advent, we went around the table and shared our Advent resolutions.  My kids chose things like being kind to siblings, saying extra prayers, and having good attitudes.

For our family's daily Advent readings, we are using Welcome Baby Jesus--which I love, love, love!  It includes scripture and action items, and prayer and reflection.  We will do a reading each evening before dinner as we light that week's candle(s).

I'm so looking forward to reading Catherine Doherty's Donkey Bells: Advent and Christmas, gifted to us by our wonderful friends Devin and Katie.  The author is incredible and I'm so anxious to dig in!

My own Advent resolution is to do personal spiritual reading each and every day.  I've had Saint Francis De Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life on my nightstand for months now, and I'm finally getting back into it, and I'm also planning to do the daily Mass readings each day.  I find that if I don't make time to read spiritual, deep, contemplative things, I start to feel a bit dry.  But I've been pretty exhausted for much of my pregnancy and not doing as much of that type of reading, so I'm excited to resume.

Have you heard about Advent at Ephesus?  I ordered the CD today, and can't wait for it to arrive!  It is a collection of Advent hymns (some in Latin and some in English), sung by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles--and most of the proceeds go directly to their community in rural Missouri.  A friend recommended it on Saturday and when I looked it up online, I was sold.

We have our Christmas tree set up already, but I'm waiting until Christmas to put the star on top.  It's a bit of an effort to do the tree, and so it went up early, but I think it will still seem pretty magical to put the star up on Christmas Eve.  (I'm debating whether or not to also leave the lights off until Christmas, but it looks kind of funny without the lights.  So, I don't know.)

December is of course filled with many delightful feast days to celebrate in addition to Christmas itself--Saint Nicholas, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Saint Lucy, and the Immaculate Conception, to name a few.  At night during our family rosary time, we read about the saint having a feast day.

It's merely a fact that the religious aspect of Christmas has all but disappeared from the culture at large.  It is nearly impossible, for example, to find a box of Christmas cards at Target that reflects the birth of Jesus.  So it may be ironic, but it is not surprising, nor does it really affect me much at all--the existence of the commercialized secular version of the holiday (that now apparently begins on Thanksgiving Day) does not keep me up at night.  However, our family does things a bit differently, and as such, we hope to observe Advent as readily as we observe Christmas. 

Because, as I've come to see, you cannot have one without the other.

Friday, November 30, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday

1.)  Haven't done 7 Quick Takes in awhile, but I'm resurrecting it today.  Does that count as one?  Not sure.  We'll pretend that it does.  :)
2.)  Lately I've been reading a bit about the Catholic Land Movement.  Have you heard of this?  The idea (which is nothing new and has its roots in distributism) is a return to an agrarian, rural lifestyle, and it is all kinds of fascinating.  Yesterday I started GK Chesterton's The Outline of Sanity, which is predictably brilliant and insightful.  And while I have no desire to actually do any real farming (like, ever), Kevin and I have talked for awhile about moving out of the city and finding a home on a couple of acres.  There is really a lot of theological signficance to the concept of the land, and having grown up in a rural community it's always held an attraction for me.  But really I'm just a hack, because I have no intention of growing/raising any food.  Shhhhh.
3.)  My kids have not had their weekly school-for-homeschooled-kids in a couple of weeks, and can I just say that it has been incredibly peaceful having that break?  It's only one day a week, but for some reason it has been feeling intrusive on our routine.  This is the first year it's felt that way, maybe in part because as my kids are getting older, we have more to do at home.  And we're also quite involved at our parish.  So all of that to say I'm honestly not sure if we'll continue with it after this year, and going off the grid completely is sounding better and better.
4.)  Advent starts this Sunday.  It's funny because in the Protestant churches I've belonged to, we observed Advent by lighting the standard candles and acknowleding the season.  But nobody ever really talked about what the season means, and how it's a season of--wait for it--penance.  The p-word.  Which is odd.  (The random selection of traditions kept by Protestants vs. the ones rejected is generally odd, in my opinion.)  At any rate, I do love this liturgical time of waiting and expectation, and of preparing our hearts to receive Jesus at Christmas.
5.)  In spite of the fact that Advent is only just beginning, we put up our Christmas tree.  (I know.  Old habits die hard.)  Anyway, it's a fake, pre-lit tree, and this year the lights at the top aren't working.  And I haven't fixed them yet, so it looks downright ridiculous.  Grrrrrr.  Maybe that's my punishment for putting up a Christmas tree weeks before Christmas.
6.)  I'm so excited because my blog redesign should be done by January!  Hooray!  If you're interested in giving your blog a facelift, please consider using Sour Apple Studio.  Lindsey was my roommate in college, and does great work!
7.)  We watched the documentary Forks Over Knives recently and I've been inspired to be more diligent about serving vegetables to my kids.  Who love veggies, which makes it easy.  We're not going vegan or anything but good grief, statistically-speaking, the average American diet is horrible.  Who is eating that much meat, processed food and soda?  Sheesh!  Trust me when I say I'm no purist, but really, it's gross.  We eat at home each night and in spite of the occasional fast-food for convenience's sake, we eat fairly healthy.  My kids have oatmeal for breakfast every.single.morning., sweetened with a little honey and cinnamon.  It's typically PB&J (on whole-wheat bread, with natural peanut butter and organic non-HFCS jelly) for lunch, and then whatever we're having for dinner.  I figure if we aim for healthy eating most of the time, I won't feel bad for the occasional corn dog or mac and cheese.  (Which I don't.  Kids need to be kids, too!)
Thanks to Jen, who incidentally now has her own reality show, at Conversion Diary for hosting! 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


