Tuesday, May 21, 2013


No, I'm not headed to a new house--we just did that.  :)

The new and improved Just Showing Up is finally ready!  It's been a great seven-ish years with Blogger, but it's time to move on. 

Please update your blogroll and bookmarks to www.briannaheldt.com

I'm still tweaking some things here and there (pretty sure the designer, and most of the employees at Bluehost, are completely sick of me by now), but from now on that's where you can find me.

And head on over now, because I'm kicking off my new blog with a lively discussion about cheating men and Pat Robertson.  You know you don't want to miss that!

Monday, May 06, 2013

The sin of adoption

A recent Mother Jones article by Kathryn Joyce has the adoption community all abuzz. 
This "orphan fever" phenomenon among evangelicals has actually intrigued me for a long time now.  Because adoption is not only common in evangelical circles, it has spread like wildfire.  If you don't believe me, consider that adoption ministries, organizations, agencies, support groups and grant funds have exploded in recent years.  When we brought our sons home in early 2006 for example, there were five agencies placing children from Ethiopia.  Within a few years that number had jumped to well over fiftyIt's simply a fact: evangelicals have the corner on international adoption.
Although my husband and I are now Catholic, we attended an evangelical church for many years.  But we completed our own adoption before the evangelical orphan movement really hit its stride.  So my experience adopting within evangelical subculture was a bit different from what things might look like for an evangelical today--we didn't know anyone else pursuing adoption, we didn't know any adopted children, and so we found our adoption community online.  And that community was a mix of people, evangelicals and Mormons and Buddhists and Methodists and people not claiming any sort of spirituality whatsoever.  It honestly felt as if we had quite a lot in common with those folks.  They spoke our language.  They didn't question our sanity for jumping from one to three children. 
So we didn't have the experience of being inspired to adopt by a Rick Warren sermon or an adoption ministry at our church, or by a sappy video presentation set to music.  Instead, we felt called by God to be a family and home to children presently living without them.  In what was essentially a vacuum.  I believe it was God who planted the thought in my head that led me to research the global orphan crisis for the first time and question what we might do about it.  Through prayer and discussion, my husband and I discerned that we were in a reasonably good position to open our home to vulnerable children.
And so we have done that, four times over.  We adopted my sons out of a disruption (their first adoptive family changed their mind in-country), and my daughters both waited some time for a family because they were born with Down syndrome and serious heart defects.  I know for a fact, after having met my children's respective birth mothers, that there were few options for these kids.  Each of these women relinquished for different reasons, but the one thing they had in common was that they felt genuinely unable/unwilling to parent.
My interest in evangelicals and adoption has only grown since converting to Catholicism, because international adoption seems to be more or less unique to evangelicals.  In other words, international adoption is not nearly so common among Catholics or other religious/nonreligious groups.  For whatever reason, it is the evangelical Protestant subculture that has somehow managed to build an entire theology around adoption, mobilizing thousands of couples (most of them perfectly capable of having more biological children) to cross the globe in order to add to their families.  It's rather fascinating really, and indicative of a question that I believe many evangelicals are asking: what is the purpose of the church?  Of faith?  Of a relationship with Jesus?  Is there more to Christianity than a good sermon and Chris Tomlin choruses sung over and over again?
Those questions honestly make sense to me, because I started asking them myself once upon a time.  (Watch out by the way, because if you dig too deep and read too many papal encyclicals and Scott Hahn books you might wind up reconciling with the Catholic Church.  Just sayin'.)  Protestants have of course answered those questions differently throughout the centuries, and adoption seems to be one of the primary "answers" right now for evangelicals.  They tout scriptures like James 1:27, and use the fact that we are all adopted by God (a la Ephesians 1:5) as a sort of mandate or justification for adopting orphaned children.
I have even seen adoption become a litmus test for being a Christian (or for being pro-life) within evangelical circles--if you truly want to follow Jesus, you'll care for the orphan in this way.  If you really believe abortion is wrong, you'll put your money (and life) where your mouth is and adopt.  All of a sudden, the conservative evangelical standard had been raised from reading the Bible and going to church each week to claiming vulnerable and abandoned children as your own.  And this shift in thinking and religious practice has manifested itself in what we see today: a booming international adoption infrastructure and, in the case of the agencies placing children, business.
And people are sheep.  We like to follow.  This is evident in everything from fashion and decorating trends to what theological ideas we subscribe to.  And I really, truly believe it is supposed to be this way.  Jesus wants us to be one, to be united in following and worshipping Him.  But of course this group-think tendency leaks out into other areas too, and that includes the area of adoption.  People see other people doing it and pause to consider if it might be for them, too.
And so it is this natural tendency to trend after other people, coupled with the religious verbiage enshrining adoption as the gold standard of Christian living, that has laid the foundation for the evangelical adoption movement.  Orphan fever.
But there is also a different movement rising up, from both within and without this very circle of evangelical adoptive parents.  This movement is, interestingly, a backlash against evangelical adoption culture.  Rather than focus on the orphanhood of children and the need for them to find parents, it primarily addresses family preservation, child trafficking, and the ethics surrounding relinquishment, abandonment and adoption.  It asks hard questions like, "Does the imbalance of power render adoption intrinsically unethical?"  And "Have adoptive families harmed, more than helped, a particular culture by creating a demand and normalizing relinquishment?"
Good questions, all of them.  We adoptive parents are well-aware of the ethical complexities of international adoption, or at least, we ought to be.  We've heard the horror stories and seen the news specials and read the articles detailing falsified documents, village harvesting, and birth parents who believed they were merely sending their son or daughter away to attend school for a time.  We've become familiar with the agencies that raise red flag after red flag--if you want to see an adoptive parent of an Ethiopian child fly off the handle, mention the acronym CWA.  You'll get an earful. 
So this reaction we are seeing, this questioning and rethinking of international adoption, is not unfounded.  It rightly points to some things that are highly problematic, and is rooted in something that I believe is very, very true and right: children ought to be raised by the mother and father who conceived them.  Marriage itself is ordered towards "the procreation and education of children", and God created marriage--and the children that result from that marriage--as the very building block and foundation of society.  It therefore behooves the culture to have strong, intact families.  Brain development, mood regulation, sensory integration, the ability to make sound decisions, attachment capability--all of these things are made to be nourished within the biological family.  And all of these things are profoundly affected when that process is disrupted.
There is, therefore, really no room for romanticizing international adoption.  No need to put a glossy, rosy spin on what was most certainly not the ideal for a particular child or for his or her birth parents.  Like anything else diverging from God's intention and natural law, it is an outlier of sorts, a deviation that only occurs because our world is broken and humans are corrupted from conception.  Whether it is a government which oppresses its people to the point of extreme poverty, or simply a momentary bad decision, there is the stain of sin most anywhere you look.  Enter the very real problem of the disintegration of the family.  Enter the very real problem of the existence of orphans.  Of stigma.  Of disease.  Of corruption, which is alive and well within an industry where thousands upon thousands of dollars are exchanged, often between desperate families and greedy entities who stand to profit a great deal.
So you won't find me arguing that family preservation is not the generally-better way to do things, and you won't find me gushing about how God preferred my husband and I over our adopted children's respective birth parents.  Ever.  No matter how grateful I am to be raising these children.
But.  And you knew this "but" was coming, right?
Just as I reject a happy-go-lucky, theologically based, look-the-other-way when it comes to ethics approach to international adoption, I also reject this new narrative emerging in evangelicalism, this new thing that refuses to acknowledge the nuance replete in the problem of the orphan, in the problem of a deeply impoverished culture where yes indeed there is an imbalance of power.
I reject it because, in part, I believe it ignores the human dignity inherent in the element of choice.  In other words, I believe it sells birth families short, assuming that because they are poor in a developing country that they would have certainly preferred to parent their child--when, quite frankly, that is simply not the case for everyone.  A mother or father, in my estimation, certainly has the right to relinquish a child for various reasons.  It may be financially motivated.  Perhaps it has to do with stigma, or medical issues related to the child.  I have met each and every one of my adopted children's birth mothers, and while every situation was unique, each woman believed she was doing the right thing.  So wouldn't it be presumptuous for me to argue that because I am in a place of power, that I know better than these women?  That with a little money thrown their way they could parent instead?  That I somehow have a good understanding of a culture in which I have never lived? 
By NO MEANS am I saying that a dangerous trend has not emerged, where this sort of thing is normalized and even encouraged by both money-hungry vultures and well-intentioned adoptive parents, like myself.  That is just a given.  Relinquishment ought to be a last resort, for people who have been fully informed of what it means and what it doesn't mean.

