Category Archives: Faith

Life in Plan B

No one ever chooses to stand outside of Time. It’s only in moments of tremendous grief or personal upheaval that time itself serves an abrupt eviction. And standing there in a cosmic void of uncertainty, you can only examine the wreckage of expectations with a primal instinct. And lacking any cues to survival, the best that can be done is to begin searching through the rubble for any fragments of ‘normal’ that can be found. And so begins the long, hard work of rebuilding an identity.

* * *

I am a single mother of seven children now. I am not a widow. I am not a divorcee. And I am sacramentally bound to my husband until death do us part. But the process of legal separation has been a brutal reality check on a life that I thought I had all figured out. An identity I thought I had all figured out. I have been with this man for half of my life and on our 15th wedding anniversary this past December, barely a word was spoken between us.  When we started dating, he was my world. I looked to him to show me and tell me who I was, for better or worse. When the ring was on my finger, I delighted in being “his” wife and the Mrs. in front of his name. When the children were born, I thought we were complete and that hand-in-hand we’d let the fire of our love ignite and evangelize the world through the raising of good, wholesome children. I knew there’d be trials… but never, ever dreamed that I’d have to come up with a Plan B.

Yet here I am. 35 years old and navigating how to make sense of Plan B as best as I can. I have to provide for my family for the first time so I work in a restaurant to supplement the child support in order to make ends meet. I am not a stay-at-home wife anymore. The lives of my children have been thrown into extraordinary trauma, so they’ve all been enrolled in school. I am not the home educator anymore. Years of tending babies throughout the night now leave me restless and awake at all hours, haunted by the silence.  And my breasts ache to nurse the baby who is denied his mother’s embrace. I am not an attachment parent anymore. I do not go out on dates. I do not enjoy Valentine’s Day. I do not feel the complete happiness and satisfaction I once knew hanging out with our married friends, but I have no place among the young singles either.

* * *

What is most bewildering is the forgetting that happens outside of time. Faces you know and love may come to visit. And they will offer some comfort: a breaking of the bread or companions in the search for artifacts of consolation. “A sorrow shared is a half joy.” But the faces know what the native can’t seem to remember: life goes on. Elsewhere. Inside the proper laws of time and space and a reasonable continuum of normal.  A place where babies are born, brides are kissed and dogs are played with at the park. So a choice has to be made. Build a bridge to this Elsewhere. Or stay longer and continue to water seeds of bitterness that can never bear fruit. Keep trying to warm the dead body with a torn up blanket or take the blanket to a friend and have her help you stitch it back together.

* * *

Plan B is a no-man’s land in the world of devout Catholicism. While broken families are the norm in the larger culture, being separated with children makes you a demographic ghost in my particular community. People aren’t quite sure how to make sense of what happened to our family and without cutting through what fragile threads of privacy I imagine to remain, I am forced to live with question marks tattooed on my face and speculation following me around like a personal rain cloud. It’s not my job to correct misunderstandings about how the public perceives my situation. It is only my job to be who I am and be that well.

My identity now is the same as it’s always been; I’m  just seeing it for the first time. My self-worth and character are not in the context of another person and should never have been. I am the daughter of a good, royal Father who wants nothing but the best for His children. So He gives us the Cross. Married, single, religious, or ghost… it doesn’t matter, He gives us the Cross that becomes our identity. If we can drain our ego enough to fill up on the Blood and Water that gives us life, we won’t just “accept” our cross, but we will long for it and kiss the beloved wood that will carry us to Heaven.

I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t know how much more I will have to lean on the extraordinary charity of all my friends—my myriad of Simons— to help me carry this Cross. I don’t know how much longer I’ll vacillate wildly between laughter and tears, hope and grief. I don’t know if my husband will ever be open to reconciliation. I don’t know how God plans to shield and save my children through this. I don’t know the end to my story. But I am trying to be patient and faithful in living it. For some people, it’s not even so much that He’s exactly authoring our story… but that He’s ripping pages away from the book we thought we had all written out already, The Divine Editor if you will. When all is said and done, we do know that He promised to work all things for the good of those who love Him.  His ways are mysterious— to be sure. But I know that I love Him the most that a broken, little fool can and thankfully… that is enough.

