Category Archives: Bits About Life

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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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!

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, we the book: Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids with our 9, 11 and 13 year old children. We don’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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What I Read in 2015

Last year, everyone was posting their “Year in Review” on Facebook and I thought it would be fun to post my “books in review” for that same year.  What I didn’t anticipate was how hard it would be to remember all the books I read; I listed the standouts but am sure others were lost in my brain traffic.  So when January 2015 rolled around, I decided to keep a reading journal for the first time ever. And I’m really glad I did…  I just wrote the title of a book as I finished it and made a few notes for future reference.

The effect this had on me is two-fold: 1) I can clearly remember which books I loved and what I loved about them and have specific reasons why I would recommend them to certain people.  And 2) Journaling my book titles made me a more intentional reader. Last year, I was sad at how little fiction I had read so I made a point to include more fictional reading this year and am a better person for it …

Not included of course are picture books and read alouds I did with the children.  But in short, here is a literary tour through 2015 with The Bleeding Pelican..


The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It  This book was absolutely fascinating and a must-read in order to understand the struggle of willpower. It directly helped me to order my day better once I was equipped with a better knowledge of self. Super highly recommended.

Parched: A Memoir I read this book just before going to a mini retreat with Heather King. She and I have very little in common by way of life circumstances and choices, but in her writing I find something so authentic and raw that my woman soul can’t help but be nourished by her words.  The first book I read of hers, Redeemed, was even more poignant.

Outliers: The Story of Success Riveting. I think it’s honest to say that this is perhaps the most INTERESTING, non-fiction book I’ve ever read in my life. My brother-in-law was bugging me to read it so I did so with reluctance but for the life of me, I could not put it down.  What a master story teller Malcolm Gladwell is!

books2015The Hidden Art of Homemaking I was very surprised at the treasures inside this vanilla-sounding title of a book.  I kept taking pictures of little paragraphs here and there of parenting and spiritual wisdom that goes far beyond homemaking. It’s all about making the most of your God-given gifts in many capacities… really, really great.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing My first audio book I’ve ever listened to (that was just for me, not children).  There were parts I loved. And parts that were a little weird (thanking your items for their service to you before disposing of them).  But all in all, it was a good reminder to keep only in your home things you find useful or beautiful… things that make you happy.

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles This book was a catalyst for me to get moving and get serious about writing. Super, incredibly inspirational.

To-Do List Makeover: A Simple Guide to Getting the Important Things Done  Some good points, but it read like a giant blog series of posts (which in my understanding, it originally was).

Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education  This book is excellent for nerds who enjoy educational philosophy. It’s not a practical “how-to” or even inspirational homeschooling book. It’s just good, sound theorizing on the art of educating human beings… RIP Stratford Caldecott…

Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life the Diaries, 1941-1943 and Letters from Westerbork Alas, I got this from the library and wasn’t able to finish it before another user put a hold on it. I keep meaning to get back to it because there was something different about Etty that really drew me to her.  Another one of those women across the generations, with whom I have nothing in common, who grabbed at my heart and found in me a sister sojourner to Truth.


Interior Freedom  Best spiritual book of the year. I know now that certain books are right for certain periods of one’s life… and not right for others. I have read spiritual books before that scared the pee out of me because I wasn’t ready for them or that I thought were boring or dense at the time.  I wonder if Interior Freedom is one of those books that is a time sensitive book.  For me, at this point in my life, and with what my interior life looked like this year… it was absolutely perfect. Sublime. But I don’t think it would necessarily be perfect for all Christians everywhere at any given time…

Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart This was my second visit through this book and I loved it as much as the first time. Jacques Phillippe is my spiritual director and he doesn’t even know it!!!

Life of Christ Just when you think you know a Man. A story. A Gospel. Fulton Sheen comes along to make it all brand new again.  I’ve gained so many insights into the Life of Jesus through this book and am so thankful for it.  I highly recommend it to everyone.  Ever ancient… ever new.