I'm writing over at Ignitum today about transforming the world, simply through living one's faith.  Come join me!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The sibling factor

I know, right?

Them's a lot of (squinting) kids at Grandma and Grandpa's house for Thanksgiving.

And yes we are pretty handy to have around when you need help eating a 20-pound turkey.

Oh how I love each of those sweet individual souls, even as I am slightly overwhelmed when I consider the fact that at 31 years old, I have seven kids.  Look at those little faces! I think.  How is it possible that I am somehow responsible for these people making it to adulthood?!

Having a Catholic marriage ordered towards God's two-fold purpose for marriage (the procreation and education of children, and the good of the spouses) naturally results, of course, in assorted messes chaos little people running around the house.  And I know our decisions and values seem old-fashioned and outdated to the average 21st-century American parent. 

Some of this is simply because parenting values have shifted over time.  People thus have a lot of questions about our family, and the way we live.  And one of the things that comes up regularly is the "s" word.


My kids obviously, um, have several.  And barring some unforeseen future personal crisis (where we'd need to use NFP to limit our family size), my kids will probably continue gaining new brothers and sisters throughout my fertile years.  I really don't spend time thinking about the final number of kids that I want and how to achieve that, because I don't believe that line of thought is generally in keeping with the heart of Church teaching on the matter (as laid out by popes throughout the centuries, and articulated quite well in the book Covenanted Happiness.)  Plus, life and marriage just don't really work like that.  But anyway, I'd imagine that this precious baby due in February won't be the last.

And in decades past, kids generally had multiple siblings--no big deal.  The average American home was smaller too so room sharing was the norm, and people had fewer personal possessions in general.  Life was simpler in many ways, because it had to be.

Now though, families like ours are not the norm.  Parenting values have changed. 

I met a woman at a wedding a couple of years ago who, upon hearing that we were in the process of adopting two little girls, leaned in and asked in a concerned voice, "Do your kids have to share rooms?"  I didn't fault the woman for thinking we were crazy for adding to our already-big family, but I think her sentiment is indicative of the (troubling and insidious) mentality that a childhood involving multiple brothers and sisters is not a pleasant one.

But I'm here to say that I wholeheartedly disagree. 

And I will tell you that no matter how crazy people think it is, my children are a gift to one another. 

Yes they fight and cry sometimes, but they're never truly alone.

Yes they share rooms, but they love chatting with each other after the lights go out, every.single.night.

Yes they have limited space for toys and clothes, but they have a healthy detachment from material goods--and would much rather spend their time playing together, anyhow.

Yes they share my time, but they also have a bunch of other people clamoring to congratulate them on their awards, or to ask how their sleepover at Grandma and Grandpa's house went the moment they get into the car.

Yes they have two siblings with medical and developmental needs, but those two siblings are Mary Lu's best friends.

Yes they will surely experience the births of new babies in the years to come, but they have without fail receieved each and every new sibling with eager and open arms and hearts.

My children, all seven of them, have a strong genuine affection for one another.  They are the best of friends.  They are thrilled about the baby on the way.  And the more I think about the ever-changing world around me, the more I believe that life in our home--shared rooms, small closets and all--is good. 

And I always hoped my kids would get along well, but believe me when I say that I do not force them to play together.  I don't micromanage every little conflict, nor do I tell them they have to act excited at the news of a pregnancy. 

I do hold them to standards like showing respect to one another, and being kind.  I do have a policy that says younger siblings are to be included if they are wanting to play with bigger siblings--even when an older brother or sister has a friend over.  I do regularly tell them that virtues like charity and patience are best learned (and hardest to practice) within our very own home, around our very own table.

