Category Archives: Bits About Life

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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2 x 2 = Faith

 

The 2nd grade class of St. James Catholic School in Oregon City, OR was not a particularly bright bunch in 1989. We slouched our socks and picked our noses and jockeyed to be Teacher’s Pet. There was seriously not a lot to write home about this particular group of kids. We were also forced to memorize the multiplication tables through the twelves. Did us puny, distracted 8 year olds really know anything about the grouping of numbers? No. I don’t think we were even taught what it meant to multiply until another year or so. But we drilled those rote, memorized facts every day, until the whole class knew their times tables forward and back. And when we did progress through the years and get tested periodically, we were glad to have those facts at the ready. We plugged those facts into our problems, confident that they were true… even if we didn’t know why they were true.

I was thinking about this the other day when I was knocking my head against the wall in trying to fully comprehend what it means in the Bible where it says “Faith is a free gift…” I used to beg and beg and beg for this free gift and wonder where the heck it was?! Why didn’t I ever feel all warm and fuzzy and start ordering mountains around and such?! I prayed hard for faith all the time! Well, because I am the queen of strange (and sometimes, mildly inappropriate) analogies, my 2nd grade multiplication tables came back to me. Those facts have been a “free gift” to me my whole life. And while I’m no math whiz, I clearly understand the methodology behind the number facts now. But for a very long time, I didn’t. I could just plug in the right answers because I knew they were right… not because I understood them.

This is very often my faith life as an adult now. I’ll be honest. I don’t “get it” more often than not these days. I can not intellectually conquer the theology behind Romans 8:28: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him…”. But the older I get, the more delighted I am to become childlike in ‘not getting it.’ After decades of trying to research and philosophize and “grasp” Catholicism, I have reached a point where I just throw my hands up now and want to leave that to smarter people than me. Plumbing the depths and breadth of our faith is so far beyond what my brain can handle in the context of the life I’ve been given… I am content anymore to simply play in the shallow end of the pool where I just take everything at face value.

Jesus says “Have no fear.” Okay. Jesus says “Eat my body.” Okay. Jesus says “Have faith.” Okay. Trying to master the enormity of what that means is just plain too hard. The Catechism defines faith like this: “[Faith is] both a gift of God and a human act by which the believer gives personal adherence to God who invites his response, and freely assents to the whole truth that God has revealed.”

There is nothing about warm fuzzies there. Joy! Faith is an act of the will, a choice to be made. A response to a gift we receive from God but don’t necessarily understand or feel! I’m pretty sure Flannery O’Connor is considered on par with the Catechism right?! Well, she is responsible for my very favorite definition of faith of all time: “Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not.” Amen.

So when I’m faced with extraordinary situations that challenge my relationship with God and my identity in Him… I think of Romans 8:28. Then I shrug my shoulders and say “Okay. I choose faith. I choose He who has the words of Eternal Life…”

Because I’ve got no better answer to the question. Thankfully the cheat sheet to the Exam of Life has already been imprinted on my mind. 2 x 2 = 4 whether we understand that fact or not. And God has us in the palm of His hand and is working constantly for our good… whether we understand that or not. What a relief.

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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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Spiritual Direction for Each Temperament

Ever been too intimidated to try reading the Summa? Or found little, pithy lessons on Proverbs to be “fluff”?  It’s probably just the type of person you are…

Well, I found something genius.  I’ve read so much on the temperaments over the years that I tend to gloss over the details nowadays. But I read that entire file and soaked up every word.  Honing in on the right kind of spiritual path for each person is really an excellent way to grow in virtue.  And what works for a Sanguine will not work for a Phlegmatic necessarily… so knowing the base tendencies we are sort of born with can really help us figure out the best way to stretch our hearts and grow in faith.

