I pumped my fist in the air, Jersey style, when he said her name. Pope Francis, that is. This morning, as he addressed Congress, he spoke of a woman who is near and dear to my little social justice heart: Dorothy Day.
She and Peter Maurin founded The Catholic Worker movement and ran a hospitality house in Manhattan for decades. A convert, a single mother, a post-abortive woman. A writer, a journalist, a radical. A daily Mass goer, self-described “faithful daughter of the Church”.
A woman living the words of St. Catherine of Siena:
Be who you are created to be, and you will set the world ablaze.
Dorothy Day blazed brightly and passionately with God’s love and justice. I first became acquainted with her in college, and read more in graduate school. Friends, I am smitten. Which is super awkward because I’m pretty sure she would think that was crazy if she were alive and I had the chance to meet her. If you can fangirl on someone who died before you were born, sign me up.
So imagine my tremendous joy when Pope Francis invoked her example today. It warmed my heart to see my homegirl “trending” on social media.
She would laugh her ass off at that, I’m sure. She will be a canonized saint someday, I believe. She is a saint for modern women, many carrying the scars of post-abortion pain unhealed. She is a saint for the young who wish to do something of value with their lives, who want to be of service. She is a saint who reminds us of just how uncomfortable the Gospel should make us feel.
I’m going to share just a few (OK maybe more than a few) of my favorite writings of hers. And a list of resources to introduce yourself to this amazing servant of God.
“If we become daily communicants – if we are faithful in the observance of our religious duties – then things are going to happen to us. It is as though a dirty scroll were being washed so that we could read the writing thereon. Our very senses are going to be refined….We are going to be able to understand many things and the Lord is going to tell us what to do…We must expect the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And the gift to be most afraid of is knowledge of what to do. Because if we know what to do, and we do not pay attention, we are denying the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and we are failing in faith, hope and charity…Little by little that voice will cease to speak, our hearts will be hardened, our senses deadened, graces will be withdrawn from us. Then, as we continue to receive the Blessed Sacrament daily, religion will indeed become for us the opium of the people.” – July 1937
“We must see Christ everywhere, even in his most degraded guise. We take care of men by the tens of thousands over the course of the year, and there is no time to stop and figure out who are the worthy or who are the unworthy. We are each of us unprofitable servants. We are guilty of each other’s sins.” – April 1943
“Dear God, let us not accept that judgement – that this is what we are.
Enlighten our minds, inflame our hearts with desire to change – with the hope and faith that we all can change.
Take away our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh.” – July 1972
“It is because we love Christ in His humanity that we can love our brothers. It is because we see Christ in the least of God’s creatures, that we can talk to them of the love of God and know that what we write will reach their hearts.” – June 1935
“And studying the New Testament, I have come, in this my 76th year, to think of a few holy words of Jesus as the greatest comfort of my life: Judge not. Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Forgive seventy times seven times. All words of Our Lord and Savior. I have knowledge of salvation through forgiveness of my sins, Zechariah sang in his canticle. And so, when it comes to divorce, birth control, abortion, I must write in this way. The teaching of Christ, the Word, must be upheld. Held up though one would think that it is completely beyond us – out of our reach, impossible to follow.
I believe Christ is our truth and is with us always….He is a kind and forgiving judge. So are 99 percent of priests in the confessional. The verdict there is always not guilty, even though our “firm resolve with the help of His grace to confess our sins, do our penance, and amend our lives” may seem a hopeless proposition. It always contains, that act of contrition, the phrase “to confess our sins”, even though we have just finished confessing them, which indicates that the priest knows, we know, and we want to be honest about it, that we will be back in that confessional again and again.”
– December 1972
“But the final word is love. At times it has been a harsh and dreadful thing, and our very faith in love has been tried through fire. We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know Him in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet, and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship. We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” -The Long Loneliness, 286.
The following is a prayer for the canonization of Dorothy Day, from Catholic Peace Fellowship. Each Friday the Catholic Peace Fellowship prays for the canonization of one of its early advisers the Servant of God Dorothy Day.
God our Creator,
Your servant Dorothy Day exemplified the
Catholic faith by her conversion,
life of prayer and voluntary poverty,
works of mercy, and
witness to the justice and peace of the Gospel.
May her life inspire people
to turn to Christ as their savior and guide,
to see his face in the world’s poor and
to raise their voices for the justice
of God’s kingdom.
We pray that you grant the favors we ask
through her intercession so that her goodness
and holiness may be more widely recognized
and one day the Church may proclaim her Saint.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Some resources on Dorothy Day:
The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day (her autobiography)
Praying in the Presence of Our Lord With Dorothy Day edited by David Scott (I take this one with me to adoration frequently)
All the Way to Heaven: Selected Letters of Dorothy Day edited by Robert Ellsberg
D. Day also wrote a lovely biography of St. Therese
Life of Dorothy Day (from PBS)
I just spent an hour reading a website dedicated to bad-mouthing and snarking on bloggers and it was – including the time in high school when I told my grandparents I was staying at a friends house and went to a rave in the Bronx instead, ingesting enough illegal drugs to make me violently ill in an abandoned roller skating rink – the worst decision I’ve ever made.