And lo and behold, our family culture has somehow (in spite of my failings) been conducive to my children developing a love for life and a sincere excitement anytime a child joins our family, through birth or adoption.  My kids choose to spend time together vs. time spent playing independently.  The older children help the littler ones and the littler ones adore their older siblings.  They enjoy being together, and know that most any activity is more fun with more people.

So if you are considering family size, wondering if remaining open to children throughout your marriage is even possible in this day and age, Catholic or not, I want to tell you that it is.  Counter-cultural, yes.  The lesser-travelled road, most definitely.  But it is also really, really good.  We must resist the temptation to internalize arbitrary cultural norms that tell us our homes or our cars or our hearts are too small for more than _____ children.  We must consider our priorities, and how we've ordered our lives, and see how that lines up with what Christ's Church has always told us: that children are a natural part of marriage, and are a gift to marriage--not primarily a burden.

And of all the considerations, I can say with confidence that a child with many siblings is a very loved child--many times over.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What we do

Hard to believe, but it's been a year now since my two Ethiopian daughters both underwent heart catheterizations, on the same day, one right after the other.

When you adopt two children with Down syndrome from a developing country, you know that a previously-undetected congenital heart defect is a very real possibility.  So we reasoned that maybe one of them would have some sort of issue, but that if they did, it would surely be nothing major, since they'd survived so long in such an unideal environment.

Hmmmm.  :)

When the cardiologist told me at the girls' first clinic visit that both of them had heart defects necessitating surgery, and that one of them would also require open-heart surgery in order to survive childhood, I was semi-surprised, semi-afraid, but mostly just anxious to get the ball rolling.  I didn't know a thing about cardiology but I knew my daughters had lived far too long without these problems being addressed. 

So I arrived at Children's Hospital early one November morning, roughly one year ago.  Both girls were  happy as could be, because that's just how they are--but I was nervous.  None of my kids had ever been admitted to a hospital before.  So having to wait through two heart procedures, praying that Tigist's would be effective in repairing the hole, and that Mekdes' would reveal that she was a candidate for open-heart surgery...and attempting to keep Tigist still during recovery and to console an out-of-sorts Mekdes when she was hard.

Something that strikes me now looking back though is that even when you get the crazy news that your two-year-old and five-year-old both need heart surgery, it is really just a process of putting one foot in front of the other.  Normal life keeps slipping and rushing by, even though you're making big medical decisions for two children you scarcely know, and subjecting them to necessary but large medical risks.

It's weird.

Because we all have this idea in our heads about what being a mother looks like, what it entails, how it feels.  And few of us ever envision ourselves dashing between two hospital bedsides in an attempt to comfort children as they regain consciousness.  No woman imagines receiving updates in a waiting room about her daughter being put on a bypass machine.  And yet, I've experienced both of those things as a mom.  And something tells me that even if you haven't, there are things that maybe took you by surprise, or that didn't fit with the narrative we've all bought into about raising children.

I honestly think that our definition of motherhood is deeply flawed.  I suspect it is too narrow, too short-sighted, and that our lives as women might be different if we adopted a broader and more accurate view of the vocation.  This is why I detest the term "Natural Family Planning" (why yes, I really did just say that), this is why adoption can be difficult, and this is what leaves us dissatisfied and disenchanted when things don't go according to the fairy tale.

If we want a good, beautiful, true picture of what it means to be a mother, it seems we must shed any beliefs or assumptions we already have about what makes for a happy life, and look to the wise words of God instead.  It is hard to throw off long-held expectations and beliefs, but it is well worth it if we exchange them for wisdom and for truth. 

Often unintentionally, we absorb far more of our culture than we realize.  How many of us have believed at some point that "being a good mom" includes providing each of our kids with his or her own bedroom and lots of "personal space"...a fully-paid-for college education...a gourmet meal each night...unlimited extra-curricular activities...brand-new, trendy clothing options...a mother and father who feel they have everything under control at all times?

I know I have.

Because yes, moms-to-many are susceptible to this error too.

But the more I read and learn and live, I'm coming to see that the safe American Dream my generation inherited is regularly at odds with God's methods for cultivating virtues like charity and holiness.

See the problem is that my desire for comfort, happiness and ease does not always square with what my daily tasks and vocation require of me.  While we may attempt to carve out the precise existence we want to have, life itself remains fluid and unpredictable, independent of our whims and fancies.  Relationships, health, death, and other circumstances far beyond our control will always fail to bend to our wills, and what an amazing witness our Church might be if we clung instead to Jesus.  And to the road less travelled.  What if we fully embraced our vocations and our faith, even when they flew in the face of conventional, 21st-century American "wisdom"?

