Category Archives: Faith

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.


Self Esteem and True Humility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sometimes Everything Isn’t Going to be Okay.

(and that’s okay…)

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…


A Large Family Manifesto


* * *

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…

* * *

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


In Search of Gold Leaf

Another broken dish.
One more crumpled drawing.
Play things destroyed.
Furniture ruined.
Irreplaceable books,
Irrevocable damage.
The litter left behind on a full life.
Rose petals on Calvarian Road.
Will I join the fools dashing about?
Vainly attempting to hold and save all a fist can?
Or can I gather the pieces of this broken life?
I’ll bundle them in my finest red ribbon
And take them to market.
I hear a Child is there who likes to barter.
Offering gold leaf for souls in need of gilding.



Becoming Like Children

My youngest child is a bundle of sly giggles and untamed hair.  She responds to each new day in virtually the same way regardless of circumstances. She looks to me for guidance. She gets it. She’s got more figured out about life at 18 months than I do at 33 years. She wakes up. She eats. She plays.  She stacks blocks up and topples them over. She naps. She gets into mischief. She snuggles. She harasses the puppy and puts bowls on her head. When the world gets overwhelming, she totters over to me and lifts her arms up. She wraps her little fingers around my neck and holds me. And she buries her head in my neck to find her center. If I’m wearing a scarf, even better. She’ll lift it over her head—not to be silly or playful, but to seek shelter— and hide from the lights or the noise or the prying hands or the unfamiliar faces. If the opportunity presents itself, I will feel her little body relax and she’ll fall asleep like that, enveloped in Mama’s scarf. Life can get crazy or strange but she is okay as long as she is with me. She has slept with me on couches, on floors, in hospital rooms, in the rain, in the sun, alone and in crowds. Surroundings are unimportant when you enjoy the protection of a loving and capable parent.

Babies don’t have to think about life. They don’t have to entertain abstract theories about the meaning of suffering or the purpose of existence. They live each day with complete abandon and unfailing trust in their parent. There is no worry that lasts long. No fear that can’t be abated. Babies know they’ll get fed and loved and cleaned up… they can ride high in the luxury of a mother or father’s arms and know they’ll be carried safely through their day. That’s the genius of a child.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

—Matthew 18: 1-3

For the first time in my life (I’m a little slow…) I finally understand what it means to have the “child-like faith” that is talked about in the Bible.  It means living with complete abandon to the mercy of God. There is nowhere else to go. There really isn’t. As adults we let our own limited brains and our own damaged hearts trip us up so much.* We get lost in the maze of introspection, putting ourselves in temperament and personality boxes, trying to pinpoint our place in the universe. We analyze the meaning of suffering and try to clamor on top of the heap of trials that rain down on us. We worry and agonize about doing it right and stumble about in the wilderness. Crying. Angry. Depressed. Overstimulated. Wondering how to fix our problems and how to find peace.

And this is ridiculous. Really. I’m allowed to say that because I’ve lived this and I struggle to shake this still, every day. Living this way is ridiculous.

We have to look to our babies to understand what’s really going on here. You are a child and I am a child. We have a Father who loves us and wants the best for us. And a Mother willing to walk us straight over to Him. Mary, I want to crawl under your mantle and hide sometimes! He’s willing to carry us through everything if only we let Him. He sees us wandering miserably in our wretchedness and is simply waiting for us to reach our arms up. It’s almost amusing (if it weren’t so pitiful) to think that we could possibly have anything to worry about when we have a Father like we have. The Alpha and the Omega is our daddy. And we are babies in His arms… whom or what shall we fear?!

Will life be blissful once we surrender to Him? Absolutely, definitively NOT. Like any good parent, our Father lets us get hurt sometimes; he lets us grow up. He wants to teach us something. He wants us to know there is nowhere to go but Him. One day, I watched one of my children closely in a crowd. She was being restless and wouldn’t sit still with me on the blanket. I warned her she would get lost if she didn’t stay close to me but the allure of new sights, sounds and smells was too much for her. She scampered off, unaware that I was watching closely. Eventually, as I suspected, she got confused and couldn’t find me through the movement of all the people around her. And I saw her face tense up in fear and agitation. Now, you may think I’m cruel, but I didn’t rush to her instantly. I waited for just 20 seconds or so… letting her feel what it was like to be alone just until it became unbearable and I saw that she was about to unravel into tears. Then I swooped in and soothed her fears and eased her worry.  She didn’t stray again. At other stages in development, we let our children touch a (not too) hot oven. They only do it once… and they learn their lesson:  Mama knows best. Her admonitions aren’t for nothing. There is wisdom in her warnings but also comfort to be found when the blows of pain are felt.