But I am saying that my four adopted children were legally relinquished by informed women who knew they were saying goodbye for good.  I am saying that my four adopted children spent years in an orphanage where sexual abuse occasionally occurred.  I am saying that my four adopted children come from a country where very little domestic infrastructure presently exists for kids like them.  I am saying that I know families who adopted children who had literally been abandoned, everywhere from busy marketplaces to trash cans.  My children, and countless others like them, were left vulnerable and alone. 
Not every internationally adopted child was trafficked, and not every birth mother wanted to parent.  It is a fact, yes, that all of us adoptive families have paid money into a system where corruption sometimes exists.  That is why some of us are now saying that we should have put those thousands of dollars not into adoption, but into community development, United Nations efforts, family preservation and the like.  And I agree that we must take care to contribute in this way.  But the problem is that there is corruption and problematic ideology among those groups too.  (One small example of this might be the exporting of some of our own culture's ugly beliefs about marriage and children overseas, through the promotion of hormonal birth control and abortion.  As if those are the answers.  I assure you, they are not.) 
Even under the most ideal of circumstances, the nuclear family will occasionally break down--we need only look at our own country to see that no amount of resources or money (or the aforementioned birth control) will completely erase the demand for abortion.  Or the need for a foster care system.  The affluent and educated are far from immune to addiction, divorce, abuse, and the aversion to having a child.  So let us work for reunification, yes, but let us also acknowledge that even with all of our efforts, there will still be the problem of the orphan, who is in my estimation far better off growing up within the context of a family than in an institution--for the very reasons that reunification is ideal.
So to the uber-pro-adoption evangelicals, I say this:  keep working on behalf of the orphan.  Do your homework, be aware, try your hardest to avoid unethical situations and the creating of a demand for children (generally healthy and as-young-as-possible babies.)  Don't assume a "Christian" agency is a good one.  Know that there is the potential for corruption with any adoption.  Know too that there are many children legitimately in need of families.  Support each other and continue developing post-adoption resources because these kids have suffered a great deal and are coming from a background filled with trauma.  Expect it to be hard, and do your best to present a balanced viewpoint when you're advocating for the fatherless.  Avoid the temptation of reducing adoption to merely a feel-good redemption story.  Tell the truth.
To the less-than-pro-adoption evangelicals: thank you for your acknowledgement of the importance of the birth family, and for your work towards family preservation.  Please continue exposing unethical practices and calling agencies to task for their role in them.  At the same time, remember that the problem of evil will not go away.  Not all families will remain intact, and mothers and fathers must be given the space and the right to relinquish their children if they so choose.  And not only that, but you must also refrain from demonizing what is arguably one of the best solutions for those children: adoption.  Don't focus so exclusively on one side of evil's coin that you forget that some of our children would literally be dead were it not for agencies having a presence in a particular developing country. 
As for me, I acknowledge that while there are countless ways to advocate for the orphan, my own personal experience compels me to advocate for the adoption of waiting children in those places lacking the infrastructure to care for them.  Generous and responsible parenthood as defined by Blessed John Paul II, a marriage oriented to openness to life, is ripe for the parenting of the vulnerable and fatherless.  Regardless what criticisms may be lobbed at the evangelical international adoption movement, it is a fact that there is indeed a legitimate need for families to adopt children.  
At the same time, no, an authentic Christian faith (or pro-life ethic) should never be reduced to whether or not we're adopting children (probably the movement's biggest flaw, perhaps contributing the most to a blind acceptance of any and all adoption practices).  On the contrary, we practice Christianity to have relationship with God and to spend forever with Him in Heaven.  Jesus gave us His Church, His bride, to achieve this end.  Period. 
Instead we must think of adoption as a particular kind of openness to life and marital fruitfulness that some are called to do.  It is not necessarily easy, and yet it is incredibly fulfilling and rooted in redemption.  It is a good thing.  Those of us parenting adopted children are not saints or superheroes, but instead receive the graces to do so as we need them--just like with any other thing, big or small, that God calls us to.  It is a yielding of our own wants and desires and occasionally involves taking up our cross.  It is a loving and proper response to the problem of evil, to Satan's attack on the family which crosses every culture and language and socieo-economic status.  
Finally, to Ms. Joyce: I wonder if you are perhaps painting with too broad a brush?  If some of your negativity is due to your own biases against religious orthodoxy and the pro-life cause, and towards progressive feminism?  I suspect this is why you characterize evangelical adoptive families as Michael-and-Debi-Pearl-loving, Above Rubies-reading extremists.  Which seems terribly unfair, when I consider the many adoptive families I know from all manner of religious and political backgrounds, who adopted for all manner of reasons.  While I believe you make some good points, I also think those points can be made without oversimplifying the issues and launching a thinly-veiled attack on the Christian faith. 
Because we Christians have, incidentally, been about orphan care and intact families since the Church's inception, roughly two thousand years.  And I can assure you that evangelical, Catholic or otherwise, we are not about to give up on "the least of these" now.