Come, Lord Jesus: Meditations on the Art of Waiting My Advent companion this year, and hopefully for years to come. What wonderful thoughts each day had! I noticed that it was out of print just before Advent so am happy to see it currently available.


Little Women  Part of my ‘intentional reading’ resolution was to read some of the books on my own shelf that haven’t been read yet.  It’s a fantastic goal and one I’m going to repeat for next year also.  I realized that I never actually read Little Women and so I enjoyed going through it very much.  What soul food…

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency I read this book to get away from another one on my list. I wanted something light and totally out of the ordinary for me… a lady detective in Botswana’s adventures suited me just wonderfully at the time.

Tears of the Giraffe This is the second book in the above series and I enjoyed the tales very much. If I wanted easy, enjoyable reading, I’d happily continue on in the series.  And somehow, though it’s very light reading… there’s an underlying soulfulness to the tales that make you yearn for a simple life, a beautiful life.

Pilgrim’s Inn  Part of the Eliot Family Trilogy and in my opinion, this second book is the crowning jewel of them all. Not sure what it is or what it isn’t about the other two books, but Elizabeth Goudge is easily in my top 3 authors of all time because of these books.

The Heart of the Family The final book in that series…  really beautifully done. Among the story and descriptives, there is eternal truths to be discovered that offer more than just a beautiful story to be read.

Emma  I read this out of desperation because I wanted fiction and was disgusted by my lack of options… to the bookshelf I go.  I’ve read other Austen novels but hadn’t enjoyed this one outside of the cinematic showing of it.  Really wonderful to escape to a world where life’s biggest concern are social improprieties and whether there’s too many people for a ball…

The Red Horse This book is the one I was running away from all year.  I started it in February… and am still only a third of the way thru it. It was my ONLY goal in the fiction world to read this book.  But here’s the thing… The Red Horse is a timeless book that you can keep going back to. Granted, I don’t recommend letting months go by in between readings because it’s hard to remember who’s who and what’s happened.  But it’s timeless because it reads on a deeper lever than most modern literature.  Eugenio Corti taught me something really important as I read this book: I am not a fiction writer.  That is a gift and it’s not mine. He is one of the best fiction writers I’ve ever been privileged to read and while I thoroughly appreciate this book and what it is… it’s heavy. And my life has been such this year as to not want to be heavy or thoughtful on this level. I would recommend it without hesitation to anyone… but it does require some commitment of both your time and mental reserve.


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Sometimes Everything Isn’t Going to be Okay.

(and that’s okay…)

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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“Oh Lord! Please don’t let me be misunderstood!”

In a purple robe clinging to His freshly made wounds and with spittle dripping down His bloody face, He could’ve transformed that Crown of Thorns into pure jewel-laden gold and smote His enemies with the blink of an eye. King of the Jews indeed… but He didn’t.

One of my favorite things to meditate on throughout the Sorrowful Mysteries is just how often Jesus Christ allowed Himself to be misunderstood. Pilate couldn’t probe Him. The soldiers couldn’t break Him. Father forgive them for they know not what they do. He lived who He was very clearly and very transparently, but never made it His mission to make sure every single person understood His every single word. Nor did He ensure that every heart would be converted to His message.

Today, so many of us are crippled by the perceived need to make ourselves understood to the world. It’s something I’ve fought for years. If we are newly converted, we want to shove all our conversion books on everyone we know. If we send our kids to public school, or private school or home-school, we feel defensive and want everyone to know how carefully we’ve considered our choices. We need to explain why we go to the Latin Mass or the Ordinary Form Mass. Or why we dress the way we do or why we eat this and not that, making sure everyone knows that we don’t normally allow our children soda and cookies, but it’s a special occasion. Or that your house isn’t normally this messy but, what are the chances?!… your visitor showed up on laundry day. Oh to strengthen those tongue muscles by just. keeping. silence!