If you don’t know your temperament, I recommend this test. I think it is the most credible one you’ll find on the web and the same one found in the excellent book, Temperament God Gave You. Remember, we can’t use our temperaments to excuse bad behavior or make stodgy claims like “Well, that’s just the way I am!” Christ Himself is said to be the perfect embodiment of all the temperaments. And many saints worked on their characters so hard as to mitigate the negative side of their inborn tendencies while simultaneously cultivating characteristics that may not come naturally to them.

Once you’ve got a pretty good idea of what your base tendencies are, you can begin looking at what *type* of spiritual direction is ideal for you… assuming you don’t have a real, live, holy human at your ready.

I used Fr. Christian Kappes’ analysis of the temperaments to make a suggested reading list for each type of person.  I recommend reading the entire analysis to “know thyself” but here are just a few book ideas for each type to get you started:

Melancholic:

(“The melancholic needs to experience tenderness and love of her soul created and cherished by God. Thus the melancholic must refrain from literature that exacerbates despair and a sense of guilt that already (for the melancholic) penetrates to the bone.”)

Introduction to the Devout Life
Finding God’s Will for You
I Believe in Love
Searching for and Maintaining Peace
In the School of the Holy Spirit
The Reed of God
Into Your Hands, Father: Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us

Choleric:

(“She needs to hear and acknowledge her defects and pride as personal sins to be attributed to her own volition. The devil is usually the scapegoat for the choleric.”)

The Twelve Steps to Holiness and Salvation
The Imitation of Christ
The Spiritual Combat
The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for our Lives Today
Humility of Heart
The Way, Furrow, the Forge
Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and the Gospel on Prayer

Sanguine:

(“…because of her weakness for immediate and gratifying pleasures, short, pithy say- ings and stories will speak to her temperament. Lengthy biographies and tomes on the spiritual life are often lost in distractions and overwhelming spiritual lethargy.”)

Way to Happiness: An Inspiring Guide to Peace, Hope and Contentment
Peace of Soul
Called to Be Holy
Reflections on the Psalms
Mother Angelica’s Private and Pithy Lessons from Scripture
Anima Christi: Soul of Christ
Saintly Solutions to Life’s Common Problems

Phlegmatic:

(“Recommended are the more passionate and less intellectual and ideational works.”)

Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas
The Life of Christ
Abandonment to Divine Providence
The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Divine Intimacy
The Joy in Loving: a Guide to Daily Living
Interior Castle

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The Death of the Landline

phone1While the world transitions almost fully to personal cell phones, there is something being lost with the disuse of home phones, or land lines. The opportunity for instruction. The gateway to the family. And cultivation of healthy socialization. Before these concepts get developed, allow the disclaimer that I have no illusions that culture will change overnight and suddenly the unrelenting grind of technological advancements will somehow reverse itself in a startling moment of moral clarity. Of course not. But the least that can be done, while the killing off part of our cultural heritage takes place, is to be fully awake and aware of what’s happening. An acknowledgement is in some way, a gesture of honor for what is lost.

The opportunity for instruction:

At the age of four or five, children were once taught to answer the family phone in this way: “Hello, this is ______.” The caller then asked to speak to someone. The child responds “Just one moment please.” End of basic instruction. These first lessons in politeness and speaking to adults not only set the stage for “real life” conversations, but they are tremendously effective because answering the phone is an important, real responsibility. Lessons are always best learned in the actual context of real life and there is no more pointed and effective way to teach a child lasting politeness than by trusting them with a significant task, rather than hoping they soak in the lessons from a sing-song dinosaur on television. The first phone calls were entrusted to the child while the parent stood encouragingly nearby. Later lessons included how to field solicitors or strangers, how to take a message and how to properly make a phone call. The family phone was a useful, educational tool.