* * *

Time won’t wait. And time won’t promise to never toss you out again. He is cruel. But there is a way to beat him. At least, I hear it’s so.  Bury down deep, into the beating, bleeding heart of the One who beat time at his own game. And time will roll over you, high above searching for his victim, thrashing and gnashing about, like a storm inciting the ocean to a boil.  But beneath the waves,  inside The Heart, you can’t get tossed.  Time will call your number but the Heart has already called you by name.
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Pride: A Self-Inventory

Have you ever been tired of your tummy pudge and after consulting Dr. Google, found out that the idea of “spot toning” is really not a viable one?  Depressing isn’t it? When you realize that you can’t just do 50 sit-ups a day and poof! the spare tire will disappear.  The reality is that, any physical trainer worth their salt will recommend a much more holistic approach and be sure to  include cardio and strength training along with healthy eating in order to combat excess weight.  There are no magic short-cuts for long-term changes.

So it is with the spiritual life. Some people recognize how much they struggle with gossip, so they start to shut their mouths and ears just a little bit more and hope to beat it.  Others have a short temper… so they practice deep breathing techniques and maybe invest in a punching bag.  And these things will help.  Every isolated struggle we face can be addressed and combatted head on and small changes (with varying degrees of success) can be expected.

But it won’t work for the long haul. There will be backsliding. You’ll wonder why your list of sins sounds like a tired old record player, even though you feel true contrition and have true amendment to change. To be forged by fire into who we are called to be, I.e. saints, there’s only one painful path:  taking a shotgun and firing a heavy round of buckshot into your ego.  As pride is the father of all sins, humility is the mother of all virtues.

I have loved praying the Litany of Humility ever since I first heard about it… but it’s alway been a struggle to pray it with sincere enthusiasm.  Over the years, and after logging a little more time in at the Range of Life Humiliations, the prayer has become a comforting salve to me, healing and protecting me from the inevitable defects that set me back. But I keep returning to it, so prone I am to the inflammation of pride. And it does its job on some level—reawakens in me the desire to be grounded in my identity as nothing other than a fool for God. Indeed I only grit my teeth a tiny bit now, toward the end of the prayer… I’m still a work in progress.

Anyway, one of the things that has taken me many years to learn is just how interwoven pride is in so many of my character defects.  I’ve never had to uproot it so thoroughly from my heart as I have lately and turns out that pride is a nasty weed that has a quite the complicated root system.  (As an aside, if a gardener could do his weeding with a shotgun, I’m sure he would, but the rest of us will have to labor through my awkward, mixed metaphors here with patience.) Something like ‘being a control freak’… is a form of pride.  Obsessing over your imperfect looks… a form of pride. Wanting to divulge others’ secrets… a form of pride.  I was stunned when I learned that even the horrible feeling of “self hate” is a mutated form of pride (Fr. Jacque Philippe said so, okay!  And that means it’s Gospel.  The two cent version of this concept is that if we loathe ourselves, it’s because we have created a false idea of who we are supposed to be and rely on our powers—rather than God— to be that way… despairing when we fall short. More or less anyway.)

I thought it might be useful to make a corollary list for sinners like me to go through.  I got all excited thinking how useful it would be to my readers and how great of an idea it was before I found out that St. Josemaria Escriva (and probably hundreds of others) have already been there, done that, and I’m only a couple hundred years late to the ball game.  So. I will only distil some of what far smarter people have already conceptualized for us (and before I forget, the chapter called “The Great Sin” in Mere Christianity is an absolute must read for all Christians. Read that chapter every other month or so, in fact.)  Please don’t use this list as a prompting to scupulosity. Most of these aren’t sins per se, but warts on our character that just need to be filed off to really maximize the efforts we are making to truly grow in virtue.  As with all the vices, the way to beat pride isn’t to just try and eliminate it… but to replace it by practicing the opposite virtue.

Self-inventory for the Litany of Humility

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.


From the desire of being esteemed,

Deliver me, Jesus.

