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Adulting Wins of 2017-2018

When I’m aching for a shot of encouragement, I try to pause and begin counting the things that are going right, rather than the things going wrong. This was extraordinarily effective as a homeschooler. And I’m finding it useful as a… “denizen” of Life in Plan B: the unforeseen divorced-mother-of-seven life I now live. Rather than tallying all the things that have been taken from me, or things gone wrong, I am counting up my wins. I started this list off in mild jest before it ended in sort of a “Wow” realization, even for me. It was all a blur when I was going through this. But, through the grace of God alone, I came through. There’s still a long way to go— many things yet to learn. Major transitions still to conquer and difficulties every day. Yet here I am, looking upward and sometimes even laughing in spite of it all… fully alive in spite of it all.

Feel free to snicker at some of these things: “How is this woman 36 years old and just now learning this stuff?!” But, I’m not really embarrassed by that. Happy to count my littleness. Even happier to count the ticks on my growth chart. I highly recommend you creating your own list of  “wins” just to give yourself a change of perspective: 

  1. Learned how to change a drill bit.
  2. Learned how to drill.
  3. Learned what to look for in a breaker box.
  4. Drove 900 miles in one day, solo.
  5. Spider sprayed the perimeter of my home, solo.
  6. Assembled IKEA furniture.
  7. ^Learned to ask for help.
  8. Learned how to operate a weed whacker.
  9. Took apart and repaired a freezer.
  10. Discovered Jameson.
  11. Learned how to grill (not exactly well, yet).
  12. Navigated Craigslist transactions without getting killed.
  13. Navigated the lightbulb aisle of the store without killing myself.
  14. Grew plants without killing them.
  15. Learned to kayak. 😀

… and 16 is sort of the “blur”:

Recovered from a minor surgery, got a job, found childcare, learned how to pump breastmilk, balanced having five children in four different schools, hired and fired lawyers, represented myself in court, paid a mortgage, slept on a hospital couch for a few days with a hospitalized child, survived significant, interpersonal trauma… all while being partially homeless for six months, ended 2017 watching my father die and enduring an awful, expensive trial, and opened 2018 with a horrific parenting plan and my mother’s heart attack.

But there’s even a 17 that’s emerged from the fog of 16:

Applied to grad schools, got accepted, worked hard through the busy days with too many demands and not enough hours while several other imperfect circumstances drizzle all around me, began 2019 with a 4.0 GPA, managed to happily read a large number of books, keep coffee and cheese stocked in the house, retain a passionate curiosity for the living world and those who travel with me here, and have allowed myself the tiniest—oh so fragile!— beginnings of long term dreams once again.

So there’s that. See the good. Count the growth. All will be well. And the lessons learned, extraordinary.

 

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Truth Telling and Being Human

I woke up at 5 am, riddled with a sense of shame for my last post. I got online and deleted my Facebook link to it (hoping the few people who saw it before I did that wouldn’t notice). Then I went to my Instagram page to delete there too… but there was already too much interaction there; I didn’t want to “gaslight” those people and deny that it ever existed. The article will stay active on my site. So I forced myself to just let it be a lesson to me and move on.  Still working on that… which led to this.

What am I getting at here? Why was I embarrassed of a post called “Christian Music That Doesn’t Make Me Vomit”?  Because it wasn’t honest. It was a little bit loose and the tiniest bit incendiary (I went in and edited some of my more raw statements… ugh). I don’t want to be like that. I don’t want to use this platform to generate anything remotely inauthentic. The article content wasn’t so much the problem… but there are 100 other titles I could’ve used to be more considerate and thoughtful. Not just given way to my brash hyperbole that I know sounds more interesting.

I blame it partially on the wine. Drinking opens up thought channels and there’s often an thinner-than-gossamer thread I’m able to pick up that leads to some really productive writing. However, drinking also leads to the unfiltered side of people too (in vino veritas, after all) . And I think culturally, we like to celebrate that: “Be Yourself!” “Tell it Like it Is” “You Only Live Once,” etc. Society praises writers, artists, performers for being raw or uneditedas if we are trying so hard to get back to our liberated, primal selves. Virtue and Restraint get the finger and Crass and Vulgar get the red carpet and 5,000 “likes.” I reject this. There have been a number of writers I used to follow pretty closely that I can’t follow anymore. They sold out. They started using their voice to produce cheap, intelligent-sounding material that was more bitter-snark than gift-honoring. (To be clear, I love good snark! There absolutely is a time and place for it, but this is not what I’m referring to with these writers.)

While I’ve fallen prey to my ‘lower self’ a few times by publishing something I later regret, (usually, it’s fears of over-sharing that cause me to backpedal and delete… but occasionally, it’s because I’ve been more flippant or raw than I’d like to be), I only sometimes delete these things. I have left things up as a sort of “Badge of Shame” to myself on social media because I want to be reminded of my frailty in this regard. I can scroll through my social media feeds and think once or twice “Eesh… I probably shouldn’t have posted that.”