Friday, May 03, 2013


For the past few months, my two oldest daughters have requested I hang out in their room for a bit at bedtime.  They each lie in their respective bunk, tucked in snugly beneath their heart-covered bedspreads, and I either find a spot on the bottom bed with my nine year old or lounge in the doorway.
There is always chatting and laughter, and occasionally questions of great importance and relevance to a nine-year-old and six-year-old.  Questions like, "Mom, what will I do if two people want to marry me someday?"

My kids obviously don't have a problem with self-esteem.

And although by that time of night I'm more than anxious to get on with my own evening--watching reruns of The Office with my husband, while tucked into my own cozy bed with Alice sleeping sweetly by my side--I treasure these times with my daughters ever so much.  They want me there at the end of the day.  They think a lot, and have questions about life, and they look to me for the answers.  

And oh, how I want to say the right things, the things that build up and breathe Truth and speak freedom to two little girls well on their way to becoming young women.  I'm their mother, entrusted with preparing them not only for life but also for eternity with God.  Our home and our family mysteriously exist as a microcosm of Christ's bride, the Church, and our very marriage is ordered towards bringing forth and educating our children.

This is why each night after the dinner dishes are cleared and the kitchen is cleaned and children are showered and dressed for bed, our family gathers for prayers in the living room.  We read the Bible together.  We talk about saints and learn the catechism.  Our hope is that through this structured routine, our children will experience a robust and personal relationship with God while also receiving a good foundation in the tenets of the faith.  But we're also learning that sometimes, the biggest and most important conversations happen in the final moments before little ones drift off to sleep, when they dream out loud and ask hard questions and long for the company of a loving mom and dad. 