Admittedly, until a few days ago, I did not even know this useless waste of a domain name existed, and after I commit this to the ether, I’m going to bleach my eyes and promptly forget it once more.
Under the heading of “fundie blogs” there’s a whole forum about “annoying Catholics”, including some near and dear friends. You know, it’s par for the course if you’re a popular enough blogger, a problem with which I have not been blessed. The more people who read your work, the more people who will either love you or hate you. This has always been the case with any artist.
Yet, a whole cottage industry has arisen where people, who apparently have a lot more fucking free time than I do, waste precious moments of their one and only life reading blogs for the sole purpose of being pissed off and then hating on them.
Come on? Are you such a colossal waste of human potential combined with a sad black hole where your heart once was that this seems like a good idea? In sitting here thinking on it for one whole minute, ten things came to mind that would be a better use of your time and energy than participating in this nonsense. We are in the midst of the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II, and your best use of an hour is to write hateful garbage anonymously on a god-damned website? Perhaps consider a switch to something else:
- Volunteer at a soup kitchen.
- Read the classics.
- Mentor a child.
- Visit the elderly at a nursing home.
- Raise funds for Syrian refugees.
- Take a walk through a park.
- Read a newspaper.
- If you’re Catholic, get your sorry ass to confession.
- If you’re a parent, play with your kids.
- Have sex with your spouse.
In recent years I’ve noticed something really troubling both online and “in real life”. People have been attempting to diagnose the many and varied problems plaguing our very sick society, and some people think it’s sexual immorality. Others, a lack of concern for the poor and vulnerable. I’d say there is merit to both, but the real sickness infecting our society is cynicism. Snark. It’s a disease that’s tearing at the tender seams of humanity and is completely devoid of love.
It’s also completely fucking insane. In the hour I spent perusing GOMI, no where were there people offering tremendous and creative alternatives to the work of others which they so despise. It’s hilarious for people who have created nothing of value to contribute to society, who have put nothing of themselves out there – including even their names – to take a dump on others for trying to put something of themselves out there, in a genuine attempt to connect with others.
It’s easy for people who have never been brave enough to risk sharing any part of themselves with others to mock and belittle those who have. It’s easy, and it’s a damned disgrace. Those people are cowards, afraid even to put a name to their nastiness. Theirs are small lives marked by fear, and bereft of grace. The real bravery lies in those who take the risk to share, to make themselves vulnerable in the hopes of making the world, even a very small corner of it, a better place.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt
I had to pull the car over, I was crying so hard. Yesterday morning while coming back from preschool drop off. Listening to NPR for morning news, one of my favorites is the BBC Newshour. The correspondent was in a refugee camp for Syrians in Turkey, reporting on the largest humanitarian disaster in decades.
The focus of his report was one family he traveled with. He described in detail a 4 year old girl with a pink zip up sweatshirt and sequins on her jeans, who was dirty and hungry, scared and cold.
Picturing the scene in Turkey, all I could see was her:
The pink zip up sweatshirt hanging in our closet, waiting for cooler days. The sequined jeans she wore just the other day. While my baby was being cared for, kept safe, and playing at preschool, blissfully unaware of the horrors this world contains, another 4 year old girl – some other mother’s baby – her childhood ended in an instant, her innocence shattered by the dropping of bombs. This is the reality of war.
I could not stop crying as the news segment rolled on. Of course I had heard about the Syrian refugee crisis, and of course I was concerned. But deeply flawed human that I am, it did not hit my core until the moment a man a world away was describing someone who could have been my child – who was my child – broke through the stone and found the wounded flesh beneath.
In Scripture, God tells us that he will take our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh. Sounds good, right? Great, except flesh feels things that stone never will. It takes a tremendous amount of force to hurt or alter stone, but flesh? Flesh feels everything, and if you’ve ever had a scar, you also know that the things that wound flesh also change it.
God is going to give us hearts that feel, that can be wounded, and that can change. He longs to give us hearts full of compassion, mercy, and joy. We have to let him, knowing it will take time. It could take the length of our days. The stone and flesh with coexist together, often leading to painful moments of startling humility.
God wants us to give a shit about what matters. The fact that I just said shit does not matter. That little girl in the pink sweatshirt in Turkey, sleeping on rocks in dirty clothes she’s worn for weeks? Her suffering matters.
Some people might think that today, September 11, is not the time to be writing about this. Today is a day to remember our dead, our suffering. It’s a day about America – about the freedom and hope she represents. September 11 is a day about who we are as Americans.
