Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The news

We were out late Saturday night at the Endow Gala, up early Sunday morning for Mass, and so Sunday afternoon I attempted to take a good, old-fashioned nap with Alice.  Unfortunately, two of my other supposed-to-be-napping children were not sleeping, and making noise instead, and after being awoken for the millioneth time I turned on the TV for some white noise to drown out the sweet but ill-timed giggling.  We don't have cable or satellite or anything, just an antennae, and a Colorado news program was on.

Now I never, ever watch TV, and that includes the news.  I check headlines online each day or so just in case there's a zombie apocalypse that I should know about, but that's it.  And anytime I do happen to catch a glimpse of television news I'm reminded precisely why I don't watch. 

People, the news is sad!  Shootings, stabbings, avalanches, and bombings were all covered during the ten minutes or so of coverage I saw on Sunday.  When the newscaster was done discussing them, he just started over and talked some more about them.  No wonder people are so depressed and afraid and stressed out of their minds.  They're watching the news!

It is for some reason natural to be drawn in and to internalize what we hear and see and read, as if it were all happening to us or near us--when the truth is that few of us are even remotely affected by the vast majority of headlines.  Occasionally I even have to consciously disengage from a particular story, if it is particularly disturbing or frightening, reminding myself that my own corner of the world is primarily happy. 

On the other hand though, I don't want to stick my head in the sand and pretend the world is not evil or that people are not suffering.  Because it is, and they are.  The first time I really had to come to grips with this sort of disparity was after our first trip to Africa, to adopt our sons.  It was eye-opening, I was incredibly naïve, and we did see some legitimately distressing things.  Returning home to our comfortable house and life of relative ease (I say "relative" because we went from one to three children, all aged two and under, and it was hard!) felt wrong somehow--as I look back now I realize that I was ultimately struggling with the ideas of suffering, affluence, poverty, and justice.  I'd never lacked for anything in my life, and now suddenly I felt a little guilty about it because clearly that was not the case for much of the rest of the world.  How might I integrate what I'd seen and how I lived with the faith I professed?  A faith that decidedly ought to care about the poor?

My life was filled with happy and mundane things and I didn't know how to think about that.  So I read a lot of books, hoping to find a framework for suffering with which to understand why some are rich and some are poor, and what we rich folks in the West are supposed to be doing (especially when we have a passel of kids preventing us from taking off to run an orphanage in a developing country).  For the first time I found myself drawn to the likes of progressive Evangelicals like Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and Jim Wallis.  They talked a lot about the poor and about social justice.  I thought they made some good points.  But they also lacked answers, I had misgivings, and could (mercifully) never fully settle there.  Thankfully I also discovered Thomas Howard around that time, and I'd never stopped reading CS Lewis, and finally I stumbled upon the fresh air that is Blessed John Paul II's Mulieris Dignitatem.  (So that is what womanhood and vocation and life are about.)  I read Blessed Teresa of Calcutta's Come Be My Light.  Powerful stuff.  Stuff that was true.  Stuff that contributed to our journey into the Catholic Church a year and a half ago.

See Catholics, it turns out, are not the least bit uncomfortable with the concept of suffering.  Who knew?  While Protestants attempt to work it out from varying perspectives (everyone from John Piper to Pat Robertson to Shane Claiborne has an opinion on the meaning and origin of suffering), Catholics continue believing the stuff they've always believed, essentially what the apostles and Church have always taught.  Suffering is mysterious.  Suffering is the result of sin.  Suffering is an opportunity for growth and change.  Suffering can be offered up in union with Christ's suffering.  Suffering is a chance to be united with Christ, period.  Suffering is not authored by God, though He allows it.  Suffering can be a special cross that can bring someone closer to Jesus. 

And Catholics have been ministering to the suffering since the Church's inception.  They have been caring for the poor and the marginalized in practical and spiritual ways.  At the same time, the Church teaches that if you marry and have children, that is the primary thing you will be doing for God.  That's your vocation.  And this means that those called by God to celibacy will most likely be the primary ones physically relocating to serve the poor and dying around the world--rendering unnecessary that difficult tension of "How can I serve God's kingdom when I'm just home with my kids all day?" that I saw so often in Protestant circles.  Women really, genuinely struggled with that, with what I believe is the diminishment of marriage and motherhood as vocation.  Myself included.