  • Do I enjoy being considered pious, virtuous or holy and try to demonstrate what that “looks like” outwardly?

From the desire of being loved…

  • Do I try to make myself seem interesting or unique to win the esteem of others?

From the desire of being extolled …

  • Do I bat away compliments in an effort to hear them emphasized or repeated?
  • Do I forget that all the gifts, talents or blessings I have are simply on loan to me, and not my own?

From the desire of being honored …

  • Do I make a point to name drop so others will be impressed by my associations?
  • Do I get annoyed when I feel like someone is patronizing me?

From the desire of being praised …

  • Do I purposefully put myself down in an underhanded attempt to get people to contradict and praise me?

From the desire of being preferred to others…

  • Do I get jealous of the attention others get from people I admire?

From the desire of being consulted …

  • Do I like to be considered an expert in any area (cooking, web design, babywearing, fantasy football, etc.)?
  • Do I regularly offer my opinions when they are not asked?

From the desire of being approved …

  • Do I make a point to demonstrate how witty, knowledgeable, or special I am by inserting my anecdotes into conversations?
  • Do I try and serve only the best food or wear only the most fashionable clothing or drive only the nicest cars?

From the fear of being humiliated …

  • Do I hide or make excuses for my flaws or bad decisions?
  • Do I refuse to accept help or charity even when needed?

From the fear of being despised…

  • Do I avoid controversial situations or debates because I don’t want people to think badly of me?

From the fear of suffering rebukes …

  • Do I have the need to get the last word in an argument… even if I’m right?
  • Do I refuse to back down on a position even if I’m wrong?
  • Do I resist apologizing to others, especially under the reasoning of ‘they don’t deserve it.’?

From the fear of being calumniated …

  • Do I have to clear my name whenever I perceive it to be sullied?

From the fear of being forgotten …

  • Do I always have a story to share in group conversations?
  • Do I like to be in the know regarding the details of everyone’s personal lives?

From the fear of being ridiculed …

  • Am I embarrassed by doing menial jobs or not having certain possessions or lifestyles?

From the fear of being wronged …

From the fear of being suspected …

  • Do I act defensively or deny wrongdoing rather than sometimes, bearing wrongs patiently?

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

  • Am I envious of the happiness in others’ close friendships and/or romances?

That others may be esteemed more than I …

  • Do I think my ideas are always the right or best ones?
  • Do I resist taking the advice of others?

That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease …

  • Do I want to be considered the “life of the party”, the “brains behind the operation”, the “deep thinker” or “the fantastic host” etc. ?
  • Do I insist on having my own way?

That others may be chosen and I set aside…

  • Do I put myself in position to be recommended or chosen in some way?

That others may be praised and I unnoticed …

  • Do I get hurt or annoyed when I hear others being complimented or praised, even if they don’t deserve it?
  • Do I make sure people see me being generous or doing good works?

That others may be preferred to me in everything…

  • Do I get upset if I’ve not been invited to social events, chosen for a leadership position or selected for promotion?
  • Do I compare myself to others all the time?

That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

  • Do I have ‘spiritual envy’?
  • Do I get discouraged when I sin and dwell on my shortcomings?
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An Open Letter To Vestibule Mothers

*** originally published in Soul Gardening Journal in 2013 ***

Dear Vestibule Mothers,

IMG_4050     Your arms are tired, your blood sugar is getting low and poor baby Oswald just can’t stop squirming/screaming. So there you are in the vestibule at Mass. As usual. You’d invite others to your self-pity party but frankly, everyone is rather relieved you left with your whining child so besides a couple other long-suffering parents, you’re on your own. You sigh with the resignation of a reluctant saint, “Well, at least I’m here, right.”  And you wonder just how far away is the day of a peaceful Mass in your life. You can just imagine how wonderful it will be; you can hear the bells of Consecration; you can even smell the incense if you’re lucky. But for now, you wait in the vestibule, gritting your teeth in disbelief or shame at just how naughty your child is acting.