That’s why today is the perfect day to talk about the crisis in Syria, the suffering of men, women, and children who are all children of God. America is a nation founded on the existence of hope for a better life, and freedom to articulate what exactly is meant by “a better life”. Today God is asking us what more we who have so much safety, so much freedom can do for that little girl and her family, and all the families like them.
To the people, especially Catholics, who have been angry, suspicious, and even malicious to the plight of these refugee families, I’d like to remind you what America is all about, on this day of remembering. Unless you are Native American, during the time when your ancestors came here with pennies, hope, and not much else, they may have been greeted by the Statue of Liberty at Ellis Island. Nearly all of my ancestors were.
The poet Emma Lazarus wrote famous words about the statue, but more importantly, about us. Today is the perfect day to remember them.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
“When I appealed to God in words, praise was on the tip of my tongue.” – Psalm 66
I got up early to make them pancakes. I even added blueberries. As I was flipping, the oldest wandered downstairs, wiping sleep from her eyes. I thought to myself, she’s going to love this. What a great surprise, special pancakes on a random weekday morning.
She walked into the kitchen, took one look at the pancakes, and burst into tears.
“I don’t want pancakes! I wanted oatmeal!” Typical.
It was 7:45 and I was defeated. This being mom, it’s more an art than a science. We try to anticipate what our children will like, and do it for them. Because we love them and want to see them smile. My kids love pancakes, and I went out of my way to make them a special breakfast. For which they were terribly ungrateful, because they are children and as such, completely self-centered.
Isn’t that one of the big challenges of parenting? How to instill gratitude in self-centered beings, especially given my own thanklessness, my own self-centeredness. What kind of example am I?
In today’s Scripture reading, the psalmist says that when he appealed to God, praise was on the tip of his tongue. Meaning, that before he asked God for what he wanted, he began with thanks to God for who He is. This struck me in light of the pancake episode and my reaction to my daughter’s lack of gratitude for the gift I wanted to give.
When I talk to God, my Father and giver of all gifts, do I start with gratitude or grumbling?
What if my Maggie had walked downstairs and said, “Wow Mom, you made me pancakes! Thank you so much. They look great. But I was really hoping to have oatmeal for breakfast. What do you think?”
When my gift made her cry and cry out in ingratitude, I felt hurt and angry that she rejected it, offered with much love. Of course I got over it, recognizing that she is not there yet, that she is becoming. God knows this about us, and loves us anyway. Forever and ever, amen. How much more does God, our maker and love of our souls, experience the rejection of our thanklessness and ingratitude?
Ann Voskamp writes, “Eve’s thanklessness for all God does give and her resentfulness of the one fruit He doesn’t give, this is the catalyst of the Fall.”
Resentfulness of the one fruit He doesn’t give.
Hoo boy, does that sound familiar. Does that sound familiar?
Courage friends! It does not have to remain this way. If our fall begins with ingratitude and forgetfulness of who God is and who we are, then our redemption can begin by remembering. We can start again each day with gratitude first. Giving thanks for who God is, and who he created us to be.
As for the pancakes? I put them in the fridge, and everyone happily ate them the next day. This too is grace.
“Listen, are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?” – Mary Oliver
Have you ever been haunted by a word? It’s name popping up here in conversation, there in a magazine. Always speaking to you, in a hushed whisper, of what lies in store should you pursue her?
Over the last six months, this word has been following me, a shy boy afraid to ask for a date. Hanging back and hoping I’ll notice him. So often there on the periphery of everyday life.
A couple of months ago I finally went back to weight watchers, after gaining back every single one of the 20 pounds I lost a few years ago. Gives new meaning to the term lifetime, huh? This time around, I am not eager and excited. I am resentful and jaded, not looking forward to spending the rest of my life writing down every bite of food I consume so I can comfortably fit in a size 8. I walked in feeling vulnerable, ashamed, and wishing to be anywhere else.
The leader spent the first four meetings I attended talking about mindfulness. Breath. Meditation. Focus. Distraction free eating. Mindfulness and satiety. Paying attention.
Have you ever sat down to enjoy an afternoon snack or coffee only to get so wrapped up in your thoughts about next, and hurry, and lack, that you look down and its already gone? Did you even enjoy one bite of that thing you were anticipating an hour ago? Is every day this way?
Maybe we are sleepwalking through life?
I’ll admit, I was annoyed at that meeting, talking about breathing. Please. Give me the good stuff. You know, all the stuff that as a lifetime member, I already know. But can’t seem to remember. Like how to ask myself what I’m really hungry for and if I’ve had enough.
Have you had enough of feeling disconnected?
The last few months I’ve felt my fuse getting shorter and shorter, the normal foibles and challenges of parenting stretching me to the breaking point. All is not so well. Then, the stars aligned, bringing two ideas together in stunning clarity:
Mindfulness and Melancholic
In doing more research into the four classic temperaments, I realized that I am melancholic. So, so melancholic. With a very healthy dose of Choleric for good measure. Its a laugh riot over here.