Why not? What’s wrong with being “real”? Well, in my opinion, being “real” isn’t about cultivating an artificial perception of yourself to people, but it is about putting forth your better side and not entertaining your lower side. There is no glory in being publicly unfiltered. The glory is in mastering ourselves, our inclinations and egos. Being authentic isn’t waving around your list of music that “doesn’t make you vomit”… or “10 fashion trends I’d like to violently kill.” (it’s not written but sits in the corner of my head…) Authenticity is about plunging the depths of who we are called to be. It is not about splashing in the shallow mud puddles of unfiltered thoughts and expressions.

Hemingway was spot-on when he said what he did about writing… only people can be drunk on more than just wine. They can be be drunk on anger, despair, lust, greed, pride… and the like. I normally have a 24 hour waiting period after I write something before I click “Publish” (there is a folder on my computer of unedited scraps that won’t see the light of public day until I have a chance to go through them) just so I can fine tune it and question my motives. By I bulldozed past that in my cheeky zeal with that last article.

We should all want to be fully and authentically human. Left to our own unfiltered devices, humans muck it all up with bravado or eccentricity and call it ‘being real’. But even if it’s “real”, it’s not necessarily true.  But by pausing, reflecting on our motivations for speaking, writing, sharing, etc… by making sure our hearts are ordered properly, we can access the most real and most true part of ourselves that were created in the image of the Father. That’s the authenticity I long for…

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Christian Music that Doesn’t Make Me Vomit

You can tell a lot about a person by the books they read, the shoes they wear, the laugh they have and the music they listen to.  That’s just the truth.  I am always giddy to foist my booklists upon people because of a misplaced zeal—my books are elements of my person; books are relational beings almost!  And naturally, in the same way that we want to introduce our family to our meaningful lovers or friends, bibliophiles want to introduce loved ones to their important books. All good books should be good to all good people.

Music… now there is something entirely different. The unique tastes of people get a lot more leeway with me. I mean, if you don’t appreciate Bach’s Goldberg Variations or Mozart’s Piano Sonatas, I don’t know how to have a conversation with you; those things exist outside of time and space almost.  But outside of that, you’re free to jam to Adele or Johnny Cash or Pearl Jam. No matter to me.

But Christian music is something else… a sort of contrived category of the same five chords, hook, and emotional exploitation that seems to sound all the same.

I mean… I love Jesus too. But there’s something very saccharine about creating an entire radio channel of good looking, pearly white people singing His glory. Art is art. And the truest artists aren’t categorical to one subject alone (I mean… the classic composers could do Catholic Mass settings and also rage about lost pennies too without feeling like they deviated from their musical identity).

In my opinion… the best ‘praise and worship’ music should strive to be excellent art first. If musicians happen to be Christian and that is reflected in their lyrics… awesome!  But if they strive to be a “Christian musician” primarily… I feel like this is a disordered expression of gifts. That’s not to say I ‘judge’ all Christian musicians as frauds or cheapskates— truly, they’re probably doing the best they know how with what they’ve got! But the sound? That unmistakable contemporary Christian sound?  It’s just not my thing…

Truth be told. I can barely stand most contemporary Christian music. I know that sounds awful, but categorically, maybe it’s the way people feel about country music. As a whole, some people loathe it, as it is usually so single-minded in its sound and theme… but occasionally, there’s a standout.

We all have our standouts in most genres.

I wanted to share my favorite “Christian music” here. Because the list is pretty limited compared to my wonderful other curated playlists of folk, fiddle, rock and classical music etc…

I made this playlist when I was at the height of my marital trauma. I needed someone to have words for me, when I had no words and when nothing made sense. These musicians did that for me. I have since added to it here and there. Some of these songs are definitely of the ‘typical contemporary Christian’ sound that you are free to dismiss. Others are the plight of the human spirit in verse… so listen up! It is still music I turn on when my heart hurts or when I need to jam while making supper and not worry about my children overhearing the lyrics.

… So, entirely subjective and a million other disclaimers, I call this list “Healing” and I love it. I organized them into sections for you to laugh at or love. (As a general rule, I usually hate music videos, and I’ve not SEEN most of these but YouTube links are convenient.)

When Nothing Makes Sense:
“Where I Belong” by  Building 429
“Sweet Simplicity” by Brother Isaiah
“Rest” by Matt Maher
“Carry Me” by Jenny and Tyler
“Trust in You” by Lauren Daigle
“Your Grace is Enough” Matt Maher

To Raise the Volume All the Way Up and Scream into the Void Like a Crazy Person:
“Taste and See” by Shane and Shane
“Psalm 46” by Shane and Shane
“Jacob’s Song” by Brother Isaiah

To Fight Fear
“No Longer Slaves” by Bethel Music
“Mighty Fortress” by Matt Maher
“Safe” by Phil Wickham
“Back Home” JJ Heller

I Just Love Him and Desperately Need Him
“Tender Remedy” by Brother Isaiah
“How He Loves” by David Crowder Band
“Champion” by Alanna Boudreau
“Lord, I Need You” by Matt Maher
“Fortunate Fall” by Audrey Assad
“Jesus Lover of my Soul” by Fernando Ortega
“Just Be Held” by Casting Crowns
“I’ll Keep On” by NF (featuring Jeremiah Carlson— love his voice— who incidentally, I went to school with… used to play the game RISK at his house with him, some friends and his savvy father— good times…)
“Praise You in this Storm” by Casting Crowns

Claim Me, Jesus
“Love Song for the Bride” by Brother Isaiah
“Spoken For” by Mercy Me
“You Say” by Lauren Daigle
“Remind Me Who I Am” by Jason Gray (*nota bene: I actually love this video)

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God Will Probably Give You More Than You Can Handle.