Now though I rejoice and rest in the fact that my life is presently comprised of mostly happy things.  I can pray for those suffering and give what I have, but I also now see suffering as being potentially redemptive, and it will not be everyone's cross at every point in time.  So no need to wallow in survivor's guilt or be constantly checking over my shoulder to see if I'm doing "enough."  I'm happy that I'm happy, for the blessings God has given me, and I'm also confident that when He does call on me to suffer, I will be given the graces to endure. 

So how does all of that tie in with the news?  I suppose because with the overabundance of real-time information available to us today, it is possible to become so caught up in what is happening somewhere else that our own peace and joy become eclipsed by some "national conversation" that is "needing" to happen.  When in reality, our own present situation is either fairly rosy or is difficult in its own way (fellow mothers of small children, I'm talking to you), and in either case the last thing we probably need is to own a far-off burden that doesn't belong to us in the first place.  I'm not saying it's bad to be informed (I like to be), and I'm not saying we shouldn't know what's going on in the world we inhabit (I do, and sometimes I even blog about it).  But we occasionally also need to be reminded that we are merely responsible for stewarding what is right in front of us, today.  In our own respective spheres of influence.  And more often than not, that will probably be quite enough.

Monday, April 22, 2013

On motherhood and quitting

My daughter Mekdes, meeting her newborn sister Alice for the very first time.  Otherwise known as love at first sight.

Last month we moved to a new house in a neighboring town, in order to get a couple of acres for the kids to run around on.  Which has been great, but it also means we are now farther away from most everything we do.  And so, due to this distance and the fact that I also now have a newborn who pretty much runs the show around here (because she's so darn cute), we made the decision to quit our kids' weekly homeschool enrichment program. 

We wouldn't have returned next year anyhow, but for some reason it was really hard to walk away mid-semester.  I knew rationally that an hour-plus drive (each way) was not remotely practical for us at this stage of our family's life, but I hated to miss out on the assorted activities my kids were working towards, and we've been part of this program since my oldest started kindergarten--roughly four years.

Thankfully though, common sense won out--deep down, I knew that if we attempted to continue, we would collectively be a complete and utter mess by the end of May.  I would no doubt have gone insane.  The kids would have been exhausted.  My little ones would have had to forego naps and their usual routine.  So we quit, and it was hard.  And I know precisely why it was hard: it involved choosing one good thing over another good thing, and that is one of the hardest things for me to do, period.  I hate making decisions!  I don't like the idea of opportunity cost!  I want to do it all!

And yet, I can't do it all.  I really can't.  And as a mom-to-many, I have to balance what is good for our family as a whole, with what is good for each individual member.  There happen to be a lot of us, so that can be difficult.  It has meant, among other things, not enrolling my kids in many organized sports, foregoing certain activities, skipping the occasional event, and in this case, unenrolling them from a weekly enrichment program eight weeks before the end of the year.

I'm thinking that this delicate balancing act--that will eventually require some amount of sacrifice from each and every family member--is part of what makes the large family seem less than desirable in our modern era.  Parents want their kids to have limitless opportunities, and the give and take required when there are multiple children is inherently limiting.  My kids admittedly are not on the fast track to becoming Olympians or musical prodigies.  They're just kids with holes in their jeans, who spend hours outside each day riding bikes and scooters together, who love taking pictures of the deer in our yard, and who fight over who gets to hold their newborn sister.  They're kids who share bedrooms, and regardless what they might tell you about wanting their own room, they speak and giggle together in hushed tones before drifting off to sleep each night.  They like going to Mass and to their grandma and grandpa's house.  They like to sip strawberry lemonade, prepared by my oldest, while lounging around in our little gazebo--if the day is particularly warm, they do it while wearing bathing suits.  Even though there's no pool in sight.  That's a good day for them.

They are, well, pretty much average, run-of-the-mill kids doing average, run-of-the-mill things.

And not only that but they, and I and my husband, make other sacrifices to live as a family of ten.  We walk a little slower in the parking lot to accommodate my two daughters with Down syndrome, and we all do chores around the house.  We stay home a lot, especially now, because our littlest family member wakes her mama a few times each night, leaving that mama more than a little tired.  And I don't know how my children will remember their respective childhoods once they grow up, or how they'll look back on their responsibilities and the fact that their family's lifestyle was different from that of the mainstream culture's.  I really don't. 