So I've made it a priority to, without exception, say yes to a few moments with my girls in their room each night.  Bedtime tucking in is generally my husband's special ritual with the kids, but I'm learning to enjoy my role in it too.  And my secret hope?  That my daughters will still treasure these conversations when we head into the teen years, when no doubt the questions become harder to answer, and when there will surely be some tears and worries and drama mixed in with the end-of-the-day giggling and joy.  The stakes will be higher and I suppose that is why we try to set the course now, when they're little.  Open communication, honesty, love, and willingness to laugh at the tough stuff together.  As a family.

I'm not sure if it's this way for everybody, but ever since my oldest started speaking in complete sentences, I've known that while some things get easier as children grow (fewer diapers, greater independence, more capabilities), some become more difficult--I'm less physically tired at the end of a day, but far more emotionally spent.  Because by the day's end I've dedicated hours upon hours to listening, responding, empathizing, guiding, and listening some more.  I've praised drawings, laughed at jokes I've heard a dozen times already, encouraged someone to tell the truth, explained why God is or isn't this or that way, and hugged no fewer than two small people wailing at the tops of their lungs.  I generally fall into bed exhausted.  But in a good way.  Because it means I've worked, I've fulfilled, I've invested in something far more precious and eternal than any worldly pursuit.  I'm not winning the Nobel Peace Prize or curing cancer--instead, I'm merely raising my children.

But in spite of being unglamorous and fairly mundane (I say "fairly" because sometimes parenting eight kids can get pretty interesting), it has incredibly far-reaching consequences for not only myself, my husband and my kids, but for the greater culture as well.  See I'm hoping, really hoping, to raise secure, positive, respectful people who will one day go on to work at jobs and have children of their own and vote in elections and be members of local parishes.  They will each contribute to society in some way, for good or for bad.  At this point I'm hopeful that it will be good, but even if it isn't, I want to be able to say that I did what I could.  That I loved and nurtured and guided well, in spite of my own shortcomings and imperfections.  Nobody's perfect, least of all me, but I at least want to try.

And want to know a secret?  Lest you hear about my bedtime conversations and assume that I must be some sort of quintessential mother from a Norman Rockwell painting,  I'm not much of a natural kid person.  I never had any desire to work at a daycare or be a teacher, and I don't like crafts or mess or chaos.  (Those words are synonymous in my book, and just the thought of running a daycare would give me hives, if I got hives.)  So don't think that I'm speaking to you as That Mom with a perfectly structured home, who feeds her kids organic snacks in fun shapes, plays parachute out on the lawn with the children every day, and who never yells.  That's not me.  Instead, I'm the mom that tells her kids she's not here to entertain them, who gets on them to do their chores, and who doesn't dole out many snacks, period, because isn't it better to eat good, healthy meals that you're actually hungry for at mealtime?  I'm old-school like that.  (Fresh veggies, fruit, cheese and hard-boiled eggs are pretty much the in-between-meal options around these here parts.  Oh and otterpops in the summertime.  Because you're only a kid (and therefore eligible to eat frozen sugar water) once).

My theory is that the vocation of marriage and motherhood got conflated at some point with the position of Fun Activities Director, and we have culturally bought into the idea that being intentional has everything to do with throwing creative birthday bashes and taking kids out on fancy excursions, as opposed to simply being family.  As for me, I'm (thankfully) never tempted towards the former because I would never want to be a Fun Activities Director.  But for too many, that is the ideal, the sign of a Really Good Mom.  I on the other hand find that most of my own efforts go into just engaging.  Making conversation.  Being available.  That's why I drag myself into my daughters' room upon request most nights, tired or not, good mood or not.  It's admittedly something small and who knows, maybe they won't even remember these conversations as adults.  That's okay.  It's still a good thing.

As parents we must regularly ask ourselves if we are allowing ample margin in our lives for these unscripted moments, free from curriculum or programming or activity written by somebody else, and full of space for questions and laughter and love.  It doesn't have to be hard--I'm more than convinced that this can happen anywhere from the car to the dining room table to a child's bedroom decorated with hearts.  And while I used to occasionally wish I were better at planning fun activities for my children, I'm realizing as they grow that the simple life we lead, organized around the rhythms of home and family and church and loved ones, lacks for nothing in the margin department.  And not only that, but there is a raw and natural beauty in this emphasis on relationship and charity: it thrives and flourishes in the quiet, unassuming routines of daily life. 

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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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Elsewhere on the web

Hi friends!  I'm over at Ignitum Today talking about my new baby girl, and about our decision to have our four oldest children present for labor and delivery.  Come join me!

Alice is here

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Checking in

So, I had a baby.

And I moved.

And I helped prep my other house to rent.

And I have, therefore, taken a bit of a blogging hiatus.