They say “God will never give you more than you can handle.”

And not only do I think this is untrue, but I think it can be incredibly damaging. Very often God DOES give you more than you can handle. Telling someone that He won’t, will only cause them to feel inadequate or confused since they wonder why everyone is shouting out encouraging platitudes from a boat while they are drowning in the ocean: “Don’t worry! At least you can handle it!”

So… what if you can’t?

Oh you can’t handle it? Well, God certainly wouldn’t allow that so the problem must be that you aren’t faithful enough, not strong enough, not virtuous enough… etc. etc. etc.

What is left for an overwhelmed person to feel but utter discouragement?!

There is so much I have yet to learn. Each day I feel like I know less and less. Today the stars hide in the night sky. The wind chills to the bone. The very ground beneath me is uncertain. I have been given more than I can handle. Far more. On so many levels. And I rather resent hearing “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” because so very many of my days prove otherwise. What then, is my conclusion?! That God is a cruel and overbearing taskmaster throwing wrenches left and right at me just for fun?! That I’m not ‘good enough’ or ‘strong enough’ or ‘holy enough’ to handle it? None of these is a satisfactory answer. I know my power is in my weakness. My freedom is in my littleness. And my peace is in my surrender.

The only satisfactory answer left is that sometimes God DOES allow far more than you can handle!

But this is okay. We aren’t asked to ‘handle it.’ We are asked to be faithful. Plans might crumble. Hopes might be dashed to the ground. People might fail you. You might get sick. Life may be hard. And suffering may pitch a rather sturdy tent in your soul for a while…

Let it be done unto me.

Let it be done unto us. He never asked us to be strong enough. To carry the cross, perfectly, without faltering. He asked us to be faithful, even when—especially when— He gives us more than we can handle. His grace is sufficient.

“Jesus offers you the cross, a very heavy cross, and you are afraid of not being able to carry it without giving way. Why? Our Beloved Himself fell three times on the way to Calvary, and why should we not imitate Him?”

—St. Thérèse of Lisieux

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Notes from a Divorced Catholic

This could have just as easily been titled “Notes from a Mid-30s Mother” or “Notes from a Melancholic-Choleric Grad Student”. Or any other combination of personality ticks that could be labeled and hyper-linked on a social media profile. The difference and danger of identifying myself as a divorced Catholic is that somehow, the impression is given that I am the self-nominated voice of this particular demographic. And I reject that. Emphatically and with fervor. Every person on the face of this planet has his or her own story. We each have to put a signature at the end of our own life and despite trends and statistics, none of us are interchangeable with any other in whatever minorities or groups or demographics we happen to belong. Are you a homeschooling mother of four? You’re not like any other. Are you a faithful, stay-at-home father of two children? You’re not like any other. Are you a single, early twenties, same-sex attracted woman? You’re not like any other. Each of us is unrepeatable. Each of us is not the sum of society’s definitions about our character…

With that disclaimer, I offer some simple notes on a life that is a bit… different. It is my own random bits, in no particular order, from my own scattershot brain and not meant to speak for any others.

According the the NY Times there were about 5,000 households like mine in 2011: a single woman with seven biological children. That is 5,000 out of about 122 million households. Catholics make up about 22% of Americans. Less than 1/10 of Catholic households have more than three children in it. If I calculate my rough numbers correctly, this means there are about 100 households like mine across the United States. If we are generous— given population breakdowns— there might be two in my entire state?

-^ That?! That… is an incredibly sobering and isolating statistic. I’m a demographic unicorn. And I never wanted to be one.

-I have learned so much about my own judgemental attitudes. Because of how the social aftershocks have continued to play upon my life, I can see echoes of who I used to be in many of my friends… and in the social distancing that has happened in my life. Here’s the thing about the word “judgemental” though. Most people don’t know any better. We’re the product of our upbringing and our catechesis, which is so often lacking in any comprehensive “how to” lessons on integrating separated and divorced families into the normal, healthy parish life. Good, practicing Catholics simply don’t know how to “do” this. And I don’t hold this against anyone. I was the same. I can think of some single mother families I used to know and I was kind and charitable and “let me know if you need anything” just like everyone else. But I simply didn’t know *how* to integrate these women or their kids into my wholesome, stay-at-home, homeschooling mother life. So I kept them at an arm’s length. Just to be safe. Being on the other side of the arm now, I feel that pain and that isolation. But I understand it… and try not to take it personally.  The Church Militant has some hard, serious work to do on coexisting in this hospital of sinners.

-Yes, I’ve heard of Retrouvaille. Yes, I’ve read (and would recommend)  Primal Loss. Yes, I’ve seen that one Fulton Sheen video about how marriage is hard work. Yes, I know the Church’s teachings about separation and divorce. Yes I know about annulments. Thank you for the prayers for my family. That’s all. Some very well meant comments can sting… partially because folks can be insensitive. And partially because my heart is still defensive.

-It is a difficult thing to balance authenticity and discretion. Airing out the truth and protecting my family. I am doing the best I can. And this is my discernment to do. Not anyone else’s.