Yet in reading more about mindfulness and the characteristics of my people, melancholics, I realized how much one can help the other. Melancholics are characterized as being:
sensitive and/or moody
slow reactions to ideas, people, and situations that build in intensity over time and leave a lasting impression
globalize mistakes as disasters
But they are also capable of great empathy, compassion, and are often very concerned with the suffering of others and injustice in the world, and strive to be the best they can be and to inspire others to greatness. With melancholics you get the heights and the depths of life. Ask my husband, a delightful blend of Phlegmatic and Melancholic.
Artists, writers, counselors, and religious are often melancholics. These are my people, and we need mindfulness.
For people like me, we exist in the world of our thoughts, and it can be hard to extricate ourselves from our thoughts long enough to enjoy the present moment or see God’s hand moving through everyday experiences. Our thoughts and feelings are so intense, they must be true, right?
Maybe thoughts are just that: thoughts. Maybe feelings aren’t facts, and we can choose how we respond to them. However we can’t do this if we don’t periodically stop and pull away from our thoughts to focus on what is actually happening in the present moment. To actually feel the breeze in my hair or the touch of a tiny hand in mine.
When is the last time you did this?
Though mindfulness is most well known as a Buddhist principle for enlightenment, I believe that God uses mindfulness to draw us to Him, and to give us the self-awareness that we must have to grow in holiness. Mindfulness is about paying attention to what is in front of us, taking each day with its joys and sufferings as it comes. Is this not what God invites us to do in the prayer He gave us:
Give us this day, our daily bread…
Are we missing our daily bread today because we are focused on what comes tomorrow?
In Scripture, Jesus explains how we are to be, using the analogy of birds who cannot live anywhere but in the present moment, and tells us what we all instinctively know: worry is not of God and will not lead us to Him.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
So, the practice of mindfulness, of slowing down and paying attention, can undo our paralysis and open our eyes to the many gifts that God is giving us today. Right now, even in the midst of this sorrow. This hardship. This day of too little sleep, and too many tiny hands demanding more of us than can justly be expected. We give it anyway, and in this is grace.
If this speaks to your soul too, please join me. I’m going to be posting one gift, one fruit of mindfulness each day on Instagram until I hit a thousand. Taking a page from the wonderful Ann Voskamp’s book, I’m using mindfulness and gratitude to allow His grace to shake me awake.
It’s been a while since I’ve had anything to say in these parts. So I figured what the hell? It’s NFP Awareness Week and I haven’t written about anything that I can’t stand in quite a spell, so here we are. You all are so lucky I’ve turned off Criminal Minds long enough to tell you about our journey with NFP. Make sure you thank Molly, because she inspired me to talk about something I swore I’d never blog about again.
The first time I heard the term “Natural Family Planning” I was a senior in college and attending an honors presentation that I frankly can’t remember, other than the man presenting was talking about NFP. Then he casually mentioned that his parents had used NFP and I happened to know (because he was dating my roommate) that he was one of 5 (or so) kids. I still remember clear as day turning to my friend and saying, “Well that obviously worked really well” and rolling my eyes.
Oh yeah, NFP, that Catholic thing where you end up with 5 kids. No, thank you.
Fast forward a few years and I’m dating the man who is now my husband. He is a new convert and I am a spiritual toddler, learning a lot about the faith of my birth.
It was pretty close to the time when you decide to either get engaged or break up (we got engaged), and we were talking about kids. It was a good sign that we both wanted some. Not a whole baseball team or anything, but a few. We were both vaguely aware that there was something you could do, possibly involving some kind of magic, where you might be able to not get pregnant every time.
Since we both had 90’s sex ed, it was like this:
We decided we better figure it out because we did not want to have a baseball team and I had no clue. Let’s just say, chastity was new for me.
While we were engaged, a friend who was married a few months ahead of us took a symptho-thermal class through Couple to Couple League. She loved it. So when it was our turn to be engaged, we signed up for one too.
It was standard fare. A video from the 90’s with a chubby, smiling baby on the cover and a very nice couple with 4 kids – which somehow seemed significantly less insane to me than 5 – who had no idea what to do with me. We walked out of that class shell-shocked. Atticus said he learned more about the female body in an hour than he’d known in 25 years. I was pretty skeptical, knowing since I was 16 that I have Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). I’d heard it could make charting “challenging”.
No, seriously you guys. It was a damn joke. My first cycle charted with sympto-thermal was 72 days long. But what were we gonna do? It was this or nothing. I’d spent a few years on the pill and it literally made me a lunatic. Even if I weren’t morally opposed to hormonal contraceptives, I’d never take them again knowing how I felt on them.
