What I Want You to Know About The Mount

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In the fall of 2001, I got a phone call from a professor at one of the five colleges to which I applied – Mount St. Mary’s. I had expressed an interest in history and he was a history professor. He called to tell me more about the history program and about “The Mount” in general. This man spent about 20 minutes on the phone with me, clearly passionate about the college where he taught and the students he worked with. He answered so many of my questions and made me feel that my goals were important. I decided then that it was my top choice school.

Of the five colleges to which I applied, this was the only professor who ever called me. And this is what I want you to know about Mount St. Mary’s: that one event was indicative of my entire time there. That is the kind of place The Mount is and was for me. The kind of place where a tenured professor calls a prospective student on the phone to make her feel welcome, before she even chooses to call The Mount home.

When I arrived at The Mount as a freshman in 2002, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was eager to learn everything I could about the world, about art and literature and politics. Nothing made my humanities heart beat more wildly than reading the course catalog and circling the ones I wanted to take.

The Mount is the place where I learned not what to think, but how to think. Starting with Freshman Seminar with Dr. Heath, reading Csikszentmihalyi and “flow”, Marx and alienation, through Ren/Rev with Dr. Mitra and American Experience with Towle, and all of the Great Books I was privileged to read, I learned how to ask hard questions and settle for nothing less than compelling answers. I learned to write a cogent paper with an apparent thesis and how to sift through chaff to find the wheat.

Without the required philosophy courses, and The Rule Book for Arguments, I might not know a logical fallacy when I see one. Without hearing Dr. Rehm and Dr. Miller, I might not know what utilitarianism and consequentialism look like when I see it in a presidential debate or hear it at work.

Without Sr. Birge’s course on the gospel of John, I might not have fallen in love with what remains my favorite book of Scripture. I learned from Dr. Collinge what Catholic Social Teaching really means, and that planted the seeds of my eventual graduate degree in social justice. With Dr. Mattison I read Fr. Barron before Fr. Barron was cool. I engaged my faith intellectually in ways that would not have been possible had I not been required to take theology. I am forever grateful.

In my history courses where The Civil War came alive on the fields at Gettysburg, and when Dr. Goliber proudly proclaimed that she was a feminist and a Christian, if that didn’t work for us, we should kindly leave. I stayed. I learned to love history and context and who we are as humans even more, if possible, than I had before.

With Dr. Hinds offering the very first semester of “The Catholic Novel”, I was exposed to Graham Greene and Walker Percy, who remain favorites to this day.

The breadth of reading across disciplines that I did at The Mount left my husband (with a humanities degree from Yale) impressed. I had more required philosophy courses in college than he did!

Outside of the classroom I gradually gained confidence in myself and made friendships that were deep and sustaining. Through the opportunity to be a RA (resident assistant) and through campus organizing around various issues, I gained leadership skills that have helped me tremendously in my life after The Mount.

In Dr. Trudy Conway I found someone I admired and respected deeply, and through our work with the campus campaign to end capital punishment, I found a cause about which I was (and remain) passionate. Dr. Conway, taking on the role of activist and mentor in addition to her regular teaching duties, showed me what action for justice, animated by faith looks like. With her I was able to stand witness when the state of Maryland ended the life of Wesley Baker in 2005, silently standing in protest of another life ended.

These and so many more lessons I learned at The Mount have been invaluable and have shaped the trajectory of my life in various ways. Because of the “Callings” program, and the endless talk of vocation, vocation, and being men and women for others, I took on the volunteer job as a teacher in Chicago. Because of Chicago I met Atticus, and went to Loyola, and the rest, as they say, is history.

All of this was possible because what I learned at the Mount could never be boiled down to “job skills” or merely a discipline designed to prepare me for a job. Those things are valuable and important, but learning how to think and what people are for is more important. A person who knows how to think can be taught to do just about anything, and to do it well.

This is all to say nothing of the vast spiritual resources and nourishment available to students on Mary’s mountain. Hours spent hiking to the grotto and praying the rosary on the way. The weekly praise and worship group that helped me fall in love with God, a love which is worth more than anything mentioned above. I made my first confession in years to a Franciscan friar radiating the love of Jesus, inside Immaculate Conception chapel.