And then there’s the whole other, though related, pity the develops when we misspeak and spend so much faithful energy trying to explain what we really meant or backpedalling to make sure people don’t get the wrong idea about what we were trying to say. (Oh how I know this one well…)

Don’t misunderstand me (!), I think clarity of expression is critical in our world. And I think we need to be responsible in the perceptions we create to others with our choice of words, dress, lifestyle, etc. But we can not become slaves to the god of living in the other’s minds. And I think it’s sad that we feel the need to rationalize all our decisions to our pretend jury and explain ourselves over and over to our pretend judge. Somewhere inside us, if we are being honest, it’s clear that desires to explain and defend ourselves result from a misplaced need to be valued and respected by the other person. This is human and understandable. But we are called to something greater and it often comes at the price of losing human respect…

The truth is, we will be misunderstood. It’s a guarantee if you are living life they way you are supposed to be living! The best speakers, the best writers, the best communicators… all of us will be taken for acting hateful or self-righteous or harboring ulterior motives. For those who take great pains to be articulate in expression, this is a painful cross. But how absurd to think we can be greater than our Master!

There are a couple people in my life to whom I have sincerely wanted to create a particular impression. I admit it. God forgive my pride, but I wanted these people to think I was thoughtful, intelligent and holy. Invariably, He has allowed circumstances to be such that I am always somehow presenting the most foolish, inane, regrettable parts of me in front of these people. I accept it now. It keeps me humble to know that I can’t escape the fool inside of me apparently just clamoring to get out.

But the real pain comes from those whom we love the most. Our spouses. Our children. Our parents, siblings and close friends. Sometimes we do or say something to these dear ones and it causes confusion or hurt or anger. Sometimes they think we’ve deliberately tried to offend them or they misinterpret our motives. And sometimes no amount of defense or pleading or explaining can make it better… and we ache to know that we’ve been yet again, misunderstood.

We can not control what people will think of us. We can only be authentic and hope to live with a consistent ethic of life. It’s not our job to change the world or to convince others about how sensible we are or intelligent we are or thoughtful we are, not even those who know us best and love us best. Sometimes, despite pure motives, despite holy motives, we are asked to suffer the great tragedy of being misunderstood. Our job in life is not to control perceptions, is not to change minds or win converts like trophies on a shelf. It’s not even to be understood. People will hate you. And they will misunderstand you. And that’s okay. We have a One Man audience to please and He knows our hearts and will count all those moments as roses laid before His throne…

Why should we defend ourselves when we are misunderstood and misjudged? Let us leave that aside. Let us not say anything. It is so sweet to let others judge us in any way they like. O blessed silence, which gives so much peace to the soul!

—St. Thérèse of Liseux

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A Large Family Manifesto


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xjp1This is my firstborn. When we became pregnant, people were worried it was too soon after getting married. They thought we needed time to get used to married life together first. But we were open.  And he was born… forever changing our lives with a lightening bolt of a never before experienced love. He is a boy with a keen sense of justice. He loves to read and play football and is very skilled at making small children feel special. We wonder what great things will be in his future. Maybe he’ll go on to be a sport’s legend or open an excellent children’s hospital.  Maybe he won’t. Maybe he’ll live a simple life and just be the guy who talks someone off a ledge someday. And that someone goes on to start a scholarship fund for at-risk youth. Maybe...

DSC_0153This is our second son, born two years later. News of his pregnancy was received pretty well. We had been ‘reasonable’ in our two year spacing and everyone was excited for our child to have a sibling.  And he was born… piercing our hearts with a sword of intensity and love never before experienced. He is passionate and particular. He is a talented musician, an accomplished baker and a quick student. Maybe he’ll grow up to compose award winning pieces to a full, formal music hall. Maybe he won’t. Maybe he’ll just grow up with a boring job that he performs faithfully and get married to a decent girl and they live a normal life. Maybe he’ll become the father of three children, one of whom becomes a Supreme Court Judge that enacts major social change and is lauded for her intelligence. Maybe…