-The hard thing is that my world has to become, by necessity, very small anyway. I don’t usually have *time* for mommy’s groups or nature outings or Rosary Makers or whathaveyou. I barely have time for the small handful of friends I somehow have retained. When I am with my children— 63.3% of the the time— I am with them. And it is hard. Grueling. There are seven of them. There is one of me. There are three different schools. And two toddlers. And extra-curriculars. And doctor appointments. And potty training. And driving lessons. And teeth to brush and breakfast to make and stories to read and laundry to fold and bills to pay. And, and, and… all the demands of large family life with the exception of there being only one adult at the helm. Very little time or breath to answer phone calls or make room for the social life I need.

-What about the other 36.7% of my life? When I am not with the children? Do I get to live it up, wild and free in a sick sort of quasi-bachelorette way? No. The first thing I do is drink. Silence, that is. I drink the silence deep into this parched soul. (Maybe followed by a good, red wine…) The noise of large family life is utterly overwhelming for my introverted, abstract thinking brain. And so, when I wave goodbye and blow kisses to my babies when they go to their dad’s house… I return to my home and shut the door and pause. And listen. And begin the act of self-restoration. Books. Poetry. Music (I live somewhere between Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” and Brother Isaiah’s “Jacob’s Song”). Saltwater. Fresh air. Meandering in my mind and neighborhood.

-But it can’t be too long-lived. I have to have a future for these children after all. And there are seven of them. Being out of the workforce for 15 years means that I have very few options. As such, I study for a professional career in counseling. The 36.7% of my life is my book time. Reading. Writing papers. Studying. Being willfully distracted by anything other than studying. Then drinking more silence. This time neat. Running to the waterside if I feel overly emotional. Running to a friend if I feel isolated. Guarding and cultivating my need for laughter. A reminder that life is short and Calvary is actually lined with fragrant roses if only we stop to smell them along the way. Trying to not take myself too seriously… but to take myself measurably.

-The glorious thing the past two years have taught me is gratitude. Is a man ever able to appreciate a piece of bread more than when he is starving? Have ever the simple joys in life meant so much as when that is all there is in which to delight? There is something about being utterly crushed and weighed down by the monstrosity that is your life at the moment… that gives you such an acute awareness of and appreciation for the most primitive or nondescript sensations. A child’s smile. Hot water. The smell after a fresh rain. A pillow. Suddenly, the ordinary becomes extraordinary. And what a gift it is to be enlivened by the ordinary. Not everyone has that.

-Last year I woke up one day on a murphy bed at a friend’s house and had no idea where I was for a solid three minutes. I cried out in a half-awake state, as if crucified: “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me!” I had been in and out of temporary, residential schedules, bouncing around friends’ homes, sitting on the floor pumping breastmilk and storing in friends’ freezers, working at a restaurant, begging for free childcare, writing court declarations, and being sucker punched by the horror of what I read in return. I wept whenever I had to leave my baby. I lost a lot of weight. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t make a decision. I was skittish and dissociated from what I was experiencing. I was in the throes of trauma. And I was held up by my community and by my family at a distance and by strangers and by those very dear to me who became forever grafted to my heart.

-^That was about 14 months ago. It feels like 14 years ago.

-Answering the question “How are you?” has never been more challenging. Are we grading on a relative curve to how I *have been*?  Then, fabulous!  But are we prepared to hear how I really am sometimes?  Because folks generally tire of hearing about the same “Busy. Overwhelmed. Guarded. Dealing with nonsense you’d rather not hear about. Busy.” hamster wheel that is my answer more often than not. However: in a brilliant sort of irony… when the complexities are SO overwhelming in my world… I actually am able to access a tiny bit of interior freedom that is imperturbable.  There is so much that I can’t control that I very often just live 15 minutes at a time and can marvel at the quivering birch leaves behind my house or savor my cup of coffee or check out to a lengthy scroll through Pinterest… and I’m fine.  Very often full of joy. Happiness is from without. Joy is from within. I turn within a lot to be able to say “Fine” and mean it, when others ask.

-The grace of the sacraments is real.

-The experience of having my entire life utterly ripped out from underneath me has been a gift.  A most painful, beyond-the-pale gift that I would never wish on anyone. But I am grateful. So grateful for the ways I have grown to know myself. I’ve never really gotten to know this woman in depth… she has been a shell for a long time. And I am able now to see me for who I am, weak and flawed and desperately in need of grace… but also a beloved, chosen-before-all-time daughter of an incredible Father. He had to hit me pretty hard in order for me to wake up to all the goodness and beauty He has in store for me. And I am grateful.

-I live on quotes. And books. And poetry. And beauty. And delightful pockets of random joy.

-Being an adult is hard! I don’t know anything! I am 36 years old and still don’t know some very basic life skills! I just learned how to change a drill bit and identify a breaker box last year. This year, my goal is to figure out how to check my oil and try to understand what the stock market means. Thank the good Lord for YouTube tutorials.