The instructors who were clueless, told us to give them a copy of the chart and they’d send it off to their supervisor. Then, during our last session with them, they told us that I was ovulating somewhere “around” cycle day 14 and that my phase 3 was variable in length, and that’s why my cycles were so long.
That is not true. Completely inaccurate. But we sauntered down the aisle toward wedded bliss with that nugget tucked away.
Our plan was to avoid for a year because I was in grad school and we lived in a tiny Chicago apartment. Then I got pregnant two months into our marriage on cycle day 50-something, because I did not in fact ovulate “somewhere around cycle day 14”.
I was completely shocked and overwhelmed when those lines turned pink. How were we going to pull this off? Yet in the midst of my terror there was joy. I was happy to be pregnant, although the timing was not what I had planned. This was the beginning of a theme, yet it took me many years to embrace it. It never occurred to me that even though I was pregnant, there might not be a baby nine months later. There wasn’t. We learned at an early prenatal appointment that the baby had died very shortly after conception, but my body hadn’t caught on yet.
In retrospect, this little NFP “mistake” was really a miracle, given what happened next.
What happened next?
14 months of trying to conceive again. Of using inaccurate information and trying to make sense of sympto-thermal charts that I charitably describe as a train wreck. Temps so low they’re off the chart, cycles that look like a sawtooth. No discernible pattern. Finally, after we had been trying to over a year, I did a search online for other methods of NFP and things began to change.
We met Creighton.
Creighton Model Fertility Care System is what I found in my desperate searches for something that would help us know what we were doing wrong and why I wasn’t pregnant again like everyone said I would be after our loss.
I am not exaggerating when I say that I walked into our first appointment with our FCP (fertility care practitioner) and actually started to cry when she mentioned that she too had PCOS. She was nurse, and she knew her ish. I finally felt like I was learning about *my* body, not about what normal bodies do. She referred us to a Creighton trained infertility doctor who could help us.
During the cycle we were learning the method, we conceived Maggie.
Strictly speaking, we violated one of the rules of Creighton, which is to avoid sex during the entire first cycle when learning the method. We ignored this because (a) my cycles were then about 2 months long, and (b) we had been trying to a baby for more than a year and were not going to miss a chance. I was frank with the instructor, and she understood. And there she is.
Though I was not actually under any treatment plan (yet) I credit Creighton with her conception because it helped us accurately figure out days of fertility, and given my history of miscarriage and PCOS, the Creighton doctor prescribed progesterone right away. How much of a difference this made, we’ll never know for sure.
Can I just say, one of the best things about pregnancy is the break from charting? Can I get an Amen?
I was super lucky after Maggie was born and my cycle returned at 10 weeks post partum, due to my inability to nurse, which you can read all about if you’re into that sort of thing.
We crossed our fingers and tried our best with Creighton. We successfully avoided pregnancy until she was just over a year old, and we felt ready for another baby. And one of the things I really do like about NFP is that when you are ready to be open to another pregnancy, you don’t have to change anything other than which days you have sex.
We started trying for another baby when Maggie was about 13 months old, hoping to have kids around 2 years apart. You know, more plans.
Seriously, what is it with people and plans? We all know what happens as soon as you make them.
I was in great shape. I’d lost 20 pounds, was working out, and having the shortest, best looking cycles I’d ever had. I just knew it would happen for us.
But it didn’t. It might sound crazy, but I knew after the third failed cycle that something was wrong. You don’t have sex on peak day three months in a row and not get pregnant, unless something is wrong. We waited another six months for good measure (and a healthy dose of suffering too) and then called the Creighton doctor again.
This time he gave me the big C. Clomid. I was nervous. I did NOT want to have twins. No way, man. I had one kid and knew how insanely hard that was. Two at once? No, thank you. He said, blah blah slight risk. Blah, blah, 6% chance.
Oh, 6%? That’s all. That means you have a 94% chance of not having twins. Right?
6%. Their names are Mary Cate and Charlie.
In yet another sweeping gesture intended to remind me of who’s in charge here, I conceived twins on 50 mgs of clomid, during the third cycle of taking it. We tried for one year exactly and found ourselves pregnant with two babies.
Listen friends, I have given up trying to be a witness to anything other than the fact that I am not running this show. I got pregnant when I was trying to avoid, experienced sub-fertility twice, and had twins on the lowest dose of fertility meds you can take. You don’t have an unplanned pregnancy, infertility, and twins all in the span of 5 years and think for one second you’re in control.
At the end of the day, I think that’s the best lesson that NFP has taught us as a couple. We are not in control. Control is an illusion, and we humans cling to it like a life preserver. There is only so much control someone can ever have over something like when and how human beings come into existence, and making peace with that is the only way to overcome fear of the unknown.