DSC_0042This is our third son. Upon announcing his birth, we received congratulations and then the gentle suggestion that it was time to ‘stop.’ Recommendations that my husband ‘get clipped’ were made. Three was enough, they said. And he was born, but even under difficult, imperfect circumstances, we found our hearts made shockingly new once again with a love never before experienced. He is a comedian and creative performer.  He is also unbelievably tender. Maybe he’ll grow up to become a holy and sought-after priest. Maybe he won’t. Maybe he’ll simply live a normal life. Maybe he’ll become a police officer and marry a woman and become a father. And his simple dedication to goodness and selflessness become an inspiration to everyone who knows him. Maybe…

DSC_0606This is our first daughter. According to the commentators, she shouldn’t have happened. She tipped us over the edge of ‘responsible’ parenthood but people soon forgave us because she was a girl. You finally got your girl! Now you can stop. They said. And she was born in a beautiful, loving, peaceful environment. And the stars danced and the world was brand new and we discovered a love never before experienced.  She is an artist. She is sensitive and fierce. Full of a gentleness and a spirit-fire the color of her hair. Maybe she’ll grow up to be an award winning scientist and find new ways of making alternative energies efficient, forever bettering the world. Maybe she won’t. Maybe she’ll get married but remain childless. But through hard work and sacrifice, she and her husband are able to save lots of money and help many others around them, blessing people in life changing ways with their generosity and maybe even foster parenting the child who will go on to develop cost-effective energy solutions. Maybe…

IMG_5962This is our fifth child. People thought we were fools when we announced his pregnancy. They gave my swollen belly scornful looks in the grocery store and told me I was irresponsible. We had too many they said. But I held my head high, proud of my children while still fighting back anger and sadness at their comments. If only they knew how much I loved them. And he was born. And our hearts cracked open and we plumbed new dimensions of love never before experienced. He is generous and loyal and in love with the living world. He teaches us about human dignity in a way none of our other children ever have. Maybe he’ll grow up to write groundbreaking stories and win a Pulitzer Prize. Maybe he won’t. Maybe he’ll just grow up and live a normal life and become a biology teacher responsible for igniting a passion for learning in his students and one of his students goes on to develop new life-saving measures for trauma victims. Maybe…

IMG_4917This is our sixth child. The “Congratulations!” were by now either half-hearted or completely nonexistent, to be replaced by concern and pity. One girl saw my children and a pregnant me on the ferry and said in horror, “Eww.” And I cried inside for her. And this daughter was born and time stood still and she opened our eyes and hearts to unparalleled levels of love never before experienced. She is a lover. She is assertive and bossy and adores animals and babies and fashion. Maybe  she’ll grow up and perform critical surgeries internationally with Doctors Without Borders and be renowned for her wisdom and compassion. Maybe she won’t. Maybe she’ll simply plug along in obscurity and become a wife and mom and raise a gaggle of children who test her and challenge her. Maybe someone will see her in the grocery store wearing her sleeping baby and swaying gently while comparing tomato sauce prices.  And this person will feel scales fall off her heart. And she might decide being a mother isn’t such a terrible thing after all and she decides NOT to have an abortion. And that child goes on to become a Purple Heart or Medal of Honor war hero, saving dozens of lives and having the gratitude of their families forever.  Maybe…

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babyThere will be another child next spring. The seventh. Who will this person be? Will he be brilliant at math? Will she be an athlete? Have a love for architecture or social justice? Maybe this child will grow up to found a new, important religious order. Maybe he won’t. Maybe he’ll just pick up a stranger’s tab in a restaurant one day and that man has a restored faith in humanity and goes on to serve the poor and pay forward the message of love. Maybe…

Desires to announce this pregnancy have long since been replaced with trepidation. Not because of the child. We know that despite the challenges of large family life, this one was fearfully and wonderfully made. He or she will introduce us to yet another new, never before experienced love that we wouldn’t be able to do without once we know it. We are tired of hearing how irresponsible we are. Tired of the pity, the worry, the disgust. Because they don’t understand. Love is eternal. And new levels and dimensions of love through each and every single one of our children have only proven to better our lives in a million ways. They are our future. They are the jewels of this vocation and we are grateful.