Just a word to the wise: I don't recommend doing all of these things within the span of a week, like I did.  Yes I've lived to tell the tale, but I'd also be lying if I told you there weren't any meltdowns or woe-is-me-I-just-want-to-sleep moments.  And just wait until you hear about my Sunday morning trying-to-get-to-Mass mishap.  Which you will, once I get into some sort of routine around here.

Meanwhile though , and in spite of the unpacked boxes and disorder that comes with moving eight kids' and two adults' worth of earthly possessions across town, I'm soaking up these early days with my beautiful eight-day-old baby girl.  Who is nothing short of a miracle, as all babies are.  It amazes me more with each subsequent child what profound gifts motherhood and new life truly are.

So all of this to say that I'm still here, we're doing pretty well (sleep deprivation and mishaps considered), and we are head-over-heels in love with our sweet baby girl.  Birth story and official "I had a baby!" blogpost forthcoming, of course. 

For now I'll just say that life doesn't get much better than, well, this.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Denver house tour: before and after

Remember how I told you we're in the process of buying a new home on a couple of acres outside of the city?  And how we're turning our present Denver bungalow into a rental?  Well, we successfully found a renter (on our first day of showings!) and are closing on our new home this Friday afternoon.  (Baby Girl is due this Thursday, just in case anyone is keeping track of my anxiety/insanity levels.)

We've lived in our Denver house for nearly five years now.  It has required a fair amount of work (tearing out an entire subfloor, putting in new carpet and new hardwoods, painting, tons of small repairs etc.), which has actually been kind of fun.  Other than laying the flooring, we've done everything ourselves--and by ourselves, I mostly mean my husband.  Maybe that's why I think it's been fun.

In all seriousness, it is highly fulfilling to take something that's been neglected or just desperately needs an update, and make it better.  The house itself is really pretty great--5 bedrooms in a fun and popular neighborhood where that is hard to find.  Lots of natural light.  Lots of character.  I love my home.   

And I've been quite amazed by how much you can improve something with some simple paint or new light fixtures.  No need to drop lots of money to make a good change.  I don't have a crafty or aesthetically-creative bone in my body, but I have to say I'm really pleased with what we've done.  It's not fancy or magazine-worthy , but it's home.

So I thought I'd share some before and after shots.  Nothing too exciting, but who doesn't like peeking into other peoples' homes? 

Most of the before pictures (all except for the ones where parts of the house are torn up) are from before we owned the house.

Living room before:

Living room after:
Kitchen/dining area before:

Kitchen/dining area after:


Master bedroom before:

Master bedroom after:

Main-floor bathroom:
Schoolroom before:
Schoolroom after:
Kids' bathroom before:
Kids' bathroom after:
Basement main-area before:
Basement main-area after:
My big-girls' bedroom:
My boys' bedroom:
My little girls' bedroom:

Our guest bedroom:
Most of my furniture is either thrifted, from Craigslist, or IKEA.  (Remember, I'm not fancy.)  Some of it is old and repainted (like the bright yellow dresser in the living room and the two white nightstands in my bedroom, all of which used to be fakey-pine, and the aqua piano in the schoolroom that was originally dark brown.)  One of my favorite finds has been our dining room chandelier--$12 from my neighborhood thrift store + some spraypaint!

I admit I'm already excited to get into our new place and start making some changes.  The home itself is pretty much turn-key, so we can focus our attention on fun stuff like painting the kitchen cabinets and islands and putting in new drawer pulls and knobs.  I already have lots of ideas (loving Pinterest these days!), and while I'm no decorater, I've discovered that making my home the way I want it actually has a huge effect on my day and general outlook.  Which may not seem like a huge revelation, but it actually kind of has been for me.  It'll be nice too because some things here I never did finish (little girls' room, basement main-part, etc.) because we decided to move, and I'm looking forward to finally getting to do what I want.  On a budget.  Because I'm cheap like that.

So there you have it.  Our home for the past five years.  I'm going to miss it!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Five secrets to survival mode

For the past two weeks now I've been battling a horrible cold.  Think stuffy nose, nasty cough, sore throat, no energy, headaches, sleeplessness.  Yuck!  And add to that the fact that I'm now, you know, nearly 39 weeks pregnant, and you can see it's not a pretty picture.  (They say flus and colds are more severe in pregnancy, and I definitely concur with that!)

Meanwhile of course life goes on, and I am still responsible for taking care of all these kids because, as we all know, stay-at-home moms don't technically get sick days. 

You would think that God would spare moms--especially moms-to-many--from life's little inconveniences like stomach viruses and influenza, but it turns out He doesn't, at least not this mom.  I do get sick from time to time, and while I've actually had a really healthy past several months, this cold about did me in.  Thankfully I'm mostly all better now but it's been rough!

One of the questions people have been asking me for years is how do I handle being sick with so many children?  Truthfully, I don't always handle it very well--I find it incredibly stressful to have to check out of normal life for longer than a day or two, and then the guilt starts to creep in, and then I start to feel completely and utterly hopeless and sad and wonder how on earth I'm surviving my crazy life at all, and I begin to rethink our decision to homeschool and start making mental plans to enroll my kids in our neighborhood school, except then I'd have to do pickups and dropoffs while sick, so how would that work? 