But I know that there will be some memories of laughter, joy, empathy, fun, creativity, and community that we all share, living life under the same roof together.  I know that my children are close friends and that they love Jesus, and that they get a lot of practice serving one another, just like Jesus talked about.  I know that we gain a whole lot more than we sacrifice, and that sometimes we gain things we wouldn't have had we not made the sacrifice--opportunity cost works the other way too.  And I've learned that oftentimes, what is best for the collective family really is what's best for individuals, even if it doesn't feel that way to everyone at the time.  And instead of feeling like a failure of a mom when we have to cancel this or that, or choose one thing over another, or--heaven forbid--disappoint a child, we must instead choose to remember the big picture.

Because the big picture doesn't leave much room for feeling guilty when we make a decision for the good of our family, or for the good of ourselves.  On the contrary, it keeps us balanced and forward-facing, more concerned with long-term charity and virtue and character than whether an exhausting day resulted in macaroni and cheese or frozen corndogs for dinner.  And it allows for flexibility, for that give-and-take where sometimes you just plain have to give up on an activity you like.

And I really, truly believe that in the long run, my kids are learning about compromise, self-giving, priorities, core values, and ultimately love.  Because it's love that shows patience towards a sibling who struggles to walk, and it's love that never begrudges a newborn sibling a mother's time and attention.  And all of that is part of the big picture goal, of nurturing and loving the little souls who grace my home.  Mercifully, that picture is not dependent on ballet class or violin lessons or anything I've pinned on Pinterest.

Sometimes we moms can learn just as much from quitting as we can from pressing on.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Abortionist on trial

Have you been following the Kermit Gosnell trial at all?

The details coming out are, in a word, horrific.  How can someone do such things to small children?  What leads a person to forfeit reason and human decency to such a degree that they engage in these acts?  On a regular basis, no less?  I suppose these are the same questions we always ask in the face of senseless violence, and I suspect the answers are roughly the same too.

It's interesting because while the doctor himself exhibits particularly disturbing (and psychopathic) behavior, the only real difference (as far as abortion goes) between him at his nightmarish clinic, and the abortionist at Planned Parenthood, is a mere technicality.  Because life is life.  Abortion is abortion.  Earthly justice is only being pursued on behalf of vulnerable children in this instance because Gosnell has broken some arbitrarily-decided-upon rules--had he succeeded in killing the babies before they exited the womb, that would somehow have been okay.  It makes little sense to those of us who hold firmly to the belief that life begins at the moment of conception.

And that is part of why this trial is so very important, and why we must not ignore it--especially in the face of predictably-limited media coverageThese heinous acts are, ultimately, being exposed for what they are.  And I hope that this spectacle, in addition to shutting his horrible clinic down, makes people think--really think--about what makes this fellow so very different from his legally-practicing and lauded-by-society colleagues.

Yesterday I happened to see a photo of one of the babies from his clinic.  It showed the back of the deceased baby's head and neck, where there was a large hole.  And while I've seen images of aborted babies before (most of them much gorier than this one), the horror of it all really struck me for some reason.  I wanted to cry and I wanted to scream.  I wanted to pretend it wasn't real, that it wasn't an actual photo of an actual newborn with a hole in his or her neck.  Maybe it's because my one-month-old daughter Alice has a little birthmark in that very spot that I love to look at and touch.  Maybe it's because it seemed such a cold and calculated way to kill a child.  Whatever the reason, I'm pretty sure I got some sort of glimpse of Hell when I saw that photograph.

Satan may of course use willing people to destroy the beautiful bodies of these children, but he cannot destroy their souls.  As for the people party to these killings, that is (sadly) another story.  Adult lives are being torn apart, dignity sacrificed, humanity eclipsed, souls crushed.  People are being deceived.  And dragged off into the darkness to a place where, in Gosnell's case, he eventually found himself keeping small feet in jars as "trophies" of his victims. And that sounds shocking to us--and it should--but we must also keep in mind that when someone is in the business of abortion, it becomes (to some degree) natural for them to think in rather morbid terms about it all.  He has become devoid of much of what makes us human

So really, Kermit Gosnell may actually be luckier than most in his profession--his actions are on trial and being exposed for what they are.  No airline CEOs are fundraising for him and no feminists are calling him a champion of women's issues.  No presidents are heralding him a hero of reproductive rights.  And maybe, just maybe, this will save his soul.  We must pray to that end, that not only will earthly justice be served, but that God will have mercy upon this man, that he will see the light and be freed from the dark and evil lifestyle that has slowly twisted him into a monster. 

May God bless and keep each of this man's tiny victims.

May God bless and keep each of their respective mothers and fathers.