1935034_167437621840_840773_nPeople are worried because we don’t have a ton of money. But our children are always fed and always clothed and always sheltered and always loved. We are immeasurably richer than some of the wealthiest families in the world.

People wonder if I regret not being able to travel the way my heart has always wanted. Or pursue my personal interests with as much focus as I wish I could. Yes I do. Yes, it hurts. But it is a pain that I know is worth it. I know the journey of love experienced in this new being will far surpass any expedition I could possibly pay for. And no art project or novel or is worth my time, talent and energy as much as raising and teaching these incredibly creative, diverse people who love me back in a way my static creations can not. I have never met a woman who tells me she regrets having the children she did… but I have met many who regret not having more.
That’s not to say large family life is for everyone. It isn’t! But it is one way to live and it can be a beautiful way. People think there are too many people on this planet. This is not true. The resources are simply inequitably distributed and one of the best ways to solve this problem is to raise compassionate, just, critical thinkers who’ll go on to tackle these issues with clarity and intelligence.

IMG_0208On the other side of the spectrum, mothers of big families often give the impression that it is all perfect peaches and cream. Maybe they are afraid of letting their guard down because the wolves will begin the attack “See! Your life would’ve been so much easier if you just had fewer children!” They gush about how proud they are to have a baker’s dozen and give the impression that they were just born to have babies. Often such women have to consume themselves so much with defending the decision to be open to life that we are afraid of letting people know that it is a struggle. In fact, being open to life does bring heartache and pain and challenges that sometimes seem insurmountable. We don’t have it all figured out. Our bodies have been crucified. Our homes aren’t shiny and sparkly. Our relationships take a lot of effort and a lot of work. We are sometimes weak. We are often tired. But we are always committed to loving them the best we can.  And our trials are paid back a hundred fold with the joys they bring into our lives. This is something most people can’t understand.
But this is the privilege and honor of motherhood. It is nothing to be defensive about. But it’s also nothing to hide behind and pretend is perfect. We are real and fallen just like you. We aren’t more patient than you, more maternal than you or more pious than you. We simply kiss our Cross and walk up Calvary, not knowing how every step of the way will go or considering how we feel about it all the time. We just do it because we love. We put one faithful step in front of the other because we have committed ourselves to this love. And true love is only found in true freedom. And true freedom is found in the Cross. There will be agony and there will be sorrow. But we are sustained by the promise that the glory of the Resurrection is around the corner.  And that is why we keep saying “Yes” to Love.

“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”

-Mother Theresa

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Food Fight

Disclaimer:  This article is not addressing any issues families may face with food allergies and sensitivities who by necessity, have to eat a certain way. This is written with all the rest of us in mind.

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Living in the the least religious archdiocese, in the least religious state of our nation, it is rare to find the evangelical fervor and regularity one might find in a place like the Bible Belt. In the greater Seattle, WA area, we are passionate about coffee, political activism, a certain sports team and the great outdoors… not so much about monotheism. One thing that has significantly replaced the zeal people generally have for religion, is the zeal we have for food.  And while the Religion of Food has an especially high number of followers in the Pacific Northwest, this cult is not exclusive to us. You’ll find it growing and spreading everywhere, even without clean-cut missionaries going door to door!  The wave of intensity amazes me. And it also disturbs me.

The issue has practically become a moral one:  what kind of food is ‘right’ to put into our bodies?  Most sensible people can agree that the “correct” answer to this question is simple: healthy food. But with several brands of ‘healthy’ being peddled to the diet-hungry masses, it can be hard to discern what the specifics are of the “healthy” criteria: Should we adopt the Paleo Diet that shuns grains and lauds proteins? Embrace the Nourishing Traditions mindset of eating whole, unprocessed foods exclusively? Do the GAPS Diet? What about GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and sustainability? Is “organic” more important than “local”? Is soy good or bad? Gluten Free? Agave Syrup? Vegan? Quinoa? The questions and nuances are endless and dizzying. But any food zealot will be happy to talk you through them if you simply ask… or if you happen to give your child an Oreo in front of them. This is where the food fights get itchy for me. The amount of time and energy people spend proselytizing about food is reminiscent of the golden calf idolatry in the Old Testament.