It is, um, an ugly downward-spiral.  That generally involves tears at some point, and I never cry, so that is really saying something.

But thankfully I've learned some things over the years that have really helped, and sometimes I wonder if God allows illness--even run-of-the-mill silly things like colds--to illuminate what matters and what doesn't, and to show us that He is ultimately in control, and that the world is not actually all on our shoulders.

1.)  Take care of yourself.  This is key, and something I figured out pretty early on.  You simply cannot raise children and keep a home and love your husband if you are not well physically, emotionally or spiritually.  You may be able to do so for a time, but it's just not sustainable.  So my children know that when I'm sick, I need to rest--which means that some of my normal tasks will fall by the wayside, some will be picked up by my husband, and some will be picked up by the kids themselves.  Naptime will need to be especially quiet if I'm going to be sleeping myself, and one of the kids might make dinner two nights in a row, or my husband might bring home frozen pizzas to heat up for dinner.  And, I refuse to feel bad about it.  We all get sick from time to time, and my priority at that point becomes getting well.

2.)  Avoid feeling guilty.  I know, I know--we moms are somehow genetically engineered to feel guilty about pretty much everything.  Why is that?  I really have no idea, but I do know that it can be mighty tempting to feel bad when your husband comes home to a messy house, or to dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, or to kids with disheveled hair and sticky hands.  Not that that ever happens around here.  :)  In all honesty I don't often think about how high my standards are until I get sick and stuff starts falling by the wayside, and I start apologizing all over myself.  "I'm so sorry our bed's not made!  I need to load this dishwasher right now!  I'll be back to cooking soon!"  And I have to say that when I start down this path, my husband usually laughs at me and orders me not to apologize, tells me things are totally fine and he doesn't care, and then sends me back to bed.  (Though I generally refuse to go until I've loaded those dishes.  I just can't handle dirty dishes on the counter.)  It can be hard to fight the guilty feelings, but ladies, this is an area where we are WAY too hard on ourselves.  And it doesn't do us any good to feel bad about what are, really, quite trivial things.

3.)  Prioritize.  As important as it is to rest and avoid the guilt trap, if there's something I know makes me feel better in general (I mentioned keeping up on dishes earlier), I'll put my efforts toward doing that.  A clean, tidy house has become increasingly important to me as our family has grown.  Before we had all these kids, I was kind of a slob.  Now though I have all sorts of  neurotic control issues around the house.  SO, even when I'm feeling downright horrible, I do generally keep up on the dishes and also enforce my kids getting their assorted chores done--kitchen cleaned up after every meal, toys picked up before naps and before dinner, bedrooms tidied before bed.  All of that goes a long way in keeping me sane while I'm sick.

4.)  Share the load.  Now this one applies to all-the-time, not just when I'm under the weather, but it becomes even more important when I'm not functioning at 100%.  Would it surprise you if I told you I don't do much laundry (aside from mine, Kevin's and the littlest ones) beyond pouring the detergent into the machine?  Or that I don't sweep up or wipe down the table after meals?  My kids do those things.  My kids have responsibilities around the house, like emptying the trash, cleaning the kitchen, loading, switching, unloading, folding, and putting away their own laundry, helping with the littlest ones, and of course keeping their bedrooms and toys tidied up.  And, they're actually pretty good at it.  Every family is different and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to these sorts of things, but I will tell you that I believe my kids are learning valuable, practical life skills while also contributing in positive and constructive ways to our family.  The jobs are pretty much the same every day so they know what to expect, and when they get to work it really doesn't take very long.  And oh, does this come in handy when I'm out of commission.

5.)  Laugh.  This is possibly the most important of all!  It is so easy to get discouraged and frustrated and totally stressed out, but if I take the time to just be, and sit back and enjoy my children, I'm reminded of some Very Important Things.  Like, the fact that life goes on and is more than okay when I'm not myself.  Or that a few subpar meals in a row is not the end of the world.  Or that resting in bed is the perfect opportunity to grab some extra cuddle time with your sweet three-year-old.  One of the loveliest moments with my kids in some time actually came last week around the dinnertable, over frozen pizza that I couldn't taste, while I sat blowing my nose and enjoying their lively conversation.  Being forced to slow down can, in fact, be a gift.

Now if I can just remind myself of all these things when Baby Girl arrives...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's reflections

Me and my Valentine at this year's company Christmas party.  I am very pregnant, and very uncharacteristically in a sports stadium.
It's February 14th, meaning that my big kids just set off for their weekly homeschool co-op with homemade cards in hand, eagerly anticipating a day filled with sugar consumption and hearts.  Meanwhile I'm home with my little ones, anticipating what will be a belated Valentine's Day date with my husband once I'm finally over this ridiculous cold and can, you know, actually taste food again.  (Word to the wise: don't come down with a week-plus-long cold when you're 37 weeks pregnant.  Just don't.  It's awful.)