Exponentially more-so is it with God!  He lets us get hurt. For our own good. For the big picture of sanctification and the knitting of holy souls and the catalyst to conversion that we can not see, so blinded we are to the experience of injustice and sorrows. The darkest chasms of physical and emotional pain are still all around us, but He holds us and nothing can harm us without His nod.

I like to think about what the greatest of saints were like… and even which living people I am attracted to most today. Is it the intellectual academic? The artist who is untouchable? The mysteriously deep entrepreneur?  The enigmatic free-thinker? The polished and articulate world leader? No. All the people I admire most today have a quality that the greatest saints had in their lives— a faith so developed that it’s evolved into a humble simplicity. A child-like authenticity and openness. These people radiate goodness. They draw you in. There is something about them that attracts you and the reason is because they have learned, they are living, the truth that the more we know, the more we don’t know. They are confident in their surrender to their Father. They have become like children. They are people you want to be with and follow because somewhere deep inside ourselves, we recognize that “theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”



*And really, this is a first-world problem. We have the luxury and the curse of too much introspection because the basic conditions on our hierarchy of needs (food, shelter, water, etc.) have been met. Ironically, the extremely poor and destitute in this world usually aren’t burdened with metaphysical conundrums. In some ways they are more free to achieve happiness in life because their circumstances are— either by choice or corruption— so simple.


Let it Rain

I’m pretty sure tragedies can be wonderful things. In a controlled, organized and predictable environment, there is no room for faith to grow. We think we have a grip on life. We think we are at home when in fact we are promised that this is not our home. I have a steady income. I have a safe neighborhood. I have healthy children. The list goes on and on. We think we have it all figured out.

And the fascinating enigma remains that He who is the Ultimate Giver, often chooses to give in proportion to our expectations of Him. Can we live in a reasonably happy way if we don’t believe in God? Or if we have tiny, stunted faith that we always try to protect and hide and keep safe in our carefully administrated life? Sure. Why not. You might even skate through life without experiencing a major crisis… or you’ll manage just fine the smaller troubles that come your way. But this isn’t a life fully lived. This is a neutered, humanistic life that ignores that we are body and spirit. Physical reality can not contain His goodness and we have to let go of physical realities in order to taste His goodness. We have to recognize that we don’t see how this will work out. How stability will be reestablished. How it will be paid for. How health will be restored. How relationships will heal. If we knew the answers or if we constantly had the right plan, had the right 401K, had the right therapist, we’ve effectively squeezed God out of the way and have placed our trust in finite, physical things and people, subject to finite, physical laws. One of the interesting things about Hope, is that it requires heroic effort. Anxiety, worry and fear come easy; they are automatic… but to make a concerted effort to trust takes courage, exertion and determination. It means unbinding our chains to the limited world and reaching for higher things. Making the decision to hope is rejecting the shackles of pride and a self-inflicted shrinking heart. Sometimes things happen that are bigger than we are and there are no obvious answers…plant-growing-through-crack-in-concrete

Tragedies can be wonderful things. They wake us up to our mortal nature. To what weaklings we are. To the very real fact that He didn’t say “Apart from me, you can do some things.” But that He thrusts us right into the brutal and beautiful mystery that “Apart from Me, you can do NOTHING.” (John 15: 5) Crises shake us out of our comfort zone. They remind us who our Father is. They put you on the edge of a precipice and challenge you with questions that threaten to stall you through your whole life: “What’s it going to be? Do you think you can handle this?  Who do you trust? Is your burden easy? Who’s in control? Who do you want to be in control? Why do you keep resisting me…?” And your choices are Self. Howling Wilderness. Or the Arms of Your Maker. I know my self is completely and utterly incompetent. And I’m terrified of the howling wilderness that offers only a wasteland of limited science, unreasonable relativism or depressing atheism to try and explain the world and the conundrum of suffering.  I just can’t buy what they are selling. Never was particularly interested in paying for despair… so that only leaves one Place to go. One Person who transcends physical reality and physical tragedies to offer hope that it might not be easy, but we don’t have to go it alone.

