Category Archives: Bits About Life

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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Rheum

Some days threaten to ambush you before you have time to rub the crust out of your eyelids. Even if you sneak out of bed, fueled by good intentions to “start this one off right” with prayer and silence and meditation, the floorboards or cooling sheets betray you to the baby and next thing you know, the toddlers are begging for a pre-breakfast snack and the teenager needs help on a science project.

The sun hasn’t even risen yet but Day swaggers toward you like a bully ready to steal your peace of mind that you so carefully packed in a bright yellow lunchbox. So putting on courage and self-sacrifice like an oversized, ill-fitting shirt, you face him. Unprepared and maybe even holding a bottle of bitterness that you know to be contraband, you face him.  But you face him.

Crocus-borii300And you have to magnify the tiniest of good things to keep your feet forward and your cowardice and self-pity from lording your instincts.  Look there: two juncos flirting on bare February tree branches, flitter, hop— Day brings nothing but a new beginning for them.  And here, a four-year old who braved the threat of a mother’s  unfair rebuke and tentatively snuck under the corner of her lap blanket to read “The Human Body Encyclopedia” oh so quietly while she types this.

The low fog distilling the buzz of the city.

The hint of coffee in the kitchen air.

The sciatica that surrendered overnight.

A clean counter.

The opposite of so many’s emptiness that hangs like a noose around their neck.  A fullness so full, it’s only my heart that is still learning how to stretch enough to contain it, to love it, to live it.

An abundance of love and mercy that will defend me against the enemy, even if my eyes are still too crusted over to recognize it.

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Parental Duties in a Post-Mayberry Life

I found this old file on my computer from something I wrote in exasperation a few years ago. I updated it a bit and think it’s still relevant. In the next issue of Soul Gardening Journal, I have an article that deals with some of the specifics on how to raise children in our fallen world… hopefully that’ll be out in the next few weeks!
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mayberryDo your boys swim naked with their friends? Do you offer to give pedestrians rides to the other end of town? Does your town shut down and all the neighbors put on their Sunday best and walk to church together on the Sabbath? No. Our world is much more loose, suspicious and fast than the good ol’ days of 60 years ago. Without romanticizing the past, I think we all know that, as a culture, we’ve lost some of our innocence and our universally recognized standard of what is “good” and “right”.

Interestingly, so many conservative thinkers are unwilling to adapt their thinking. We shouldn’t become jaded or paranoid about our current world nor is it going to do any good mourning the loss of American values. But we do need to change the way we raise our children. From the beginning of time, parents have had the challenge of teaching what is good, noble and true to their offspring. This duty has not changed. But our methods must. Here are some examples:

Decades ago, it wasn’t essential to discuss pornography with children. They typically weren’t allowed in the “adult” section at video stores and bikini baristas didn’t exist. Today, if we ignore the issue of pornography in a misguided attempt to “protect their innocence”, our children will more likely fall victim to it. Exposure to pornography is not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. They don’t have to go looking for it. The most innocuous search phrases will bring it right up online. I even came across it on one unfortunate pro-life ministry site—they had been hacked! It’s on cable television and practically on network TV as well. There is no need to give explicit information to young children about what they’ll see but there is a need to teach them custody of the eyes and solutions for what to do when they find it. In my own family, my husband uses the book: Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids with our 9, 11 and 13 year old children. He doesn’t want to spend time doing this; but we live in a culture where it would be a dereliction of our duty if we didn’t.

Mayberry is gone. We also don’t usually want to discuss child predators or appropriate touching either. These are uncomfortable discussions. Yet good parents recognize that they need to happen.

I think that we need to start rethinking the discomfort we feel about children seeing graphic pro-life imagery as well. Now, I would never suggest that all children of all ages and all sensitivities need to be exposed to these signs as soon as possible. Indeed I don’t want my own children to see them! There is horror and concern about damaging the innocence of children. And these are valid concerns. Our world is fallen and it’s not natural to introduce children to the horror of killing, be it abroad or domestic. Yet we have to stop idolizing this idea that its possible  to give our children a natural childhood anyway. It’s tragic. But the world we live in has made it essential to adapt our techniques and to do the best we can.

A friend of mine was very concerned when I mentioned off-handedly some of the content of my son’s Confirmation prep program… how it talked about dating. She was ruffled that the Church would mention teenage dating at all!  That our children should be “safe” from such discussions in our faith communities. I responded to her that not only was I tolerating this discussion in the class, but I was grateful for it! No my son hasn’t ever had a girlfriend… but I am thankful that the reality of teens dating is being discussed in the context of the faith. I mean, he can go across the street to park and watch a couple of 12 year olds make out and know that hormones, peer pressure and stupidity coexist… but he will draw his own conclusions on these things if they are not proactively discussed by faithful people. We can’t get away from the fallen world. This is where we live and we have to help kids make sense of it in a healthy way.

Christians wake up! Pay attention!  We can’t bury our heads in the sand and go about our little, sheltered homeschooled lives! We have to be savvy. We have to be aware. We have to be prepared. Offering children a safe glimpse of the fallen world from the context of a loving home will do far more good to them than simply ignoring depravity and hoping you can keep your kids out of the mud for the rest of their lives. Because you can’t. And I’ve seen too many families suffer the consequences of what can happen when they were raised with a very rigid, limited view of the real world.

Give them the truth. Give it to them in all its horror and pain. Of course with sensitivity and proper timing. Of course with proactive love and not reactive punishment. But give the truth all the same knowing that your love will soften the blow. And trust in the mercy of God and the care of the holy angels to be the safe bridge for our children over the muck and mire that is inevitable on the path to Heaven…

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