-I don’t like attention. And I don’t want to be a poster-child for “divorced, Catholic, veiling, INTJ  mothers of seven who’d rather be homeschooling”. I don’t see myself as one. If I had my way, I’d be living happily under a rock somewhere in the woods, reading books and listening to birds and marveling at the moon. Yet, I am here. In this world. On Facebook. And Instagram. And responding to the call to use the gifts He has given me. I don’t know what God is asking of me yet. I only hope to always be obedient to the promptings He puts on my heart. And those promptings nearly always whisper: Write! I am a poor co-author of this story that He is weaving in me and through me. But I still have an obligation to tell it.  

-Having some very nearly libertarian leanings… I am thankful for public assistance. And I think shame is fascinating. And I am thankful for feeling genuine, accurate empathy for so many people in this world now that I never felt before. And I think the human heart is fascinating. And I’m thankful to be growing one.

That’s all I really have to say tonight… peace to you and yours.

 

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In honor of something real

There are many things I will not be able to pass on to my children. There are many flaws I have. I can’t give them horseback riding lessons. I don’t have an inheritance set up for them, much less a college fund. They also don’t have a mother who knows how to knit, or throw specially themed birthday parties, or who can teach them about which fork is the right one to use at a dinner party.

They will learn other things from me of course; I do have some gifts and skills to pass on to them that are unique to me, because I am not their mother by accident and I know God has allowed me to raise them for a reason and for them to raise me for a reason.

And given the context of who we are and what we can offer them, I think mothers generally want to capture or honor our children’s childhood and experiences in some sort of way. We are cognizant of how precious and short the time is that we are allowed to raise our children so we each sort of find our own ways to memorialize that. I am not a scrapbooker. I tried for a few months once with my first born but quickly abandoned it. I admire those women who do have the patience and skill and organization to devote to scrapbooking but that is not me.

I am however, a writer. And I write to my children. I began before they were even born. And want to encourage others to do so as well. I fully believe that the permanence of ink on paper is different than the old family blogs we all used to keep. I love media and I love my computer. But my flesh and blood child needs to know that I intentionally turned off the glowing lights every now and then, and that this woman placed herself in silence and thought of nothing but communing with him, whether he was in the next room sleeping or in a whole different state at the moment. My thoughts were with him. And the paper was touched by me. And the ink stained my fingers and sometimes smudged the page. And I breathed on my words. Occasionally there is even the stain of a teardrop on the paper.

When we write with pen on paper; it is real, and tangible and permanent. And the very medium is part of the message. I keep a journal for each child and write whenever I make time to… (sometimes it’s even months or years in between entries!) The journals evoke the sense of sight, touch, and smell. They are more real than the pictures I post online gushing about my children. I sometimes paperclip a real photo in the book. I sometimes keep the little scribbles they’ve made on the church envelopes and tuck those into the books.  This is effortless scrapbooking. When each child turns 18, I will surrender their journals to them. So far, they don’t even know of their existence. And they can look back and know the inner parts of me at certain points of their life. The mystery in the question “What was my mother thinking?!” will be partially answered… not exactly with abandon (I am mindful that they are still my children… not the keepers of my every heartache), but at least with authenticity.

Write to your babies. It doesn’t have to be a long, multi-paged ballad singing their praises. It can be a simple note that you were praying for them that day or a funny thing they said or something you appreciated. The point is to do it. To make incarnate the fact that you were thinking of them.

I imagine our grown up children being delighted and grateful to be given something real in a world where real seems increasingly difficult to find. 

 

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Worthy

One of the more painful parts of mothering alone is the fact that no one is there to help you sweep out your head trash.  And this happens to all of us. All mothers at some point or another snap occasionally; we lose our tempers. We say regrettable things. We stomp our feet, slam down dishes, yank arms too hard or yell at the children. Even typing this out causes feelings of shame to resurface. It’s awful.

The good mothers recover well. They’ll cry it off. They’ll apologize to their children and beg forgiveness and smother them in hugs and kisses. And all will be well. We are human. We are weak. We are breakable.

(Sometimes pride stands in the way of this necessary contrition and reconciliation. But that is a topic for another time…)

What needs to be addressed loud and clear is the moral MANDATE we have to not let our failures define us. Yes, this is a moral mandate. This isn’t about feelings of self-esteem. This is about taking Jesus Christ at His word when He says that we have been chosen, we have been redeemed, we are His beloved children, and that nothing in this or any other world can ever separate us from the love of Christ. This is not an optional belief. This is a creed given to us by Scripture and to dismiss it, as we wallow in shame and self-pity, is to dismiss Jesus.

When we are confronted with our own weaknesses and failures, we have to remember our identity. For mothers who are going it alone (and alone can be emotional as well as legal…), it’s an extraordinary challenge. In a healthy marriage, where two become one, a husband can reassure his woman of all the good things about her. He can remind her who she is. And that she is not “the sum of her weaknesses and failures” and that he too, accepts her and loves her; today was just a bad day.

But when we are by ourselves, women have a taller hill to climb. We are left to brood alone about all our shortcomings and we’re tempted to allow lies to creep in that undermine our vocation… our self worth. No one dispels them for us when it’s 11 pm and we are crying in our rooms alone.

Yet there is a beautiful irony in this… a silver lining.