Blessed Mother Mary and Holy Innoncents, pray for us.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Filled with wonder

Could it be?  Am I actually posting something here?  :)

Between the many around-the-clock feedings and diaper changes that accompany a newborn, I have not devoted much time to writing lately beyond the two publications I contribute to each month.  You can read my articles here and here.

I may or may not also be devoting a bunch of my time each day to simply gazing in awe upon the miraculous little creature known as Alice Therese.  Pictured above.

Because friends, I am in love.  With a little 9-ish pound person.  And I just plain don't want to miss a moment of this little girl's tiny life.  Every single stretch, snuffle, and baby-sneeze fills me with such incredible joy that it makes the general fatigue and compulsion to wear loose, ill-fitting sweatpants well worth it. 

It is profoundly amazing having a baby in the house again.

It is of course also difficult.  I regularly joke about how I feel as if I've fallen into an abyss since giving birth a month ago.  You see, we moved to a new house mere days after Alice was born, and quite frankly, I'm still trying to get my bearings--which apparently amounts to wearing comfy clothing, clutching my baby girl, and spending time on Facebook. 

Oh, and I eat a Cadbury Creme Egg every day.  That is a must.

The post-partum period is, for me, a strange mix of crazy, beautiful, messy, and happy.  Because I'm simultaneously exulting in the birth of my child...while attempting to figure out this breastfeeding thing all over again...all while being woken multiple times each night by this hungry and helpless little being who needs me even more than I need my own sleep.  I need her more than I need my own sleep.  But, I still need sleep.  And so there is this funny paradox where I occasionally feel overwhelmed (and generally feel tired!), but still gush to everyone about how happy I am.  Because I am happy--I'm also just sleep-deprived and on hormone-overload.  And I'm in love.

So while I haven't had the proper quorum of active brain cells to do much writing, I have been reflecting a little on this whole being-a-mom thing.  Just yesterday I was reading through Blessed John Paul II's Mulieris Dignitatem, where he writes this:

Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in the woman's womb. The mother is filled with wonder at this mystery of life, and "understands" with unique intuition what is happening inside her. In the light of the "beginning", the mother accepts and loves as a person the child she is carrying in her womb. This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings - not only towards her own child, but every human being - which profoundly marks the woman's personality.

Yes.  This.  "Filled with wonder at the mystery of life", for sure.  With each child I've been given I've experienced a deeper understanding of God, love, my vocation, and the purpose of community--while simultaneously being extra mystified by the bigness of it all.  And since reading this passage yesterday, I've really been considering how my motherhood impacts my "personality", the people around me and the culture at large.  We moms-to-many occasionally muse that we'd think ourselves pretty great people if we didn't have any children--less temptation to say and do things in anger, less stress, less occasion for sin.  But at the same time, we also know that is not always the answer, intentionally avoiding The Things That Are Hard.  Because deep-down we believe that the humbling and refining that accompanies motherhood is good for us. 

On a very practical level it forces our hand, limits our selfishness, makes us grow. 

But ultimately we have faith that the bearing of children matures marital love, strengthens family bonds, and instructs our other children in virtue.  It is a good. 

How amazing then to consider that through motherhood (be it physical motherhood or spiritual motherhood, depending on vocation), God uses women to nurture and enhance our communities.  That the way we come to love our children is somehow meant to translate into how we love our friends and our neighbors.  That we are able to take part in this mysterious process of growing (and generating) humanity.

It's all just so huge.  I keep thinking about how unbelievably beautiful it is that my baby girl, body and soul, exists-- when there was a time that she didn't exist.  I think about how, in the words of Eve herself, "with the Lord's help I have brought forth a child."  I think about how she not only is a new life, but infuses our very marriage and family with new life.  I think about how my body was created with this unique ability to bring forth and nurture this life, that somehow as a woman I am a part of something very precious and even, dare I say, powerful.  Blessed John Paul II, referring to woman elsewhere in the encyclical, declares that "she is sharing in the great mystery of eternal generation. The spouses share in the creative power of God!"

My personal feeling is that the early days and weeks after the birth of a baby are uniquely and indescribably beautiful, even when they are hard.  So I am soaking up these new moments with my new Alice, reminded by the presence of my nine-year-old daughter that these days pass all too quickly.  Life is meant to be lived, not merely endured, and so even when I am stretched and challenged I am filled with joy.  My children and husband are filled with joy.  Our very home is filled with joy, all by itty-bitty Alice Therese. 

So post-partum sleepiness or not, I am ever so grateful for these days filled with nursing and spit-up and diapers and sweatpants, and for Cadbury Crème Eggs too.

Monday, April 01, 2013


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