     Don’t lose heart! Those peaceful days of quiet worship will come before we know it. But in the meantime, the attitude of “at least I showed up” can be so much greater. In truth, the sacrifices given to us that we accept lovingly, are worth a thousand times more than any self-imposed sacrifices. So don’t squander this Cross! The graces of Mass are real and vibrant and present even in the narthex or cry room of the building. We may not “feel” them but thank God our religion isn’t one based on subjective feelings anyway! Jesus promised our lives would be hard; the sweet glory of a peaceful Mass would really be just an extra consolation. The vestibule is like Purgatory fellow sojourners. Devote your time there for those forgotten souls in Purgatory. Every time you walk to the back of the church with an unruly one, think of it as a gift and smile on the inside for the offering you get to present to Jesus on behalf of these poor souls. For they are like you: waiting and suffering just outside the doors of the Heavenly Banquet.  

Yours Truly,

Ellie

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Misericordia

(Originally published in the Summer 2015 issue of Soul Gardening Journal)

In reflecting on my own wretched pitifulness the other day, I was disgusted to think of the squalor I had to offer God. Just broken promises, half-hearted prayers and a controlling greed in trying to manage my own life. People like to remark about how St. Thérèse was so humble and sweet in just wanting to be a tiny, insignificant flower in the garden of Our Lord. In a jaded huff, I wondered if God loved the weeds in His garden too.

     What do I have? Nothing.

besides-gods-mercy-there-is-no-other-source-pope-john-paul-ii  And then my three year old crashed my pity party by tromping in, pants torn, runny nose, face and body covered in various shades of filth from robust play in the muddy section of our yard… tears on his cheeks over some infraction from a rowdy sibling. He looked remarkably like an orphan from a Dickens novel. My heart melted. My thoughts went from my egotistical musings to my child. I scooped him up and held him on my lap, rocking him and smoothing back his hair and letting him wipe the nose on my shirt. It was gross. But it was precisely this grossness that tugged at what mercy I have in my selfish heart. Had he been clean as a whistle, carefully groomed and composed in coming to me, my love would not have overflowed in such a powerful way.

     Mercy in Latin is misericordia… or literally having a pain in your heart. In so many revelations to saints, especially to St. Faustina, Christ discusses how His divine heart is actually attracted to misery. I was perplexed when I first heard that, but I think we mothers can get it. When are we at our most merciful and nurturing?! When a child is hurt or sad. All the great spiritual masters warn us not to dwell on our failings lest the evil one start to manipulate our minds. We are to shake ourselves off and try again with new resolve, even if we have to do this dozens of times every day. If God comes running when we are in our most pathetic state, I can’t think of anything more consoling. We can be His ugly, broken children, but we are not orphans. Just as my son in his pathetic moment was not just a disheveled, distasteful boy, we are not the sum of our ugliness and sin. Our disorders do not define us. And just how I managed to look past his grime to see his innocent little heart— wanting nothing more than to restore him to peace and make him feel loved,   our Father desires to do the same with us. He is not repulsed by our miserable natures; His greatest desire is to heal us and and show us His love. He is not the angry schoolmarm in the sky tsk’ing our every bad move. God is love and “Love’s middle name is Mercy.”

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Advent on the mind…

The art of waiting.  It’s a tough thing but so incredibly essential for spiritual progress.  This does not bode well for impatient types with choleric blood in them like me… but God is slowly refining my spirit to recognize the beauty in letting things be and not chasing down answers, consolations or resolutions.  It is such a good cleansing fire for my soul!

And… perfectly suited for this upcoming time, where the prize of Christmas means so much more if you let the waiting and hoping fully apex during the season of Advent.

Thankfully there are books to help us. Here are some of my favorite choices…

 Come, Lord Jesus.  Superb. Timely. Excellent for Advent. (Why in the world is it so overpriced right now?!)  This one is worth hunting down or checking your parish library.  Mother Mary Francis is thoughtful and witty and profound; she wrote these little reflections for the cloistered sisters in her order but they are all so applicable to the layperson’s life too!  This abbess also has a few other titles like Anima Christi, A Time of Renewal (I’m picking this one up for Lent next year!), and most famously A Right to Be Merry (which I just realized that I have on my bookshelf… lucky me! I need to look at my books more often apparently!)

advent Waiting Stories for Advent, one of Michael O’Brien’s lesser known titles.  Just good, thoughtful little tales for adults. This is a small book but worth revisiting each year. The first story in the book nearly brings me to tears each time…

 

 

The Passion of the Infant Christ by the one and only Caryll Houselander. This is a hard to find title but it is slightly more common under its newer name (if I have my facts correct) of Wood of the Cradle, Wood of the Cross: The Little Way of the Infant Jesus.  Houselander always has spiritual soul food to offer and this book is chalk full of wisdom to chew on as we wait to experience the divine love of the Prince of Peace.