Over the past few years, I've been blessed to discover these precious and beautiful encyclicals: Casti Connubii, Humanae Vitae, Evangelium Vitae, and the Address to Midwives on the Nature of Their Profession.

Profoundly rich writings on the Sacrament of Marriage, the gift of children, and life itself, they offer incredible insight into God's design for humankind.  These documents are an immense gift to the Church, and to the world.  (Side-note: don't be put off by fancy words like "encyclical", or by the fact that they were written by intellectual, scholarly, and holy men.  The fact is that these men wrote these words for us, in order that we might have generous and happy marriages.  There is an unfortunate tendency in our culture to avoid source documents in favor of watered-down articles and, yes, blogposts.  But these writings are SO worth reading, and I promise you won't be sorry for investing the time.) 

So all of this to say, fear not when things don't go as planned.  Don't be discouraged when motherhood throws you a curveball, or when raising children turns out to be less like the pretty Pinterest boards, and more like Lord of the Flies.  Don't think you're doing it wrong if you have a miserable week, and don't believe that the quiet and often unnoticed work you do each day in your home is not contributing to society or to Jesus in any meaningful way. 

Because I assure you that it most certainly is, and that the creating and raising of souls is the most significant donation of self a mother can give.

Instead, be encouraged--even when motherhood is simply watching and waiting, nerves completely shot, while your two new daughters recover from heart procedures in side-by-side, post-op rooms.  Seeing myself in that photo actually brings tears to my eyes, because that day wasn't fun and it sure wasn't easy.  But I love my girls, and I'm their mother, so it's just what I do.

And maybe that's the point.  Being a mom is hard and it's beautiful and it's messy and it's good. 

Simply put, it's just what we do.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

On losing

Mary receiving her nightly blessing.

Well, in spite of my glowing last-minute election day Romney endorsement, Obama beat him in the end.

A group of us got together last Tuesday night for pizza, drinks, and what we hoped would be some sort of celebration.  The kids colored festive Mitt Romney coloring pages and decorated cookies with an "R" on them.  We adults huddled around the TV, checking our cell phones and laptops, poking fun at the news commentators, and cursing Jay-Z.

Of course the victory went to President Obama--in fact I'm pretty sure that every.single.thing. I voted for/against ended up going the other way.  Apparently I'm contrary like that.

And while I may wish the outcome were different, our nation has spoken.  So while pundits point fingers and say that Republicans should have done this or that, I busy myself with the small tasks of motherhood--with a renewed conviction to instill an authentically Catholic worldview in my children. 

Maybe this is a strange takeaway from a night of commiserating with friends over aggravating electoral vote counts, but it's true.  Political theorizing is all fine and well, but what this election's outcome highlighted for me was simply a clashing of visions.  A meeting of disparate worldviews.  Not so much between Republicans and Democrats (there is the potential for quite a bit of common ground between people, regardless of their party affiliation), but between differing ideals of what the common good looks like.

We live, clearly, in a post-religious culture.  (Sort-of.  Because everyone more or less has a moral code they live by, so in that sense everyone adheres to some sort of religion.  But on the other hand, society has long-since shed any sort of dogmatic values-based ethic.  For better or for worse.)

My family on the other hand is--and I say this with no reservations whatsoever--religious.  Not primarily "spiritual" (though we are that too), but dogma-following, Nicene Creed-reciting, Jesus-loving, organized-Christian religious.  We believe in the Trinitarian God, in Heaven and Hell and Purgatory, and in a visible Church on earth established by Jesus Himself.  We believe in the teachings of the Apostles and in the Sacred Scriptures.  And in attempting to base our lives on this faith, we also attempt to pass it on to our children. 

Who receive a very different message from mainstream society.

That message diminishes virtue and celebrates relativism, obscures the issues and feeds on emotion.  It is a message that is ever-present, and inconsistent with the message of our religion--which says that God is goodness itself, and infinitely holy, and ultimately love.  Yet it's not enough to say "avoid this" or "they're wrong about that"--on the contrary, our children must know how to think and how to live.

I'm not ashamed to say that I want my kids to reach adulthood having been immersed in a historically Christian worldview.  Because, trust me--every child will have adopted a worldview by the time they leave home.  The only thing up for grabs is which worldview it will be.

So, in light of all the political and moral and, well, heated discussions over the past week, here are a few things I've been thinking about in regards to shaping my childrens' worldview:

1.)  Reading and knowing God's Word. 