We have been trying to avoid pregnancy successfully since 10 weeks post partum with the twins and they are 20 months. There’s no end in sight for this for us. Despite evidence to the contrary, I do have a very small filter and no, no one on the internet needs to know why we are avoiding for the foreseeable future. But we are. Yes, its hard. Yes, it often feels like a burden. And yes, we also know that with at least 15 years of fertility left and having already had quite a few surprises, we may be surprised yet.
Yes, it absolutely sucks. NFP is terrible. It’s just less terrible than everything else. As the wise Simcha Fisher once said, “When it comes to sexuality, all God’s children got angst.”
Yet, for me and my constellation of circumstances, Creighton has been the best possible method of NFP and while I hate abstinence (because I’m human), I truly believe that our children are here because of the treatment I received from Creighton doctors and nurses and I’d be happy to talk with anyone who has questions about it.
Now back to Criminal Minds.
A few weeks ago I got to experience one of my favorite pleasures, going to a new library for the very first time. Since we just moved to a new town, with its very own library just a couples miles from our house, I was thrilled to check it out.
Libraries are my happy place. I have fond memories from the very small library in my sleepy town growing up, and of exhausting most of the children’s section by the time I was 12. I worked for my college library for a few years, and worked for the public library in Indianapolis for a short while before Maggie was born. I have a pipe dream (one of a few!) of going back to school for the MLS (masters of library science) degree and becoming a real, live librarian.
There’s something about a library. It cuts across racial and socio-economic lines. Rich and poor alike use libraries. They are community centers and in many places function as gathering spaces for students of all ages, people seeking quiet work space, and those lacking resources such as in-home internet access. Everyone in this house is a big fan of the library.
Our new one is wonderful! They have an excellent children’s section, and offer many programs for children, including story times, crafts and activities, and there is even a mother-daughter book club for 4th and 5th grade students. Something else I loved was that the parenting section was in the children’s section, something I have not seen at other libraries. Brilliant!
We’ve made a few trips now, and on the last one Maggie and I discovered the “grab and go” bags. They are pure genius!
They are tote bags for kids aged 0-5 and filled by theme with picture books. So you just grab one, and there is even a barcode on the outside of the bag so you do not have to take each one out to scan. I’ve seen pre-made bags at other libraries, but none arranged by theme and so easy to check out. I love them.
Maggie chose bugs and princesses. Of course. Maggie still likes princesses, but we are starting to get away from the obsession of her toddlerhood. Enough so that instead of having her fourth princess party in a row, this year’s birthday theme is Doc McStuffins. I really liked the books in the princess themed bag though. I like The Very Fairy Princess series (written by Julie Andrews) a lot, and both Maggie and I loved Princess Grace, which is a very sweet alternative take on all things princess.
Since the parenting section is in the children’s section, I even had time to browse for a few books of my own. I know, I know. Living the dream.
The top two books are mine, but since I am reading them right now, they are on the pile.
I haven’t started The Museum of Extraordinary Things yet, but I am enjoying the other library books. French Kids Eat Everything is so interesting and challenging as it highlights the differences in French and American attitudes to food and parenting.
The top two books, Cravings and Weightless are both written by Catholic authors and deal with body-image, food issues, and spirituality. If any of that sounds familiar to you, I can’t recommend both of these books highly enough. I have been slowly reading them the last two months, because there is a lot there in terms of spiritual work and material for reflection.
So there you have it friends. What we’ve found exploring our new library and some titles we’ve been enjoying during this late spring sort of early summer lull. What are you reading now?
I’ve been watching the series on the early Church, A.D.:The Bible Continues, since Easter. It’s quite well done, not 100% accurate, but very compelling and entertaining since after all, it is a network TV show.
In the show, you see the Sanhedrin and Pharisees a lot, since it is basically telling the story of Acts of the Apostles. I’ve had this image in my mind for a while, because of the show, of all the leaders of Judaism together in the temple discussing the minutiae of the law while life in the city swirled around them.
They argued with one another, sometimes very heatedly. They abused non believers, up to and sometimes including stoning. Ask Stephen, the first Christian to die for his faith in Christ.
With me in the back of my mind as I sat down to prayer this morning, I was struck by the words of the Gospel:
“And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me…that the world may know that you sent me” (John 17)
Immediately two things sprang to mind: that image of the Sanhedrin pouring over the minutiae of the law and the very old hymn
We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love
Could it make more of a contrast?
They’ll know we are Christians by…
the combox on Catholic blog posts?
our first reaction when we say “well, what was she wearing/drinking?”
our ambivalence towards the violence that permeates every pore of our culture?
our indifference to the poor in our midst, our willingness to humiliate them as a condition of receiving service?
dedicating much time and bluster to admonishing the tiny fraction of Catholics who use NFP, presuming to know their sinful hearts and minds, and accusing them of selfishness?
turning away from those in need because its too messy, too complicated, and what if they wreck my plans?
Listen friends, I am or have been guilty of most of these at one time or another. I’m not talking to anyone else more than I’m talking to me. But, you know its true.