Being on your own forces you to cling to your Divine Lover in a much more profound way than many happily married women do. I have never been more certain of my identity and of His love for me than I am now. I spent 15 years of married life looking for affirmation in all the wrong ways, while Jesus waited patiently for me to turn to Him. He was always there with open, blood stained arms ready to hold and affirm and cherish me in all the mess that I am. I just needed my life to fall completely and utterly apart in order for me to internalize this (I’m a slow learner…)

Today, I am still weak. I am still breakable. I am still prone to failures. That hasn’t changed.  What has changed is the deep, searing conviction that I am a daughter of a good, good Father. I have family. I have a home. I am worthy by His blood. He said so.

I scribbled these verses that were singing in my head this morning… if I were to clean it up and try to be official, I’d probably title it “Be a Smart Consumer of Media.” I hope there is a woman somewhere in cyberspace who sees this, who needs this and who knows that she is not alone…

 

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2018 Booklist (÷ 2)

If you read this website, there’s a fair chance you have similar tastes in literature as I do. And if that’s the case, it’s probably also true that you like booklists curated by likeminded zealots.  So I’ll give you one. I have enjoyed doing Year in Review booklists before but this year is different (and we’ll all just collectively erase 2017 from our memories, thankyouverymuch) because I had an excellent amount of reading time during the first part of the year and will have very little free reading time during the rest of it. It’s also different in that there is a disproportionate amount of spiritual books and non-fiction listed here; I usually prefer to have a more well-rounded biblio-meal than this. Be that as it may, here are the books upon which I feasted these past few months, and my commentary about whether or not you NEED to read each particular one.

 Night by Elie Wiesel. This was not a pleasant read. But it was important. Sometimes books are like that. They force us to squirm and wince and confront the horrors of humanity. I believe this book should be mandated reading for all high school students before graduating. And it should be mandated reading for all adults who have any interest whatsoever in being fully human.

 

The Power of Silence by Cardinal Sarah. This is the most important spiritual reading I’ve done in years. I would go so far as to say it’s in my top 5 books that every Catholic/Christian/Thinker needs to read. There’s simply no way to overstate its impression that was made on me… and in such timely and relevant times within our culture. I urge you, if there is only one book on this list begging to be read, it’s this one. You won’t regret it.

 

Thirsting for Prayer by Jacques Philippe. “Misnomer” is when something is named wrong… what is the word for when a book is published with the wrong cover image? This is my lament will all of Father Philippe’s books; they look like 1990s self-help, woo-woo stuff. But they are absolute gold. Every one of them. No other contemporary writer has had such a massive influence on my spirituality than this author and he has been a fundamental part of my spiritual growth especially these past couple years when I’ve faced tremendous hardship. This book, like all of his is profound, concise and easy to read.

 Belles on Their Toes by the Gilbreths. This is the fantastic sequel to Cheaper by the Dozen and it’s just as much fun! I was looking for something light and comical before heading into Lent and this book delivered exactly what I needed. If you’ve not read any of these original, TRUE stories, do yourself a favor and start now.

 

 In the School of the Holy Spirit. (*Sigh* Scepter Publishing… please… stop.) I read this book to refresh on the concepts before I gave a presentation of Fr. Philippe’s teachings last March. It is wonderful for those who feel kind of “stuck” in their lives or paralyzed with indecision on making choices.  He is always full of wisdom and common sense.

 

  A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell. This was definitely my most challenging read of the year. So, just as a disclaimer, Thomas Sowell is my socioeconomic man-crush; he can write no wrong. The man is genius in how lucid and wise he is in explaining our culture. I’ve been a longtime follower of his syndicated newspaper column before he retired but never actually read one of his books. Basic Economics is sitting in my Audible library waiting patiently for me to get around to it, but someone recommended this book in particular as being an ESSENTIAL title that all Americans should read. So I made this my first Sowell book and I now can emphatically agree. It’s difficult to focus on the writing if you’ve been living primarily on memes and HuffPo , but with some effort you’ll see why the academic language is necessary to explain the polarity in our country. I don’t think it’s possible to find any other writer who can explain both political positions with as much unbiased clarity as Sowell does. He is an absolute gift to all of us.

 The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Anne Catherine Emmerich. I started this two years ago and decided to pick it up again and finally finish it. I’m so glad I did. The book is chalk full of fascinating trivia first of all, but the real reason why it’s so wonderful to read is that it gives a real, meaningful picture, EXPERIENCE, of Jesus in His humanity!  If you have any interest in Lectio Divina or contemplation, this book can be a powerful aid to that.  So good.

 Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown.  I read this out of sheer curiosity about the Brené Brown cult that seems to be growing. And it was good. What I like about this author is that she’s not just a self-help guru, she is a trained researcher and I appreciated her balance between brain and heart in this book. I’ve since listened to a couple talks she’s given and find her very compelling in nearly everything she says. I can’t quite say I’m looking for backstage passes, but I definitely think what I read in this book was worth my investment and I’ll be making time for some of her other titles as well.

 Arise from Darkness: What to Do When Life Doesn’t Make Sense by Benedict Groeschel. If there is a title that epitomizes my life this year, it is this one. I have always loved this priest and his no nonsense delivery of profound spiritual guidance. I think what makes him especially compelling is that Fr. Groeschel was trained in psychology and understands human behavior so well. He is witty and thought provoking and I am glad to have picked up this book last month.