After a lot of soul searching on this issue, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two distinct problems with how people grapple with food issues:

First, there is very often a distinct sense of elitism that comes from the special diet folks. For example, the Paleo diet is a fine thing for those who can afford massive amounts of protein and have enough freezer space for sides of beef. But it’s wrong to look down on the rest of the world as if they are inferior or uneducated. Of course, it’s uncharitable—in and of itself— to hold oneself in superiority for any reason at all. But the other component to this is that frankly, it costs a lot of money to support a high protein diet.

Similarly, it may also be a stretch for some people to buy everything organic. Sure, we’d all like organic produce all the time!  And grass-fed beef. And raw milk. And sprouted grains from our neighbor’s wheat field. But these are simply not options for many folks who feed their seven kids generic pasta once a week just to make sure everyone gets fed. So I think the elitist attitudes are damaging on a couple counts: it can become a sin of pride and gluttony (part of the original definition of gluttony includes being overly picky about food!), and it’s also damaging to the solidarity we are supposed to have with the poor as the food elitists can often come across as intimidating and judgmental. Discussing what a family is eating in a way that is laced with moral undertones or critical statements turns people off.

Now part of this is inadvertent I think. There is some primordial thrill we get when we brew our own kombucha or grind our own grain that makes us giddy and want to share the news all over social media. “Look what I did!” Reclaiming the domestic arts is an empowering feeling and that raw enthusiasm often gets mistaken for pushy evangelism. Which brings me to the next point:

The other problem is actually on the other side of the food fight. Only very recently was I able to pinpoint why I get so uncomfortable in discussions with food-zealot friends. I was amazed to realize that part of the problem is me, not them! I’m pretty sure I experience the same kind of feeling people get when they talk with homeschoolers!  (I’ve both home-schooled and had a child in parochial school and enjoyed exploring the feelings both those identities gave me.) When I mention that my children are home-schooled or make some kind of comment about our curriculum, I notice the non-homeschooling person generally closes up, becomes withdrawn from the conversation.  And regardless of my intentions, the listener feels defensive, or guilty, or some other flavor of discomfort. Schooling choices is just one of those hot-button, Catholic mommy issues that can unite or divide us. Like veiling in Mass or vaccinating our children maybe. We just get uncomfortable thinking that others are judging us— even if they would be bewildered by the very suggestion that this was their intention! So it seems to be the case with food discussions too. People shouldn’t feel threatened when I discuss living books or strewing… and even though I try to have a really common sense attitude about food (imperfect in practice), I still have to fight off my defensive feelings upon hearing a lively conversation about kefir or bone broth methodology.

So what are we to do?  How can we make peace when so many of us have such passionate ideas on what and how to eat? Some people think nothing of what they eat. Some people think the adulterated food industry is part of satan’s grand conspiracy to make us all unhealthy, sterile and dependent on the government. Maybe it is. Is there a happy medium? Does there have to be a victor in the food fights? And while we ought to be concerned with taking care of our bodies insofar as we are able and educated… aren’t we, after all, still mortal?

Once upon a time, people were brought together over a meal. The breaking of the bread is more than a liturgical moment… it has historically been the common bond of humanity to be united over sharing food together. I want to get back to that. I want folks to feel free to eat what they want in their own homes— practicing moderation and common sense— but not to shun the pizza offered to them by a friend, even if it has to be a private moment of personal sacrifice to do so. Regardless of whether or not you think that Monsanto has ruined our bodies by poisoning the food supply… they can’t have our souls. And we should do our best to keep our souls pure and our hearts earnest in uniting people in love and compassion. I’ll leave off with a bit of wisdom from an old Irish prayer:

May the kitchen be a gathering place blessed with family and friends where love is always the key ingredient.

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