The gateway to the family:

When people get a personal cell phone, they are no longer sought at a communal number. Their acquaintances and friends generally call the number that will ensure a direct and usually immediate response from the person with whom they want to speak. But cutting out the middleman actually has some side effects too. Primarily, land lines reinforced the identification of a family unit. Members do not exist in and of themselves. When calling a family line, callers are reminded of the network of individuals who live there. In some ways, the family line was always a sort of social safety check too. Parents knew who their children’s friends were for the most part. Young boyfriends couldn’t reach a father’s daughter without going through the family line. And men and women weren’t engaging in extramarital conversations via chat boxes or text message. By going through the household line to communicate healthy, fairly transparent interactions, the false intimacy that screen conversations sometimes now produce was impossible. Home phones were also excellent, necessary tools for parents who went out and left an older child in charge. The babysitter had a way to reach the parents (on their cells) or make emergency calls, without necessitating the current trend to give young teens their “own” phones (arguably opening the floodgates to other problems). Lastly, parents could call their home, speak to a child on the family line, and be able to get a fair gauge on how the hired babysitter was doing or what the state of the house was. The family phone served as a publicly visible entry to the family.

Cultivation of healthy socialization:

Without going into all the dangers of living in a culture becoming more isolated than ever (despite being more connected than ever), it’s clear that household phones offered an excellent moderation to human communication. Because of their range and limitedness, people were forced to eventually hang up the receiver and resume living in the present, interacting in 3D with the real people around them. Nothing beats the authenticity of realtime, face-to-face communication. The disuse of landlines has contributed to a new culture of people constantly furrowed over their smartphones, engaging in the e-world, with their pocket-network fan club. Home phones allowed us to talk freely with friends and family far away, and to deal with businesses or officials that needed to be dealt with. This was good and healthy. But now, we are expected to be always on. Always reachable. And those living in the real world next to us—whether they are our spouses, children or friendly strangers in a waiting room, are suffering because of our ‘absence’.

Will the dwindling number of home phones ever grow completely extinct? Projections would seem to indicate yes. But here’s to hoping that there are just enough thoughtful people left in the world who can see how quickly human interaction has shifted and who will be intentional in developing habits to reclaim meaningful connection where it still exists. And here’s to hoping that trend will spread.

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Water People


We are people of water he said,

So unpack your bags and rest your head
No chasing home like an skipping stone.beach 040
Peace is the needle and hope is the thread.

Itching, wishing, sand follows you in,
Dusty shells decorate shelves therein. 
Known long shadows on bluffs and on shore 
Flushing, blushing wears proof on the skin.

We are people of water he said,
With salt and rocks and green overhead. 
No land-lock ever gripped us so tight
Stopping the glory of full wingspread.

Breezing, freezing, on north side of raw
Coastal storms whipping senses of awe.
Where is the thrill away from the edge?
Flowing, growing, this tidal seesaw.

We are people of water he said,
Here, no other ’til come the deathbed.
We will rise here and we will fall here,
Making our home and breaking our bread.

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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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Being Human

The irony of posting about this topic on a blog is not lost on me. My medium of communication is so riddled with flaws and difficulties as to make commenting on it— by using it— a duplicitous way to claim any kind of merit here; I get that.  But it’s what I have right now. And I am called to write.

It’s not a secret that I’ve battled mightily with trying to figure out a healthy perspective of using social media and technology. I’ve gotten on and off Facebook twice now. I use Instagram and Pinterest. I finally got a cell phone last year and admit to relying heavily on texting now. But I still am uneasy. While neither singing praises of SnapChat nor burying my head in Luddite sand, I have always been perplexed and fascinated by the conundrum of the internet and our place in using social media, ever since its inception.  I guess this is because social media serves as a mystifying and brand new intersection of two of my favorite subjects: linguistics and humanity… (humanity in the broad sense of “What makes us fully human?” or “How do we achieve the deepest parts of who we were created to be?” )

I’ve always been fascinated by language, cultural differences in idioms, how authority is shaped in words, gender differences in speech, how writing changed thinking and on and on. My senior thesis in a collegiate “ethno-linguistics” class required students to study speech patterns in a particular setting.  While my peers observed beauty salons, daycares and construction sites… I funeral-hopped around the county to see how rituals of death differed and what speech patterns taught us there.  Catholics have an appreciation for the macabre, see.

