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.


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