We also had so much fun that I’d be hard pressed to describe it all here. From wings and Yeungs at Ott’s to epic games of mafia and so much flip cup (after I turned 21, of course), there was the kind of fun we all hope to have in our lives.

With everything you’ve heard about Mount St. Mary’s and her erstwhile (and hopefully soon to exit president), I want you to know The Mount that I have known and loved. A place to learn and grow, to love God and each other and try and fail and try again. A place where words matter, and where the actions of those in charge are expected to be just, and when they’re not just, an expectation of being called out, because as Dr. Grisez said recently, “Having taught others justice, I must practice it.”

Perhaps if President Newman had received The Mount education that I did, he might have learned that lesson.

Sarah Pilisz Babbs C’06

 

When Children Annoy You at Mass

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In several thoughtful pieces going around the web lately, various authors who are in fact the parents of tiny humans, share stories from the trenches of going to Mass in America…with kids. All of these articles are well-written, and offer various thoughts about why it’s important for children to be present at Mass. However, based on the comments surrounding them, one would think we were talking about ISIS members joining families in the pews. In fact, I think an ISIS would be more welcomed, provided he was quiet during the consecration.

The irony of “pro-life” Catholics telling families who have obviously been open to life that they better take the visible fruit of their marriage to the coat room because it’s cramping their style is pretty shameful. It’s also, I think, one of the last vestiges of the old and oppressive notion that “children should be seen and not heard”, and an unfortunate seeping in to the Church of the general culture’s discrimination against children and their presence in public spaces.

In fact, something I’ve noticed in the hate being spewed by people who call themselves followers of Christ, is a blanket condemnation of “this generation” of parents, who are “soft” on their children and “let them run wild”. In response to which, I have a couple of thoughts. Chief among them would be disgust that this is even a conversation that we need to have.

 

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Children…at church.

 

 

  1. The Cost of Obedience
    Yes, I’ll bet Junior back in the old days would sit straight as a pin during Mass if he thought he was going to be beaten with a belt by his father later. The threat of violence is often a deterrent, but at what cost? What message does it send my children about the importance of internalizing God’s all consuming, love for them, if all they know is that Mom will spank me if I don’t sit still. I’d rather have a learning curve, and age-appropriate expectations for my children than to instill in their precious hearts a connection between worship of God and violence. Look, we have rules at Mass and if the 5 year old breaks them, she has consequences. But I’m not impressed with people whose children behave because they’re terrified not to, and I’m not interested in hitting a 2 year old for acting like a 2 year old at church.
  2. It’s Their Mass Too.
    Baptized children are part of the Body of Christ. And they are not any less important than you are. The fact that I need to point this out is very disheartening. Sure, they’re annoying sometimes. So are you when your singing sucks or your breath smells. But you expect me to put up with it every week, and I happily do, so my family should have the same expectation that their sometimes annoying behavior will be put up with too, because that’s what families do.
  3. It’s A Dinner Party, Not A Date.
    You and Jesus, just the two of you gazing into each other’s eyes as you speak words of love to one another. There’s nothing better this side of Heaven, am I right? Well, yes. There is nothing better than those intimate moments where we experience God’s love for us, one on one. Only, here’s the thing: we have no right to expect Mass to be one of those times. Sometimes we experience it that way, but it does not exist for that purpose. Mass is the source and summit of the Christian life. Mass is a re-presentation of the sacrifice of the Cross. But it’s not meant to be a solitary experience. The Eucharist is food, and Christ purposefully chose to institute it at a dinner party, a meal meant to be shared with family and friends – a place of communion. The place to experience one on one, intimate love of Christ in the Eucharist is in Adoration. It truly is one of the most powerful experiences of silence in God’s presence one can have.
  4. You Raised Us.
    Hey, guess what? If you don’t like the way we parent our children at Mass, take a long look in the mirror. You raised us. Either we’re parroting the parenting we received, or it had such a negative effect on us that we’ve chosen the exact opposite of whatever you did. Perhaps it’s some combination of the two. Either way, new parents don’t invent parenting strategies in a vacuum. It’s a village baby, and we’re all part of it. “But”, you might object, “I can’t control how my children turned out! They’re beings with free will and all I could do was my best.” If you said that, you’d be absolutely right. Our children, the children you begrudge a place at the Master’s table, are beings with free will. We can threaten them with any punishment, we can inflict any punishment, and yet, these are beings with free will who are going to make their choices. Just like you, and just like me. As when you parented us into the Catholics parents we are today, we are doing our best just by showing up and trying.
  5. Offer to Help. I know, it seems a foreign concept to offer help to one’s struggling neighbor, but hear me out. I have twins. They’re two now and the Reign of Terror is in full swing.IMG_3055
    Terrifying, right?