They’ll know we are Christians by our love isn’t so much a statement as it is an indictment.
The members of the early Church drew people in because they were open. They fed people without asking them who was at fault for their hunger. They shared with people without waiting to see if they deserved it. They baptized and entered into community with anyone who asked to belong.
They offered the kind of radical charity and openness that God offers us every day of our lives. He feeds us his very self knowing we have put other hungers before him. He shares his body, blood, soul and divinity with us, knowing that we could never be worthy of the gift. He welcomes into community of his Church all who ask and seek with open hearts.
The early Church did this because they allowed themselves to be filled with the radical love of the holy Spirit, which descended on Pentecost and filled them with the fire of God’s blazing love for humanity and all of his creation. This same spirit stands ready to fill us and send us out fearlessly for the work of offering radical charity to a world that is hurting and lost.
I’m convinced that the only way we will ever see our unity restored, the only way they will know we are Christians by our love is through the sanctifying, transforming power of the holy Spirit. May it descend upon us this Sunday, the feast of Pentecost and remain. May the Spirit “annoy” us (as my pastor is fond of saying) until we are moved to more love, more justice, more reaching out.
We had just finished dinner and the kitchen was a mess. I love to cook, but I hate to clean up after. Thankfully its getting warmer again, the longer days and higher temps a lifeline to parents of young children. Atticus took the kids to the backyard so they could get filthy while he did some landscaping work. Clearing plates I thought of my plan hatched earlier in the day: to go for a walk alone after dinner. I had done it before, I knew it was possible again. Especially with all the kids distracted in the backyard. No one would notice my escape. Now was the time.
Then I looked around at all the plates, pots, cooking utensils to be washed or loaded in the dishwasher and felt the familiar tightening in my chest that comes right before I let go of something I want to do, in order to do something that needs done. You know what I mean, right?
I sighed thinking, “Oh well. I better clean up. I can take a walk tomorrow.” Yeah, right.
Then something in my head, I’d like to think God’s voice, said:
Your body is more important than your house.
My body is more important than my house.
In that moment, something shook loose and I knew, without a doubt, that the voice was speaking truth. I laced up my sneakers and took a nice long walk through my neighborhood in the evening breeze. I felt free in a way I hadn’t for a long time. I started to feel that perhaps my body is more than the “meat suit” I use to drag my soul around. Maybe my body is something more than fodder for the highlight reel of everything I hate about myself. Maybe my body is something other than the stuff that skinny women’s nightmares are made of.
Since that night, I’ve been thinking a lot about both my body and my house. There are some parallels, or at least there could be.
We take care of our homes not because we want to punish them for being bad, but because we are grateful for them and the shelter they provide. Yet how many of us use exercise or crazy diets as a form of punishment for our bodies failure to be perfect, rather than viewing activity and exercise as ways to thank our body for the gift of carrying us through life?
We know this about our children, that caring for them is more important than our homes. There’s that old rhyme:
The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow
But children grow up as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep!
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.
Bodies don’t keep either. Our bodies are the paintbrush God has given us to craft our one “wild and precious life” as poet Mary Oliver wrote. Yet, how can we craft it when the brush is not well cared for? How long will a neglected brush last, and what kind of masterpiece is it capable of creating?
Listen friends, I am saying all this to myself, in the mirror, hoping my body will forgive me for all the years of hating her and ignoring her needs for rest, nutritious food, and movement. Exercise isn’t punishment, and if yours feels like punishment, perhaps your body is trying to tell you something.
Our bodies (my body) isn’t a problem to be solved. It’s part of God’s creation to be loved, respected, and cared for with an attitude of stewardship. This is not about weight loss, it’s about connection. Somewhere along the way, and probably as a result of the Fall, we’ve lost the integrated wholeness of our body and soul.
Taking care of our bodies, accepting them for what they are, and loving them accordingly re-establishes that lost connection. This is not about being thin. Thinness as a yard stick for your self-worth is society’s doing, is the Enemy’s doing, not God’s. Its fruits are perpetual dissatisfaction, obsession with comparison, and using food and exercise as punishment. Self-care is God’s invitation, and its fruits are joy, peace, and contentment with our bodies as they are, knowing they are well loved by God and us.
We are all busy. Some of that busyness is the necessary price of being the main caretakers of our families. And some of it is invented to keep us preoccupied with things that don’t matter, so we won’t focus on what does. To keep us chasing hard after Pinterest kitchens instead of chasing hard after our “one wild and precious life”.
Listen, no one gives a shit if your house is messy.
When you die and we go to your funeral, no one is going to waste one single breath talking about how clean and organized your house was. Not anyone you’d want at your funeral anyway. Our homes are meant to be places where we live and love each other, not museums to make other people jealous.