 

 Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings. I really think humans of North America need to spend more time reading about and reflecting on horrible things that happened in Eastern Europe. Whether it’s the Holocaust, or Siberian prison camps or Communist evils… it is so good to get perspective on our lives related to the grander scheme of human experience.  Start with something like He Leadeth Me. But be sure not to overlook titles by Solzhenitsyn like One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch or The Gulag Archipelago.  Anyway, why not cultivate just a bit of perspective and gratitude by reading Fr. Delp’s thoughts before our big celebrations?!  This is one I’m going to read this year…

 Advent and Christmas with Fulton Sheen.  I mean… it’s The Bishop.  Need I say more?!  Except that it’s barely over 100 pages and very, very simple reflections for even the busiest of people.  So there’s no excuse really!  (But you might get more bang for your buck by opting for the whole year with The Bishop a la Through the Year with Fulton Sheen.)  There’s a whole series of booklets in this vein that pull excellent reflections for Advent from holy people  like: St. Thérèse, Pope St. John Paul II, St. Francis of Assisi (was always a bit of a Christmas saint…) St. Pio and more…

“Advent is the season of the seed …the seed of the world’s life, was hidden in Our Lady. Like the wheat seed in the earth, the seed of the Bread of Life was in her. Like the golden harvest in the darkness of the earth, the Glory of God was shrined in her darkness. Advent is the season of the secret, the secret of the growth of Christ, of Divine Love growing in silence.”  

—Caryll Houselander

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Hurt

Pain, like laughter, is one of the few universal human experiences shared across cultures and socio-economic statuses all over the world. Sometimes public, sometimes hidden. But the experience of pain… rather the response to it… is one of the most powerful gifts we can offer each other in the Body of Christ. Have you ever overcome a deep moment of temptation?  Or been consoled through a tremendous loss? Or seen the unexpected conversion of a loved one? Perhaps it was through the offering of pain by another sister or brother in Christ that effected this grace… only in Heaven will we be made aware of how interconnected the Body is.

And so there is only one way to hurt actually. And it’s, as many might suspect, the way of surrender. The more we resist pain and try to course correct things beyond our control, the more agony we drink into our own soul.  But there comes a point in most people’s lives… and especially in all Christian lives, when we will be faced with our own limitations. We can give direction to building our lives and exercising our freedom, but one day, helplessness will walk right up and come into the house of your soul without knocking and make himself at home. And this powerlessness hurts and is a feeling in our human nature to resist. But by laying the table and offering the finest bed to this guest, we become masters of an extraordinary gift…

There’s nothing to be done except peacefully accept this suffering. We abandon ourselves to the mercy of God knowing that He can draw good from everything.

What’s more is that the deepest kind of peace is that which can’t be bought at any old lemonade stand. It’s not a peace that means we’ve achieved a pleasant, problem-free sort of homeostasis. Father Benedict Groeschel (pray for us!) once said that if an angel walked in his room offering a promise of a happy, problem-free life from now on, he’d chase it out as a wicked devil, yelling “No! Never!” Christians have been promised the Cross. It’s our baptismal guarantee and part of our family inheritance. And the most profound kind of peace is the kind that embraces our powerlessness, accepts and even loves our weaknesses to some extent.  This unfathomable kind of peace can only be found when we consent to our true, authentic identity as a child of God. He who was not just our Creator… but He who was and is and ever will be our loving Father.  By our baptisms we were adopted into His family and there is no other family I’d rather identify with. No other Man I’d rather call Papa than He whose love is inexhaustible… whose mercy never fails. I’ll be just His little girl for as long as I live…

Don’t be afraid to hurt. Don’t be afraid to be fragile. His greatest gifts are often only experienced when we are the most poor and the most wounded.