    In fact, we’ve chosen to use a co-op nursery at our parish for the twins so we can focus on teaching their older sister about how best to behave and participate in Mass. However, as wonderful as the nursery is at our wonderful parish, I’ve been Catholic 30 years and never saw a parish with one until last year. Nurseries are a great option for families who would like to use one, but that said, they should never be forced on families either and don’t actually seem to be a viable option in most areas.

    Back to helping. When the twins were infants and we attended a different parish, we would frequently find ourselves in the position of literally having more needs than hands. Two 3 month olds and a 3 year old will do that to you. More than one Sunday morning found us each holding one upset or hungry baby, feverishly struggling to get a bottle prepared, while the 3 year old talked to herself at full volume because there was no one available to pay attention to her. Rather than shooting us dirty looks or shushing, clucking, or eye rolling at a pair of new parents who were obviously drowning in the blessings God had given them, older women sitting near us would volunteer to shake the bottle up, or hold a baby while we did. One woman would take an upset baby and walk her along the back of Church during the homily, so one of us could focus on the oldest.

    Is that not the pro-life thing to do? Is that not the Christ like thing to do, to offer help to those who are struggling, and give compassion to those who annoy us? Would not our churches reflect the reality of Heaven all the more if we offered help, and not scorn, to those who are trying to raise their children in the faith.

 

Hello: Is It Me You’re Looking For?

It would seem I took an unintentional break from blogging. It does happen from time to time. A few months ago, if you’d asked me, I expect I would have thought the opposite, so full of hope and potential for this little outlet. A lot has changed.

I thought I’d be writing a different series of thoughts all jumbled together. Instead of a mish-mash, a clear vision. An exciting announcement. I day dreamed about how I would tell all of you lovely readers who have journeyed with me over the years about how…..I was writing a book.

So, for most of the past year, I’ve been writing a book. I’d be lying if I left out that writing a book is pretty close to the top of my bucket list, and then Lo! back in January of this year, in answer to a prayer, I was contacted out of the blue by an editor from a large Catholic publishing house, wanting to help me become an author with them. I was thinking of quitting writing, and I told God point blank, “If you want me to keep writing, make me.” Less than a week later, I was contacted by the editor.

This editor and I worked together from January to September on first an idea, then an outline, then a proposal, and sample chapters. We secured Catholic authors for both a foreword and afterword. I knew that there was no guarantee they would publish the book until the proposal was evaluated, but I did feel hopeful.

But in mid-September the proposal was evaluated and rejected by the publisher. They liked the idea, but were concerned about my platform. For those of you unfamiliar with book publishing lingo, it means I’m not popular enough.

The Catholic book publisher is all:

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And I’m all, maybe you could publish my book and that would, I dunno, probably boost my popularity as an author. To which they responded:

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Story of my life. If they think I’m not popular enough now, they should have seen me in high school!

I didn’t seek this person out. I didn’t create a proposal to send it to as many publishers as I could in hopes of someone publishing the book, and I am not saying there is anything wrong with doing this – merely that I did not in any way do that.  The opportunity literally fell in my lap and I took it. It didn’t work out, and I’m left wondering why God would so obviously put it in my path for me to spend most of a year working on it and having nothing come to fruition. Perhaps its merely timing, or maybe something more. Disappointment and frustration would be an understatement.