The Bible is God's written revelation to humankind.  It is ancient and timeless and supernaturally inspired.  The Sacred Scriptures are read at each and every Mass and comprise much of the liturgy.  It is where we learn about the human condition, about where things went wrong, and about Jesus setting them right.  We see the birth of Christ's Church, the apostles in action, the Blessed Mother's love and the weaving of a beautiful story of brokenness and redemption.  We regularly read and discuss the Bible in our home, and I think it is vital.

2.)  Going to Mass as a family. 

I was really surprised to learn that many Catholics don't take their children to Mass.  Maybe it's my Protestant background coming into play here, but church has always seemed like a family affair to me--not something relegated to adult life and hidden from a child's view.  Yes it can be hard to pay attention to the priest when I'm hissing at my kids and working up a sweat wrestling them into the pew, but guess what?  I'm called to serve Jesus through my vocation, and that vocation is marriage and motherhood.  Not the cloistered and silent religious life.  So, yes, I attend weekly Mass with my husband and seven children ages eight and under.  The kids may not all fully understand what is going on, and yes it is occasionally difficult, but I love that they're there.  They know when they see the host lifted up and hear the bells that Jesus is present.  They know to genuflect when entering and leaving the pew.  They know to pray.  They know when they look around and see our many dear friends that they are not on this faith journey alone.  And, surely they receive graces from merely being in the presence of the Holy Sacrament. (I will also say that I've found that most children over the age of four are capable of being somewhat quiet and respectful during the Mass--and of sitting, standing, and kneeling at the appropriate times.  It takes work, but generally speaking, it can be done.)

3.)  Being the domestic church. 

This concept was new to me as a convert, and I love it.  Essentially, each of our families is a microcosm of the Church, and we can live that out every single day.  I found this quote online (in a catechism summary) and I think it's great:  The home is the first school of the Christian life where all learn love, repeated forgiveness, and prayerful worship.  We have started a tradition of praying a decade of the Rosary each night as a family, my children have learned the traditional Catholic prayers, my husband blesses each child individually at bedtime (including the little girl residing in my uterus), we regularly have discussions about God and the Church around the dinner table, and we try to make faith the primary constant in our home.  We have crucifixes on our walls and some beautiful religious art too.  We use Holy Water.  May we be a small and humble representation of His Church.

4.)  Studying the lives of saints.

Each and every morning, I read the kids a story about whichever saint is having a feast day.  My kids love learning about the saints--oftentimes the stories include martyrdom, persecution, and/or miracles.  They are also testimonies of everyday people living radical lives for Jesus, and so over time you start to get a picture of how God works through His people, and how counter-cultural faith really is.  I know for myself that reading these stories (intended for children!) has greatly strengthened my own faith and given me a better perspective on not counting the cost of following God.  And I do believe my kids are learning that sometimes standing up for Jesus won't be popular, and carries risk, but is always worth it.

5.)  Applying God's truth to current situations.

I am of the persuasion that faith means something.  And that if we truly believe, we must actually live that way.  So we try to use the kids' own experiences, certain political issues (with moral implications), and even our middle-ages-era history lessons as jumping off points for religious discussions.  We once for example organized a little debate at the dinnertable between our four oldest kids regarding the crusades--and were pretty amazed by the spiritual implications they were able to come up with.  I think it's important for children to see that following Jesus is part of the everyday, and that the decisions we make must be made in light of God's love and instruction, and in keeping with the teachings of the Church.  For our own good and the good of the world.

6.)  Embracing life.

Not only am I happy to identify as being pro-life, I am also determined to find ways to live those convictions.  Many years ago I saw Gary Haugen (of International Justice Mission) give a talk on freeing young children from the sex trade.  He posed the question, "Do we care about what Jesus cares about?"  And, it changed my life.  For real.  Because I'd never given much thought to that before.  And if you think I'm being overly dramatic, I'll tell you that his question would eventually result in our adopting four children (including two with Down syndrome), and also (indirectly) our being received into the Catholic Church a little over a year ago.  Jesus loves life, and it may be a daily battle to fully embrace all that comes with it in its various forms (noise and mess in the case of raising small children, derision and rejection in the case of standing and fighting for the unborn), but it is a must.  And it is something I desperately want to pass on to my children: caring for the "least of these", protecting the vulnerable, loving the orphan and widow, and loving one another.  I want their hearts to remain soft towards the forgotten and the lonely, and to break for the scourge of abortion.  I never want them to wonder why a couple capable of conceiving children might still choose to adopt, nor do I want them to internalize the popular notion that children are a distraction and detriment in a marriage.  And maybe if they see me in some small way working to embrace life--whether that's explaining to someone why I can't vote for a pro-abortion candidate, or praying for a young girl scheduled to have an abortion, or joyfully receiving a new baby--they will continue to embrace life too.