Happy are those who weep, they will be comforted. So many graces and lessons can be learned only through the painful period of waiting. If we don’t spend days, months or years yearning and begging for His consolation (which He does promise)… our Father’s glory will never be fully manifested or abundantly experienced. He does not answer prayers in response to pious manipulation… but in a way that respects our human dignity and with an eye to a future full of hope and goodness that we ourselves can not see when standing in the deep, shadowy valley.

Anybody out there reading this, know that you aren’t alone in your pain. All of us have been given a custom piece of the Cross. Kiss this relic and identify with it. He will see us through. And know that faith in the promises of our Father is a decision, not a feeling…

We can strengthen the entire Body of Christ this way. We can use our pain. And we can trust that God Himself sees us and allows this suffering as a way to purify our own hearts and bring about the glory of His name.

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turning in the stone

Have you ever built your own stone, cold tower in which to live? The construction isn’t nearly as difficult as the maintenance. All you really need to be attentive to is that the elements can’t get in and that you can’t get out. In stone towers, you neither want the storms to break down your walls, nor the sun to beckon you out. Living conditions can otherwise be perfectly tolerable. Not exactly pleasant, but safe. Not exactly sociable, but safe. Not exactly meaningful, but safe. And there’s no point in trying to throw safety to the curb; it is valuable and necessary. But all the attention given to it will only turn into a wolf that you imagine to be lurking outside the tower, growing louder and more menacing by the minute. But is he real?

Oh the mysteries of life! When does taking a leap of folly turn into a leap of faith?! When can we live and love with complete abandon…? Even if it doesn’t go away, will the desire to have no fear be enough to offer Him? Is there hope that even those with agonies and illusions can be lifted up at the end of the Day to feel His mercy fall on us in a torrent of love. And there are no wolves, real or imagined, that could even turn their faces to Him, no stone tower that can keep Him out. Let it be done unto me…

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Holy Week in the Third Trimester

Entering Holy Week has never felt so significant to me. Parents everywhere already know a bit of what it means to be Christ-like. When we drag ourselves out of bed to calm some night-terrors, or offer the last piece of cake to a teen or give up a career to care for our children.  Through these and a million other things, parents intrinsically know what it means to “lay down our life for our children.”

holyPregnant mothers experience this is an especially salient way. Our bodies are not our own. The aches and pains of a heavily pregnant woman echo in the faintest way, the sufferings of Christ on the Cross. But like all crosses, we are tempted to squander this. I feel entitled to a second helping of ice cream because I’m pregnant. We accept the cultural attitude of pity toward us also, waddling in exasperation or audibly groaning whenever we stand up. We especially like to joke or bitterly comment with people around us about how “done” we are.  “This baby is getting an eviction notice!”

After nine long months of nausea, sciatica, poor bladder control, weight gain, food aversions, stretched, painful ligaments, swollen veins, difficulty breathing, standing, walking and sleeping and enough hormonal turmoil to fuel a volcano… of course we are ready for it to be over!  Each pregnancy becomes more difficult than the last and this final month especially is agony. But for some reason, unlike the sufferings that every good soul has to bear privately, even good, pregnant Catholics feel a bit of license to freely complain during a pregnancy.

Yet, what potential these little agonies hold for us! If only we don’t fall temptation to squander them and moan and groan to every sympathetic ear about it. Like Mary, can we find strength to “hold these things in our heart”?!  Can we give witness to life without letting the world know how miserable we are? It’s hard, I know… These past couple weeks I’ve been trying to envision how different the Passion of Our Lord would have been if he whined His way through it: “I just want it to be over!”  or “Ugh, I’m in such pain! Does everybody know how much I’m suffering for them right now?!”