If you have friends who give you a hard time if your house is messy, find new friends. Really though, if we dig deeper I think the truth is closer to this: our friends don’t care, but we do. Because just like the size of our waists, we women tend to tie our worth as people to how Pinterest worthy our homes are. But listen, none of this is what really matters, and if we’re treating our sacred bodies like garbage cans so we can achieve this, something is very out of whack.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t care at all if our homes are filthy, or shouldn’t try to keep them as neat as possible. But home decor and cleaning schedules shouldn’t come before taking care of our bodies or our souls. Deep down, we know this. The times in life when we have been in right relationship with ourselves, we have known this.
That phrase – Your body is more important than your house – shook something loose in me and I’m looking forward to sharing that journey with you.
So tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
It seems like I write a post about Mother’s Day every single year. Mostly, I think this is because I find myself blindsided by it every single year. My mother’s been gone for 24 years and this will be my sixth (!!) Mother’s Day as a mother myself. Yet every year around the first week of May I start seeing the posts about it, and think, “No, it can’t be Mother’s Day AGAIN – we just had Mother’s Day last year!”
It’s an annual thing. Sort of like grief.
Grief is not a straight line like a highway. Grief is more of a spiral or a labyrinth. It’s not once and through, it’s the tide swelling and receding in the human soul. It’s every damn year when Mother’s Day jumps out of the closet and yells “Boo!” and I have to figure out who I am in relation to it all over again.
Today, I went for a pedicure, a little present to myself for Mother’s Day. Trying a new salon in our new town, I made small talk with the nail tech, an older woman who I learned is the salon owner’s mother. As we were chatting, I mentioned that I am a writer, and I write a lot about grief. I mentioned my mom and she looked up from buffing my nails with that look that says, “Me too”. I too know this grief. Her mother died when she was young, and like me, was raised by family members. There is an invisible sisterhood of motherless daughters. When we meet and “find out” about each other, it’s an instant connection. We spent most of the remaining pedicure talking about our families, our lives, and how we glued the pieces of our broken childhoods together enough to make it through this life and find our ways into healthy marriages and motherhood of our own. How each of us has been paid the compliment of “not looking like we’ve been through so much”.
As I paid and was leaving, I wished my new friend a very happy Mother’s Day, adding, “because I know how hard it is, even 24, 45 years later. It’s always with you.”
It’s relatively easy to talk about my grief in this space, but I don’t often speak of it “in real life”. And certainly not with people I’ve just met. I took a chance this morning, and my vulnerability gave not only me, but my new friend, a chance to tell our stories and to connect. Those of us holding grief and life in tension don’t need to file it away, put on a false front, or any other silly cliche we are told when it’s “time to get on with life”. As if any authentic living can be gotten on with when you haven’t embraced your grief. What we need is to be unafraid to take that chance of sharing our stories, so others can feel they finally have permission to tell theirs.
Hope Edelman, author of the wonderful books Motherless Daughters and Motherless Mothers, shared an open Mother’s Day letter to motherless daughters. It’s chock full of wisdom and love, and permission to feel whatever you are feeling as Mother’s Day approaches.
The early loss of your mother has already set into motion a chain of events that are going to lead you to places you can’t even yet imagine. And you will, one day, be able to recognize good things that have come out of your loss, things that you cherish or are proud of, things that otherwise might never have occurred. In the 34 years since my mother died, some really bad shit has happened to me as a result (let’s block out most of my college years, shall we?), but some crazy good things have happened, too. Because she died I wrote Motherless Daughters, and because of that I met a motherless woman who introduced me to my husband, and 18 years later we have two daughters who have brought more joy and laughter into my life than pessimistic little me ever thought possible. And because my mother died of undetected breast cancer so young (at age 42) I get regular check-ups and mammograms and do everything I can to preserve and maintain my health. I know it’s not all in my power. Still, I try. And when I sit at my older daughter’s high school graduation next month, a milestone my mother never got to celebrate with any of her three children, it will be perhaps the greatest accomplishment of my life thus far, just the simple act of being there. I have outlived my mother’s age by eight years now, and I wake up every morning so damn grateful just to be alive. Of all the gifts my mother gave me from her life and death, gratitude may be the most important one of all.
Me? As this weekend approaches, and I look at the freshly planted lilacs – a gift from Atticus because they are my favorite – in our new back yard, I feel hope and sadness. I feel anticipation over what kind of surprise my amazing family has cooked up for me on Sunday. I’m eager to spend the day with these lovely, accepting, challenging little monsters who call me mommy. For the first time this year, I think I’d like to tell Maggie about my mother, and maybe show her a photo of the woman frozen in time, without whom none of us would exist. Sadness over what is lacking, memories of loss and imaging what could have been mingle with the joy of what is here in front of me and overwhelming gratitude for all that has been given me. Perhaps on a day like Mother’s Day, that’s the best any of us motherless daughters can do.