 Forty Reasons I am a Catholic by Peter Kreeft. I felt so strongly about this book that I wrote a review about it on Amazon. Read it. Also read the description of the book on that site and tell me it doesn’t sound absolutely riveting. This is the kind of book you need to have sitting out on your bookshelf or coffee table to spark the interest of any visitors. Because even just a flip through the pages is extremely compelling and forces you to pause and read. Excellent.

 Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak by Leila Miller. I hated this book. It made me cry. It hurt like hell. And I never want to see it again. That said, you should read it.  Every person should. This is the untold perspective.  I am not seeking a divorce in my situation, nor do I think divorce to be healthy for children in most cases, so I was angry and bitter when a friend challenged me to read this book. I don’t need to be convicted on how traumatizing divorce is for children! Leave me alone! But, wanting to face the full, ugly truth of my defense mechanism and to go into whatever my future holds for me as prepared as I can be, I read the book. And I am thankful that I did. I don’t think people realize how important it is not just for couples who are divorcing or on the brink of it, but for everyone to read. Marriage is not a private institution; the stake in it is communal. So don’t just recommend this book to some struggling couple that you know, read it yourself also.

 Strong Mothers, Strong Sons by Meg Meeker. I read this when it first came out a few years ago, but since my situation changed so drastically, and teenagers suddenly sprouted into my existence, I thought it was time for a revisit so I’m working on finishing this one up. I really like Meg Meeker a lot. You’re not going to find any gimmicks or profound truths with her necessarily, but just well written, thoughtfully researched stuff on childraising.

 

And that is the end of it! I expect to be fully consumed with textbook reading in my “free time” this year so I will just be very happy if I finish the current fiction titles I have already started: The Brothers Karamazov and there’s about 6 hours left of The Count of Monte Cristo (ahem, Bill Homewood narrating ONLY please… his voice is like delicious French butter…) which I began on audio last year when I was spending more hours in my car than I am now. I’ll toss in some spiritual reading for the morning time, fairy tales in between semesters, and call the year well spent!

 

 

 

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Protecting Young Minds

I’m writing a full article on this rather than a Facebook status or just a book review on Amazon, because this is Important. Like, capital “I” Important.

No one likes to talk about pornography. Least of all with children. We shouldn’t have to! But if we don’t tackle this difficult subject head-on, we are leaving our children unarmed and vulnerable in a world that is out to destroy their innocence.

I’m somebody who struggles to find the right words to discuss delicate things with children. It’s taken me a long time to overcome blushing at even naming anatomically correct body parts with my kids. Much of this is due to how I was raised and what happened when I was a child. While I was growing up, body development and sexual issues weren’t talked about.  At all. I had to figure it out on my own and everything I thought I needed to know was learned by sneaking peeks at our medical encyclopedias at home (feeling SOOO ashamed trying to understand the “V” section) and seeing pornography in 6th grade.  11 years old.  I would stay the night at a friend’s house and she’d sneak her dad’s VHS tapes and put porn on for our entertainment. I was disgusted and morbidly fascinated all at once… I knew it was wrong but I didn’t know what to say to defend myself.  25 years later… those images are still burned into my brain.  Add in some other awful bits of harassment and exploitation from strangers as a child and you can bet that it took a long time for me to come to a healthy and proper understanding of sexuality. The trauma has left lifelong scars.

And my circumstances are not unique.

My 5th grade son says kids watch porn on their phones on the school bus. My 8 year old daughter has been startled by images from seemingly benign Google searches. Today the vast majority of children will be exposed to pornography LONG before they hit adulthood. It’s not a matter of if… it’s when. 30% of the Internet industry is pornography!  30%.  We live in an age where kids don’t have to sneak their dad’s VHS tapes anymore… they don’t have to go looking for it. The porn will find them, online.  If we are not proactive in handling this, we are doing a disservice to our children… and one that will have major consequences as they get older. Internet filters aren’t enough. Not by a long shot. Even with a great filter and a publicly, supervised computer situation; they are still vulnerable. If children don’t see porn at home, it’ll be at the park on other kids’ phones, or from neighbor kids who want to show the newest, cool game on their tablets… or it’ll even come up driving down the street on billboards!

There is hope. There are organizations out there providing excellent resources for educating the public.  Like Enough is Enough. I am so proud, particularly, of that organization for standing behind things like the National Sex Ed Sit-Out Day on April 23rd. The research and statistics this organization provides are sobering… please take the time to educate yourself.

One tool that has been absolutely critical in our household is the use of two books:

 Good Pictures Bad Pictures is where we started. What drew me to the book was that it contained a SCRIPT for someone like me who is awkward at finding the right words for sticky subjects.  Secondly, it has the right KIND of illustrations—ones that offer a visual for a concept with soft, appealing artwork but are not cartoon-ish or trite in any way. Third, this book is EVIDENCE DRIVEN. It is not religious, making it a universally powerful tool.  I love how the science of addiction is discussed and how it gives kids proactive action plans for what to do when they encounter pornography. I use this book with my children as young as 6-7. And even my teenagers have reviewed it with us upon repeat readings.

Last year the same authors came out with Good Pictures, Bad Pictures Jr. which is ideal for ages 3-6 ish.  It is also an excellent tool for beginning to dialogue on this issue with very young children. Our children need to know from a very young age that they can always talk to us about things like this and that it’s important to not keep secrets from parents.  This book also has an easy-to-remember action plan for young children and also tips for parents on how to help children who can’t get bad images out of their head.