What a turn-off!  But this is what I do all the time– vocalize my sufferings, consciously or sub-consciously trying to elicit the pity of others. And I wonder if the redemptive merit of each little pain isn’t lost a little bit when I do this. Holiness is found in the shadows of the cross…

Of course Jesus couldn’t hide his pain all the time. When lashed at the pillar, people knew how painful it was. And at the final moment, he cried out in thirst and a feeling of abandonment. He was fully human. In the same way, I’m not saying pregnant women need to be peppy 24/7 and never utter a word about their aches. But a smile can heal a million hearts and privately enduring some discomfort can be tremendously powerful. Accept a seat if it’s offered to you!  Wince if the baby kicks too hard! Cry a little if you’re feeling hormonal! But through all this, I want to plumb the depths of mystery and redemption that are offered uniquely to us; I want to give everything I am, my very body even, so that this child of mine can have life. The challenge is to choose to give freely and with unconditional love (regardless of our FEELINGS at the time!)… just as He did.

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Self Esteem and True Humility

A theme that I’ve been thinking a lot about this year is the concept of disordered martyrdom. It’s the idea that, while motivated with pious intentions, we can deform the concept of good, holy sacrificing to the point where it becomes an unhealthy scar on our human dignity. And then it really subverts the good we are trying to accomplish by ‘shutting up and bearing our cross’. I hope to develop my thoughts on this in time…

But one tangent related to this has to do with self esteem. So many of us, have allowed a weird cancer of an idea grow in us that having a low self esteem is the preferable path to holiness. But thinking that you are a worthless waste of a human being or a complete and hideous failure is not holy… it is not humility. True humility recognizes ones weaknesses as coming from self and one’s gifts as coming from God. To deny the gifts or skills or good that He has given, is in a sense to deny the goodness of God who can change all hearts. More importantly, it’s to deny the imprint of the divine that is innate in every human being who was “created in the image and likeness of God.”

When someone tells you that you are a good singer, don’t scoff and deny it. Smile graciously and say thank you. When someone tells you that you have beautiful eyes, don’t roll them in sarcastic disbelief; thank them and think (or say!) “To God be the glory!” Our disordered sense of humility wants to shirk off compliments or cheapen the words we hear. I think this unfortunate and I see it all the time in my Christian brothers and sisters… and truth be told, self.

earth-mother-teresa-quote1I’m not a big proponent of new age ideas like “self love” and “don’t change for anyone” and “follow your dreams” and “you are perfect as you are.” But there is a disturbing opposite to this extreme also— the one that views self as a heaping pile of dung. In a way, we have to learn to crawl outside of ourselves and view our personal reality objectively, or as if we were looking at a friend of ours: “This person was called by name by the Eternal God of Creation. This person has dignity and is loved and is valuable beyond measure.”  To think anything less than that is in a way, a sort of a stunted, distorted faith… one that has allowed the lies of the world to define who we are.  But we are not of this world. We are children of God and our dignity rests in that alone.

I’ll leave off with this thought, perfectly expressed by Henri Nouwen in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, which I read in a book by my very favorite, contemporary spiritual writer, Fr. Jacques Philippe Interior Freedom (a must own… like all his titles):

For a very long time I considered low self esteem to be some kind of virtue. I had been warned so often against pride and conceit that I came to consider it a good thing to deprecate myself. But now I realize that the real sin is to deny God’s first love for me, to ignore my original goodness. Because without claiming that first love and that original goodness for myself, I lose touch with my true self and embark on the destructive search among the wrong people and the wrong places for what can only be found in the house of my Father.

You are loved. You are valuable. You are worthy.

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Sometimes Everything Isn’t Going to be Okay.

(and that’s okay…)
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St. Stephen… who suffered a second martyrdom in our home.

I’ve written before how God can transform our hardened hearts, how an unwanted pregnancy does not end in an unwanted child. It has been four years since my ‘unwanted pregnancy’ has been born now and I can say with absolute conviction that he is still incredibly special and an unrepeatable part of our family. That child has taught me so, so much and I am thankful for him in a way that is unique to him alone.

Two babies later, I am not feeling the cold detachment or fear that I felt with that pregnancy. But unlike child number six, I’m not feeling over the moon either. I don’t know what it is… a quiet, melancholic resolution I suppose. I do trust that this child will be loved and will be the source of unspeakable joy for my family. But it’s okay to say that everything might not be okay. It’s okay to express non-elation.