So, those are my belated election-day thoughts. Leaders will come and go, but I am ultimately responsible for doing my very best to raise children who love Jesus and want to follow Him. I honestly don't know what's in store for our Church in the days ahead, but I do know that Jesus will continue to be the foundation upon which we build our lives.

And that is certainly something that won't be changing every four years.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

On voting

My husband and my daughter before a recent Romney/Ryan rally.

Today is election day.

I've gone back and forth about posting anything political here whatsoever, but I finally decided to--at the eleventh hour.  And not with the express intention of changing anyone's mind as they're about to leave for the polling place (I would imagine your minds are all made up by now), but in order to explain who I'm voting for, and why it is such a clear-cut decision for me.  I'll say here that I have many friends who don't vote the way I do, and it should go without saying that while I may disagree with their choice, they are people I enjoy and respect.  And while I hate to alienate or offend anyone, I do feel the conviction to share my own thought process, because I'm one of those strange people who believes that voting has moral implications.

Today is election day.

And I'm voting for Mitt Romney.

Primarily because of the two candidates' respective positions on abortion.

Oh, I know what many of you are thinking.  Is Brianna really one of those uber predictable, simple-minded, gullible women who not only thinks that this issue--protecting the unborn--matters infinitely more than the other issues, but that the president actually has some sort of responsibility or sway in the matter?

Well I'm going on record here and now as saying yes I am, and yes it does, and yes he does.

It is outright naive (albeit convenient) to believe that President Obama's pro-abortion views won't affect his policies, his vetoes, his signatures, and his agenda.  As a Catholic holding to the historical tenets of Christianity I cannot support grave and intrinsic evil, which includes murder and thus includes abortion.  So a vote for Obama is out of the question for me.

As for Mitt Romney, no he does not have a spotless record on the abortion issue--but he is not pro-abortion like his opponent, and has already promised that if elected he would reinstate the Mexico City Policy (which Obama struck down.)  That in and of itself would be a step in the right direction, an incremental move towards protecting children around the globe.  Mitt Romney has also pledged to repeal Obamacare with attention to the issue of religious freedom--he does not seem to think, like Barack Obama does, that the Holy Catholic Church (or any other organization or company) should be forced to pay for other peoples' contraception and abortion.

There are some who say that Barack Obama's social policies will actually result in fewer abortions.  This claim is patently false, especially when we're talking about a man who voted multiple times against the Born Alive Act as a senator, and who receives a great deal of support from Planned Parenthood (which does not provide mammograms FYI, but is the largest abortion provider in the United States).  It of course makes perfect political sense for him to be connected with Planned Parenthood--the abortion industry is a complex and relatively unregulated system committed to lining the deep pockets of doctors and CEOs, who profit immensely off of vulnerable and oftentimes desperate women.  In other words, this is an insanely lucrative industry where a lot of money is changing hands.  It therefore benefits a candidate or president to be in their corner, and of course it benefits Planned Parenthood to have such a powerful political ally.

For people who claim that Obamacare's "free birth control!!!" provision (paid for by you and me because hello, nothing is free) will somehow reduce the number of abortions, try again.  You can read this post written by mega-blogger Bad Catholic for more information, but it ain't so.  And if you insist that it is, perhaps also consider the message and legacy of Margaret Sanger, foundress of Planned Parenthood and champion of birth control and abortion.  She's heralded as a pioneer of women's rights, but did you know she was also a major advocate of eugenics?  And that she had ties to the KKK?   And wanted to eliminate the poor, the disabled, and African Americans?   Thanks to Roe v. Wade, she's doing a superb job, even beyond the grave.  Her mission, in spite of being INCREDIBLY politically incorrect (and, you know, evil), lives on in the organization she founded and in the very fiber of our nation's being.  Contraception and abortion may seem like strange and opposed bedfellows, but they are not.  They go together.

Just last night I read an article by someone claiming that even if abortion were made illegal, the number of abortions procured would remain roughly the same.  And,  People need to stop perpetuating this ridiculous lie.  I'm under no delusions that the Supreme Court will be rolling back that ruling anytime soon (if ever), but if they did?  Fewer babies would die.  Period.  If for no other reason than that the medical establishment would no longer be able to offer the procedure as a legitimate solution to a prenatal diagnosis, or "unexpected" pregnancy.  (I put that word in quotes because I think all of us know how babies are made.)