The situation isn’t perfect. But these two books have helped me to feel some major peace of mind that my children know what is what… and what to do about it. I can’t save my kids from all the evil in this world that will come across their paths. But I can stay educated on the issue. I can keep open communication with my kids. I can practice healthy habits with them. And I can equip them with tools on how to fight this beast that threatens to ravage their mental health for years to come.

The world is blessed by a child’s innocence. It is our duty to safeguard it.

“Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future.” 

-Maria Montessori
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Plan B: Chapter 2

I’m beginning a new chapter of life. One that developed as a sort of plot-twist to the plan I had written out for myself. And it is filled with goblins and shadows. 900 different reasons to be afraid, to doubt and to run away. Starting in early May, I will begin full-time studies in a grad program working towards my Master’s degree and licensure in professional counseling. There has been well over a year of discernment on what exactly I ought to do with my life since it hasn’t gone how I anticipated. So I had to adjust. Per court orders, I had to get a job, wean my baby and find somewhere else to live. I have worked hard at the bottom of the ladder as a restaurant host for a year. It was humble work but I have been thankful for that paycheck… and getting paid to greet people and invoke in them a genuine smile is something kind of on the spectrum of wonderful. I learned a lot about the real world outside my stay-at-home, homeschooling mommy bubble and developed a genuine love for my coworkers. I am grateful it provided the stop-gap for me to make ends meet for my children.

During this time, I have been blessed in astonishing ways by countless people. Childcare that I couldn’t have otherwise afforded. Helping hands in repairing one home and setting up another while living with friends in the meantime. Anonymous monetary gifts that appeared at just the right time.  A three hour road-trip to bring my children to me for my father’s funeral. Homemade soup and a bottle of wine left on my front porch, a safe place to call home with generously reduced rent… the list of blessings goes on despite the continual onslaught of challenges during this time of transition. I have never known such kindness. And it hurts in the most painful, beautiful way. Turns out that people can be rather extraordinary…

And now, I am quitting my job and taking a massive leap of faith in God (and in the federal, student loan program), to devote myself full-time to these classes. The demands of solo-mothering seven incredible children and working part-time are already very challenging for me. Adding in a full academic load would make for an unsustainable lifestyle.

So I’m all in.

Regarding the counseling profession: many people go into counseling because they have a tremendous amount of compassion and empathy for others. That wasn’t my story at the outset. I have always found the human mind and heart intriguing… where people come from, why they think the way they do and how their experiences have shaped them. I used to pore over psychology textbooks in my early teens just to feed my curiosity. It’s been a fascinating study for my intellect. But a shift happened when my passion for understanding morphed from a purely scientific interest into a truly more genuine love for others. I have benefitted so much from my own counselor and the healthy thinking that has been offered to me through the past couple years of upheaval, that it has awakened in me a desire for helping others be restored to wholeness also.  Not that I have all the answers now (I don’t) or that I’m the perfect specimen of emotional-cognitive balance (Who is?).  But Peter Kreeft once said something to the effect of “I’m just one bum pointing out to another where there’s free food.”  And I like that thought. I don’t know exactly in what capacity I’ll practice this profession, but somehow, I want to point out bridges to wellness and authenticity for those struggling in their own minds or in their relationships too. There’s a part of me that is able to see and connect and love others through their own trials in a way I wasn’t able to before. I guess counseling for me is a career choice that began in my mind and perhaps only after taking a scenic route through the backwoods of trauma… did it find its way to my heart.

To be honest, what I choose to do to provide for my family is almost beside the point. Because above all else, I simply want to be as available and present as possible to my children. They deserve the best of me, not just me scraping by for the next 20 years trying to hold it together. I can do more for them. And through God’s grace, I will.

There have been many lessons for me over the past couple years… new understandings of what humility, love, mothering and friendship actually mean (and don’t mean) in practice. I know I still have so much to learn. Everything must be held with an open hand… all I can do is the next right thing—which is always providing what is best for my children. If I get the honor of helping others along the way, all the better. And so, this is the door that has opened in front of me that will provide a means to care for them the best way I can. 900 goblins being on the prowl and all…

So, yes; there are fears. Absolutely. But I can’t be a slave to those fears. There is an extremely questionable amount of “certainty” in front of me. Everything may not be okay for some time. However, I know that I’ve survived “not okay” before.  And I don’t expect my Jesus will abandon me now. I’m a great excuse for Him to show off His goodness to an unworthy woman who happens to be in very difficult circumstances. So to be courageous, for me—in this case— is an act of the will. I.e., there are so very many things that could go wrong, it is laughable in fact! But I’m choosing to not let that stop me. I am casting my net out into the deep and committing my will to my God, Whose ways are mysterious and Who can bring good out of even terrible situations. Because He is Love.

I know there is much unseen and perhaps misunderstood in all this. That’s okay. It’s not right to bare all the mysteries of the soul. And I don’t have time to agonize over that in the way I used to anyway. I am simply thankful for coffee, rain, juncos chirping in my yard and being Christ’s littlest idiot. May He do with me what He will.

Thank you all for your love and support.

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