Now my husband doesn't know this, but our date will also include shopping for baby things--because I'm completely unprepared for Baby Girl's birth in two weeks.  As in I presently have one onesie, one nightgown and one pair of pants for baby, and no nursing bra for me.  Oh, and I need to buy an infant carseat, 'cause I don't have one of those either, and supposedly babies use them.

I figure that's what you do with your Special Valentine when you've been married ten-plus years: you go to dinner and shop for the baby, and hope it all gets done before your water breaks.  And in my case, you have a heck of a good time doing it.

Because, well, I love my husband an awful lot.  I love being married, I love thinking back to when we were dating, and I love our story.  I love how we married young and started having children young.  I love all of the assorted adventures we've had and I love thinking about the many more up ahead.  I love us.

Marriage is awesome.  Even in the mundane.  Maybe especially in the mundane.

I read an interesting article in Salon recently that I plan to write more fully about at some point in the future.  For now I'll tell you that the subject was Mormon mommy blogs, and why so many people are addicted to them...including the author of the article--a self-described (and unmarried) feminist.  Her point was that people are clearly drawn to the shiny-happy marriages and families portrayed by these LDS bloggers, and it's no wonder: we live in a time and place where we're supposed to be discontent, stressed out, "too busy".  Marriages aren't necessarily all that happy.  So these glimpses into the lives of people who might just be happy serve as a sort of escape, or at the very least, an encouragement or assurance that it's at least possible.

It got me thinking about how maybe the culture really does need more and not less of that. More women and more men willing to share the good about married life, raising children, and domesticity.  Not from a look-at-my-perfectly-photographed-and-magazine-worthy-house-and-family perspective, but from a life-is-simple-and-there-is-joy-in-my-vocation sort of place. 

If nothing else, we married people could certainly aim to laugh at ourselves a bit more, and maybe not take things quite so seriously. 

Things like Baby Girl being due in two weeks...closing on our new home shortly after the due date...packing up my house in the final stages of pregnancy...discovering that I have literally no present ability to dress, change, or transport Baby Girl...being bedridden with a cold when I'm supposed to be doing all the aforementioned other stuff.  It's real life, and it's positively crazy, and I swear that the secret to staying sane and happy is that my husband and I laugh about it pretty much every single day.

This is of course part of why I'm so very happy to be married to my husband.  He's someone I admire quite a bit, he takes good care of his family, he is devoted to Jesus, and he cracks me up.  We're best friends. 

A blog reader actually emailed me a long time ago asking if I'd write a post about how to find a good spouse.  And that post is sitting, unfinished, in my drafts.  Sad.  I need to finish it.  It's fun for me to write about stuff like that because I really did find a good husband, which is a good thing because it's one of the most important decisions you'll ever make.  God has blessed us with a delightful marriage and beautiful life together and I don't take that for granted.  No it doesn't mean we never argue or get angry, but it means that we really, genuinely like each other.  That we look forward to time together, even if it's dragging screaming kids through Target or making a spontaneous offer on a house.  And above all else, we're fiercely committed to our marriage.  Until death do us part.  No if's, and's or but's.  No escape clauses.   

So anyway, that's my Valentine's Day: trying to kick this rotten cold so I can go to dinner, and so my baby will have socks.  And you know what?  I can't wait.  Because it's going to be me and him, good food, good conversation, and a lot of laughing.  Love.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Like it's 1415

To the world, it's unsettling to imagine a man with global influence and practical power, moving to a small room, in a house of prayer, where he'll offer Mass and probably practice the piano. But Benedict XVI has never been interested in power or influence. He has been interested in friendship with Jesus Christ — his own, and mine, and yours.---Denver Archbishop Aquila

I woke up yesterday to the surprising news of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation and, consequently, to a Facebook feed replete with commentary, speculation, and even some vitriol (thank you Anne Rice fan page).  No one was really expecting this, that much is clear.

This is the first time a pope has resigned since 1415.

I honestly wasn't planning on writing about it--what could I possibly say that others hadn't already said within hours of the bombshell announcement?  That is, until someone asked me what I thought, and I considered how the pope used to be a pretty mysterious figure to me back when I was a Protestant.  I didn't get it, and didn't know any Catholics who could explain it.  And it's funny because, well, now I'm Catholic, so I figure maybe I should take this opportunity to share my journey of coming to accept the doctrine of the papacy, now that the whole world is talking about the papacy.

The chair of St. Peter is a difficult hurdle for Protestants for a number of reasons, but I think it all comes down to the idea that Catholicism is Sacramental.  It is earthy.  Physical things that we can see, hear, smell, and touch also hold supernatural and eternal significance. 

And there really isn't a whole lot of that in Protestantism: baptism and communion are, in many denominations, regarded as merely symbolic.  Marriage is something that can be dissolved.  The Bible's commands about confessing sins are distilled down to occasionally saying "sorry" to God, while not holding any real significance because they were already paid for in full.  Ordained pastors, ministers and reverends may preach the Bible from the pulpit, but they cannot trace their lineage back to Saint Peter. 