And, on-campus health clinics could no longer push students to terminate their "pregnancies".  (Yes, push.  I'd been married a year when I discovered we were expecting our first child, and had the pregnancy confirmed at the university health center.  Not only did the nurse at the clinic seem to suggest this was a bad thing for me, I also received a follow-up phone call wanting to know if I was wanting to kill my baby.  How lovely.)  THERE IS AN AGENDA HERE.  Abortion is, as I said, big business, and claims both children, women, and men as its victims--while abortionists and CEOs and politicians are laughing all the way to the bank.

So that is one reason--the most important reason--I'm voting for Mitt Romney.  And why I believe he is the only morally licit choice.  (Aside from abstaining from voting altogether, and voting for a third-party candidate.  Those are okay too.)  And yes, I really did just say that.  I'm sorry if you consider yourself a classic liberal, hate Republicans, or think conservatives are a bunch of greedy jerks who don't care about the poor.  Some of them are.  (So are some Democrats.)  Because people are people, regardless of their party affiliation.  It's just that I simply do not believe pro-abortion Barack Obama is a legitimate option when there is another candidate who is significantly more committed to protecting the most vulnerable among us--including the (upwards of) 90% of children with Down syndrome who are presently being slaughtered in the womb in our great nation.

While a president cannot singlehandedly make a law or change things around, he can appoint justices, and set a course, and reinstate that Mexico City Policy.  It's a fact that our nation is in trouble right now with a huge deficit, appalling (and unacceptable) unemployment rates, soaring healthcare costs, and yes the scourge of abortion.  There is a lot to deal with, and I understand that when it comes to domestic policy, these two men represent drastically different visions for America.  I understand it would be difficult to vote for someone who does not approach healthcare or government aid the way you would.  And I also believe that more than ever, this is a time when our country needs to come together and offer opportunities so that men and women can provide for their families.

But if I'm going to cast a vote, it cannot in any way support the destruction of innocent life.  I must vote for the innocent and unborn.  And quite frankly, for women.  So I will choose not to have "voting for the most pro-abortion president in our nation's history" on my conscience, regardless of how much lipservice he may pay to "helping the poor" (and by the way I don't think expanding Planned Parenthood's influence, or distributing hormonal birth control, or strategically eliminating minority groups is helping the poor).  Don't buy into the lie that if you vote for someone who happens to be a Republican, you don't care about the downtrodden.  My faith demands I help the poor.  It also demands I not be complicit in any sort of grave, intrinsic evil.  The two are not at odds, period.

And this has nothing to do with the Religious Right, with which I (and the vast majority of prolife people I know) am not affiliated.  I don't align myself with Jerry Falwell or James Dobson, and it is a real shame that in hopes of distancing themselves from Evangelicalism, so many "progressive" Christians refuse to identify as prolife as well.

I applaud the Catholic bishops and priests who have proclaimed our duty to promote and choose life throughout this election season.  I commend my own parish priest and deacon for addressing abortion directly in their homilies, multiple times, and for reminding parishioners that our faith MUST inform and drive our choices in the voting booth--and that this does have the potential to affect our very souls.  And that may sound extreme, because it is.  Murder is extreme.  And the current president's agenda in the area of "women's health"--embodied by the likes of Sandra Fluke and this ridiculous ad that I am ashamed was put out by my president's own campaign--is something a prolife and anti-abortion citizen cannot support.

So last night I prayed a rosary, and now I'm off to the polls.  And I'm voting for life.  And if you haven't cast your vote yet, I hope you'll join me.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Chef and the Boy-Band

Today I'm writing at Ignitum Today and, surprisingly, talking about celebrities.  So head on over!


Friday, October 26, 2012

Small things

I had the opportunity this week to appear (via telephone) on a live radio show from Alabama.  I've never done an interview like that before, and I have to admit it was a blast!  Not only did my spotty cordless phone not die, I also didn't completely humiliate myself.  So I'll call it a success.

The truth is of course that anytime I have the chance to share publicly about adoption, openness to life, my faith, or my journey into the Catholic Church, I am equal parts eager and humbled to do so.  Eager because it is a joy and privilege to advocate for things close to my heart, and humbled because people often make a big deal about what our family is doing. 