Anyway, with the advent of texting and blogging and status updates, I’ve been fascinated in the ways we allow these mediums to shape our thoughts, and vice versa.  As communication is a natural part of relationships, it’s also been fascinating (disturbing, surprising, disappointing, pick your adjective…) watching how the online world has shaped our humanity… and what it’s done to human freedom.

We are all prey to it; anyone who is being intellectually honest has to admit that the temptation is there to think “This would make a great status update” or you think of life’s moments in 140 characters for the tweet you want to send out.  I don’t think it reflects on whether we are “good” or “bad” or “cool” or “independent” to admit this—the science of neural rewiring is beyond our conscious control. (Please read: The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.)  I’ve noticed in my own life that I am much more distractible than I ever used to be and that real-life moments sometimes enter my brain through an internet filtered pathway: e.g. “Wow, this would make a great Instagram shot.” I don’t consciously read articles the way I used to, in a linear, intentional fashion, I scan them… processing key words or thoughts as needed.  Only rarely, when something is really important or evocative do I slow down and process it properly.

pope-paul-vi-quotes-10405What I want to accomplish with this post is very simple and very ordinary and very mundane. I have nothing new to say that hasn’t already been said on the topic… I just want to keep the topic alive.  Even if it means regurgitating my thoughts and previous posts on this subject over and over every so often. Or even if it means that I’m jumping around here or not being perfectly coherent, writing off the cuff. Because the subject is important. Because humanity is at stake. Yes, I truly believe that. The art of conversation is dying. The world, despite being more global and connected than ever, is more isolated than ever. Hearts are bleeding for true, human interaction and it is increasingly rare to find… and when found, it’s usually interrupted with texts or FB updates. We are a slave to our compulsions. Oh, to be present… !

Anyway, the last thing I want to say is a challenge to people like myself who are aware of the problem and consciously try to moderate the problem.  Often we tell ourselves that our computer usage is for good purposes: researching curriculum or getting ideas for events or creating booklists for our children or finding community where none exists in real life. I get that. None of these are inherently wrong; the internet is a beautiful, incredibly useful tool.  But there is a danger that us good, well-intentioned people have especially to spend so much time planning for the good life, reading blogs about simple lifestyles, and contriving just the right lesson plan… that we miss out on actual living. 

I don’t want my children growing up with memories of a mother who was constantly researching and planning how to be a good woman/mother/teacher… I want them to grow up with memories of a mother who was present… warts and imperfect planning and all.  I want my heart to be a resting place for them and this is not possible if my heart is flung scattershot across forums, blogs, Twitter and Facebook.

I can not create peace on my own. I am too weak and too flighty and too irritable for that.  But God has promised to protect the simple-hearted and I can certainly shed a whole lot of buzzing, screen lit baggage in order to cultivate a simple heart.

There is no magic answer or blog post you need to read on “how to live a purpose-filled life.”  It’s just the simple, ordinary work of everyday. It’s carving out silence. It’s being present. It’s surrendering. It’s living with a commitment to prayer and deciding every single day, all over again, regardless of our feelings, to shed off our selves and lean fully on Him. That’s it. That’s what makes us human and what makes us truly free. I would like very much to live in a world with as many authentically free humans as possible. And that’s why I keep raising a flag against something that has the potential to utterly destroy our freedom.

*Sigh* Maybe it feels like yet another Ellie rant, maybe it is. Shouting into the wind of hyperlinks and click-bait. But here it is. An appeal to seek the “peace which the world can not give.” I promise you won’t find it here… or anywhere on a screen. It’s out there, right in the din of bickering children and beeping washing machines and knocks at the door. Time for me to cross myself, shut the laptop and live it…

 

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