So the very thought that God uses the stuff of earth--like bread and wine and water and people--to carry out the supernatural was once something foreign to me.  The very thought that the Holy Spirit actively protects Christ's Church from error in passing on the deposit of faith received from the apostles was disconcerting.  And yet as a Protestant I certainly accepted the Bible itself as being inerrant, I'd just never connected the dots and considered why exactly that might not extend to the institution which gave us the Bible.

As time passed by and I continued reading and processing through this other way of looking at faith, as I cautiously allowed myself to stand back and think what if, as I weighed the evidence and considered the possibilities, the burden of proof began to shift.  Either the Catholics were, gasp, right, or the early Church fathers and subsequent popes and doctors of the Church were the most brilliant and cunning of all men.  Because you know what?  Roman Catholicism makes sense.  From every angle: historically, Biblically and philosophically, it fits together.  No mental gymnastics required to accept Jesus' crowd-scattering words in John 6, no crazy disconnect between the Old Testament priesthood and Jesus' fulfillment of the sacrifice, and no need to pretend John 20:21-23 isn't there.

And from a purely experiential perspective--heaven forbid my personal experience ever become any sort of litmus test for truth, but I will still acknowledge it as a perspective--the Catholic Church truly is the fullness of the faith.  Christ's Church as He established it.  No coincidence that as civilizations and societies and assorted denominations crumble, the Catholic Church stands.  Her teachings don't change.  And so what a gift it has been for me personally to receive the Sacraments, to receive Jesus Himself in the Holy Eucharist at Mass, to be absolved of my sins in the Sacrament of Confession, to see the beauty of chastity reflected in both my marriage and in the lives of the many consecrated religious that I know. 

Simply, I've fallen in love with the Church.

Years before becoming Catholic, I sat glued to St. Peter's Square on the television screen, waiting for the smoke that would indicate a new pope had been chosen.  I was completely transfixed.  See while I'd never taken the time to really look into it all, I'd long been interested in the subject of Church History, especially in regards to the Reformation, and why there were so many Protestant sects today, and how the Catholics could hold so many views that "weren't in the Bible." 

And, the pope. 

I really wondered about the pope.  How could someone so clearly arrogant, claiming to speak for God Himself, be heralded as holy or as someone who loved Jesus?  How could a man claim to love the God I loved and keep people in bondage to a bunch of man-made rules and superstitious devotions?  I just didn't get it.

So I watched.  I watched as Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI.

Without the slightest thought that one day I would look to him as the Holy Father of a Church to which I belonged.

How wrong I was about this man, and about the papacy in general.  Jesus wanted His Church to have a shepherd.  He left His Church in the hands of the apostles.  He built His Church upon Saint Peter, who would be the leader of Jesus' Church on earth.  This leader was never to be confused for God or our Savior Jesus Christ, but instead to represent Him and point us towards Him.  To protect us from false teachers and from bad doctrine.  Not by his own magic powers, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

No pope has ever been sinless.  I used to think that's what Catholics believed and it made little sense to me, for obvious reasons.  But it turns out that the Catholic Church has never even remotely suggested this--instead, it was just my own uninformed and mistaken understanding of papal infallibility.

Far from meaning that the pope is all-knowing or all-perfect, infallibility means that:
when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable  (Vatican I).

Eventually I came to understand.  Eventually I came to accept the doctrines about the papacy as true.  Eventually I became Catholic.

And I am, like many, so very sorry to hear of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation.  If you've read any of his writings, then you know he is profoundly brilliant with an incredible heart for Jesus.  I've long appreciated his unwillingness to compromise and his courageous standing for truth, which he somehow manages to do with charity, grace and clarity.  I believe he truly has the Church's best interests at heart. 

I also believe the media, from FOX News to MSNBC, will continue to speculate and demonize and call his legacy a failure, all in the premature and confused way they report on everything else. 

I believe millions will cast aspersions on this holy man by saying he couldn't quell scandal or harmonize the progressives and the conservatives.  As if that is in his control, or job description.  These people haven't a clue about what the Catholic Church is or about who the pope is.  Like me all those years ago, watching the live news feed from Vatican City.

Thankfully though I've learned that the papacy is not about power or prestige.  It's a humble and often despised position, in spite of its immense importance and significance.  And Pope Benedict XVI's plan to live out the rest of his days in a monastery is further evidence that this is indeed a remarkable pope.  This is indeed a virtuous man who loves his Lord above all else, and who is intent on giving up his life for his friends.  Us.  The Church.  His future will look insignificant to the world who already can't wrap their mind around a man relinquishing the papacy, but then again, that is one of God's most precious and hidden truths, isn't it?  Nothing done in service to Jesus is small.  Prayer, devotion, the little things, the unseen, all of it is of great and eternal value.  We may never know the graces and beauty that have come to us through the prayers of the faithful.

And I for one have been honored to have been served by Pope Benedict XVI, and I will be honored to have him praying for me in the years to come.  May God bless and keep this dear soul.

The Church will of course continue on, teaching the truth and shepherding souls to heaven.  What a beautiful gift we've been given.


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