Either way, I took this, and a general feeling of ambivalence about blogging in general, as a sign to put this idea away for a while and focus on something else. So that’s what I’m doing. It’s no secret that I’ve been frustrated with blogging (not writing) for quite some time. I’ve also been frustrated with being a full time at-home parent, and had been hoping that writing could turn into part time (paying) work for me. Realizing this is unlikely to happen without continuing to work much longer and harder for free, I think it’s time to put my writing squarely where it belongs right now: as a hobby. A much loved hobby.

In an interesting twist of fate, this past summer I met and became friends with a woman who is an educator for Creighton FertilityCare Services (NFP). She teaches the Creighton instructors, and since she’s somewhat new to our area, is holding a training opportunity in town for Fertility Care Practitioners.

When we first met she said she thought I’d make a good Creighton FCP, and asked me if I’d ever consider doing it. Normally this requires two week long trips to Omaha in addition to all the other steps in the year long training process. At this point, two week long trips requiring airfare and hotel would be cost prohibitive for us. However, the training she is holding here is 2 miles from my home. You can see where this is going.

I’d always been interested in how all the Creighton/NaPro stuff works, and actually learned a lot on my own through our experience using NaPro to treat my sub-fertility. Now I get to learn a lot more about it, and become able to help others learn the method. I decided to apply, that this was an opportunity that again, felt like it was landed on my doorstep, and I should take it.

So I am. My training begins Saturday, with 10 days of 8-5 seminars, squeezing a semester of work into a week and by Christmas 2016, I’ll finish up and be a full-fledged FCP. During my internship I have to work with a total of 18 couples during the course of the year (6 the first semester – 12 the second), so if you or anyone you know in the Indianapolis area is interested in learning Creighton FertilityCare system, please let me know and I’d be happy to work with you!

So instead of writing a book, I’m going to be an NFP lady. I know what you’re thinking. Here lies a true renaissance woman.

These two events were enough to deserve a post of their own, but they are smooshed together. And that’s not even the end of the story. But it is the end of this post.

I’m hoping to be back before Saturday with the last installment in the epic drama known as “Fall 2015”.

 

Meet My Girl: Dorothy Day

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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.

 

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“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.
Amen.

 

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)

Loaves and Fishes: The Inspiring Story of the Catholic Worker Movement by Dorothy Day

All the Way to Heaven: Selected Letters of Dorothy Day edited by Robert Ellsberg

D. Day also wrote a lovely biography of St. Therese

Therese: A Life of Therese of Lisieux

The Catholic Worker Movement

The Dorothy Day Guild

Life of Dorothy Day (from PBS)

 

 

 

 

Get A Life.

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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:

  1. Volunteer at a soup kitchen.
  2. Read the classics.
  3. Mentor a child.
  4. Visit the elderly at a nursing home.
  5. Raise funds for Syrian refugees.
  6. Take a walk through a park.
  7. Read a newspaper.
  8. If you’re Catholic, get your sorry ass to confession.
  9. If you’re a parent, play with your kids.
  10. 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

 

 

This is Who We Are on 9/11

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:

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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.

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The pain of the people living in this refugee camp matters. How we choose to respond 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.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 13:  A falcon sits perched atop the Statue of Liberty which, remains closed to the public six weeks after Hurricane Sandy on December 13, 2012 in New York City. The storm caused extensive damage to National Park Service facilities on Liberty Island, although the statue itself remained unscathed. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar toured the island Thursday while visiting the area to see damage caused by the storm.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

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!”

 

On Pancakes and Remembering

“When I appealed to God in words, praise was on the tip of my tongue.”  – Psalm 66

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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?”

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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.

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As for the pancakes? I put them in the fridge, and everyone happily ate them the next day. This too is grace.

 

Mindfulness for Melancholics: On Gratitude and Grace

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“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?

Mindfulness.

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:

introverted
sensitive and/or moody
skeptical
slow reactions to ideas, people, and situations that build in intensity over time and leave a lasting impression
perfectionist
globalize mistakes as disasters
critical
worriers

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 not.

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?

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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.

 

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Day 1: for sunlight streaming over breakfast dishes signaling more than enough to eat, I give thanks.

 

 

 

NFP: Are You Aware?

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.

Buckle up.

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:

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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”.

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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”.

Oops.

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.

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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?

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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.

 

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What We’re Reading: Library Edition

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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?

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