So I've been thinking about this over the past few days because while I understand that my story is relatively unusual in most circles, in the day-to-day I don't see myself as doing anything out of the ordinary.  In fact, you can bet that if you're a mom, you and I pretty much do the same things on any given day: shopping for groceries, preparing meals, tucking little ones in at night, bemoaning the fact that babies grow up too fast, and worrying about how this or that child is going to turn out, come adulthood.  I bake cupcakes and take my kids to Mass, I give time-outs and occasionally yell.  I'm just an everyday mom.

The only difference between us is that perhaps I have a few more children than you do, or maybe your kids didn't have a combined total of three heart surgeries this past year.

And apparently those are the things that make for radio broadcasts.  :)

But here's the thing: no adoptive parent, least of all me, believes they are doing Big Huge Things.  When it comes to adoption (and parenting in general), we're really just doing a combination of the really small things--like changing diapers, wiping noses, and offering a shoulder to cry on when little feelings are hurt.  My life really is just life, with some extra challenges like kids with ADHD or developmental delays thrown in.  Oh, and I drive the world's biggest car that I am hopelessly unable to parallel park.  No big deal.

It's funny too because I used to really believe that the world is primarily changed by Very Impressive People doing Big Huge Things, and that I should aspire to that.  (Not that I even came close--I assure you I didn't.)  But you know what?

It's not.

Saint Therese of Lisieux is one of my all-time favorite saints, in large part because she did small things, generally unnoticed, but all the while growing in holiness and devotion to Jesus.  A young nun who didn't live an outwardly noteworthy life, her writings are incredibly profound, and her "little way" now inspires Christians the world over.  And Blessed Mother Teresa?  While best known for her compassionate tending to the sick and dying, she too wrote and spoke primarily of the little things, about loving and serving those in your very home.  While she was indeed recognized for her work during her lifetime, that work was comprised of small, difficult, menial tasks in the forgotten corners of Calcutta.

And I am discovering in my own life that saying "yes" to God amounts not to grand and sweeping actions, but to a series of seemingly small and unseen tasks.  And it's hard.  But beautiful too.

See, there's a reason that we mothers are so often discouraged--and also why adoption is one of the greatest blessings I've been given.  21st-century Americans have a natural disdain for the small things, the things that "hold us back" and keep-us-from-really-accomplishing-something for Jesus.  I once read a book, in fact, that claimed being an at-home mom was depriving God of using our gifts and talents for more important work.  (Clearly this book was not written by a Catholic.)

But as an adoptive mom, I know the importance of treasuring the mundane and embracing the normal, of savoring the days at home with peanut butter and jelly and Sesame Street. My adopted children didn't always have these days, so I rejoice in the littlest of breakthroughs--like when my five-year-old daughter with Down syndrome (and likely Cerebral Palsy) ran for the first time, off-balance and all. It is the little things in life that we are made for; these are the things that nourish and grow the soul, and these are the things that define motherhood.

So while I love sharing my story in hopes of encouraging others, I also want people to know that the things I do on a daily basis are infinitely small

And that people who begin the process to adopt a waiting child are not saints.  They are not super-human.  They do not have infinite patience or perfectly organized closet spaces.  They do not consider amassing large amounts of mismatched socks to be a life-goal.  They don't think changing parasite-filled diapers is the most fun thing ever nor do they somehow have a greater capacity for love or charity or mercy.

They are merely people.  Stepping out in faith to meet a need, and to receive a precious and vulnerable child, yes...but that act will not ultimately culminate in the satisfaction that comes from winning a Nobel Peace Prize. 

It will culminate in the daily grind.  And in a completely humbling self-perception and awareness, amidst diapers and meal prep and mountains of laundry to be folded.  And maybe a bigger car that you don't take downtown very often, because of the aforementioned parallel parking situation. 

So I find it incredibly encouraging (and freeing) to remind myself that God chose me for the small things: making jello for my daughter when she has a sore throat, cleaning messes off the floor, and sitting at a newly-adopted child's bedside in the Cardiac ICU.  My call is not to be some high-energy Really Great Person, but to put one foot in front of the other each day in an attempt to love my family through word and deed.  It is my "yes" to God, and it's small--the biggest thing about it being that it forces me to see outside of myself, and has the potential to bring forth virtue in my life.

Saint Therese of Lisieux once penned the following: God rejoices more in what He can do in a soul humbly resigned to its poverty than in the creation of millions of suns and the vast stretch of the heavens.

One of the most beautiful and true things ever written, in my opinion.

Because it reflects the idea that God is working faithfully in our souls, and delights in our doing small things with great love.  I may have a baseball-team's worth of children, four of them adopted, two of them born with medical and developmental needs...but at the end of the day?

I'm simply a mother. 

Doing small motherly things, while hopefully growing in great love.


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