As Catholics, we confide in each other about a million different ‘spiritually correct’ fears. We can trade worries over moving or schooling or finances or illnesses or childhood behavior. But we still hide that terrifying piece of our sinful selves that harbors fear over an unwelcome conception. It just seems like such an abortive mentality I suppose! But the truth is begging to be told, to be shown, to be LIVED that unwanted pregnancies do not end in unwanted children! We already have our defenses up because our families are big; I get that. We certainly don’t need to add more fuel to the fire the secular world had against us who would offer no sympathy to our plight: “You made your bed, now you have to lie in it!”  So we shut our mouths and pretend this was all part of our plan. But even in our own faith circles?! Are we afraid of being judged? I am. But I am also able to see the fool in myself who couldn’t pretend to be perfectly pious if she tried.  (And she has. And she failed.) So with no false pretenses weighing me down, I can say honestly: I don’t feel thrilled about having another baby right now.  But something that is different now that I’ve learned… is that I don’t feel fear.

Here’s the thing, everything might be awful for a while. Having a baby next spring doesn’t change the fact that our house needs an immense amount of work, that my husband is still in a highly stressful job, that my children’s behavior needs improvement, that we are still reeling from medical bills, that our vehicle is getting too small, that there is no spare bed in which to home the baby, that I’m a terrible housekeeper, that there are relationships in my life that are delicate and painful.  No. There are still and always will be challenges. “Crosses come custom made.” (right, Helen?!) At the end of the day, I may have nothing to offer but my broken bits of failure to God. I will have mountains left undone. My to-do list will not be conquered.  But it’s okay. He didn’t ask for success, or efficiency or completion or even an organized plan. He asked for faithfulness. Nothing else should trouble us…

Last week I attended the funeral of my friend’s daughter whose life was cut tragically short by a brain aneurysm. The pain and tears were abundant that day for our entire community. But the death of that beautiful girl offered me one sweet consolation— her life was not in vain. She was unrepeatable. Life is a mysterious gift. No matter what. And I went home experiencing for the first time something that I’ve been longing to experience since I found out I was pregnant: gratitude for this life inside of me. There are so many things we do not know or understand or foresee in this world. Be it done unto me…

It’s as if we think there is this magical nirvana place of peace that we keep aiming for and we imagine that a new baby disrupts that nirvana and makes us start the journey over. You know the feeling… you wonder when you can finally get rid of your baby clothes and carseats and when you can book a family vacation and enjoy it rather than just do damage control all weekend. Or when you can hang a family portrait on the wall of what you know to be “the whole family.” Or when you’ll be diaper free and you get your bed to yourself again or you get to finally convert a bedroom to the office you’ve needed for so long… then along comes another baby and oops! Reset. Life starts over again…even if your gray hairs are already growing in.

In truth, there IS a magical place of peace and it’s called Heaven. Happy and content isn’t found here on earth. Joy is… to be sure.  But it is flavored with the salt of beautiful tears. This is our Calvary.  And we won’t ever reach a place of ‘problem free’ so long as we are Christians! If it’s not babies, it’s strained relationships. if it’s not relationships, it’s poverty. If it’s not poverty, it’s poor health. Maybe it’s all of the above! Happy are you whose sufferings are great… souls will be saved if you do not squander your cross!

So no, I do not feel fear with this baby. I can’t possibly see how everything will be “just fine”… when there are physical and mental and spiritual challenges that need to be addressed still. I wasn’t “ready” as far as my finite brain could see. But I do know that I’m not asked to see the big picture. I am simply asked to do the next right thing.  And if we can stop basking in the first world luxury of overthinking and analyzing everything to just break life down into something as simple as that: doing the next right thing… everything WILL be all right,  in the eternal end that is. Life will be hard, for some more than others.  But how great is our love?  I pray you and I deepen our love every single day.  And in my experience, there has been no more proven way to deepen my love than to open my heart to a new, unique child… who was known by the Creator before all ages. Be done unto me…

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