Faith has nothing to take root in if we’ve got it covered ourself. It can’t grow in a sterile environment that we’ve carefully cultivated. It requires room to breathe and move and assert itself into the unknowns that daily life will always and ever present.

What is left then but Fear? And what good is that? Death comes for all of us eventually. What is to fear but sin? So we have to greet tragedies with a peaceful, if not hospitable, heart. We have to reject that repeating old wound of Eden that was not pride and was not greed… but much, much worse: Distrust in God. Distrust that He will provide all things. Can we let go enough to let Him? Can we kiss our Cross and praise Him for providing the rainstorm our seedlings of faith needed to grow?


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Come and See

Jesus invites. He doesn’t impose Himself on us. Nor does He shut His door to us. Come and See. I think we have to model this a little bit in our own day to day. Our lives are not our own. It is easy to be holy all by yourself. You don’t have to be tempted to say something scandalous. You aren’t tempted to judge others. You aren’t tempted to uncharity. People make jokes sometimes about how great and holy we’d all be “if only we didn’t have to deal with stupid people every day…”

Thank God Jesus never thought this way. Thank God He got right down in the dirty mess of human lives. Thank God He didn’t spend all His time in the desert praying—even though that certainly would’ve been easier. Living life at room temperature is easy. Having faith in a vacuum is easy. Thank God, He never chose ‘easy.’ And neither should we. But where are all the people inviting us to “come and see.” What does that even mean?

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To me, it’s an invitation to authentic living. A calling to real life, warts and all. But we don’t like to share that. We like to share our cleaned up, sanitized version of our life, ourself. For example, as women, when expecting company, don’t we dash around for 15 minutes tucking away messes and tidying up tables before visitors come over?  And we do it with our interior life too. We hide the ugly sides of our selves. How many of your friends know you have an anger problem? How many of your friends know you are lazy or condescending to your children or financially irresponsible? No, we don’t want to be vulnerable with people because we are afraid of what they’ll think. We want to show people that we are calm and collected. Do we really want them to come and see?

When I was a young mother, I remember looking up to the women in my church community who are exactly where I am right now, years later… with several children and approaching the teenage years in parenting. And I desperately wanted to forge friendships with them. Maybe not so much that… as I just desperately wanted to “come and see.” I wanted not only encouragement that there was a light at the end of the tunnel of darkness that is toddler and babyhood, but I also wanted to get a clue into the real working, daily life of motherhood in a big, Catholic family.

(I’ve written before how I think so many of us come into motherhood unprepared for this vocation. The domestic and relationship skills needed to survive and thrive in the demands of wifehood and parenthood aren’t taught in our world in an intentional way. We go into marriage with a kiss and a prayer, stars in our eyes.  And the real, the gritty, the raw truth of how difficult it is can catch so many of us blindsided.)

Yet, very rarely are we invited to come and see. We keep up appearances. We may laugh about the Cheerios on the floor that the broom missed or the pile of laundry waiting to get folded on the couch with a friend, but very rarely, and to so pitifully few people, do we open our arms and invite them into our broken, mess of a life. We laugh with each other about how a shower is our only alone time, but we omit that sometimes we lock ourselves in our closet and weep at how overwhelming it all feels. We nod sympathetically as we express our struggles in trying to discipline our children, but we omit that sometimes we completely snap and shamefully yank their arms out of fury and yell in their faces. We talk about how marriage is all about communication and compromise but we omit that occasionally we feel resentful and bitter towards our men… afraid of what our friends think if we aren’t Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver.

We don’t really want to be vulnerable with the world. We don’t really want to invite others to come and see. And I wonder what the world would look like if we changed…

What if we were all real to each other? What if we made our lives accessible to others? What if we recognized that our lives are not our own and that human bonds are formed through the identification and empathy found in suffering… the one thing we all have in common all across the world? What would that look like?

loveI propose that breathing a bit of authenticity into our vocations would help prepare girls for what’s to come. We have the power—through offering the gift of living an open, authentic life— to form the expectations and preparations of young girls entering into womanhood. I’m not talking about hanging all your dirty laundry (literally and figuratively) out for the world to see, all day, every day. But I am saying that we ought to be courageous in our vulnerability. That’s right; I put those words together, courageous and vulnerable. Because that’s the truth. It’s easy to live in our comfort zone. It’s easy to sweep our messes temporarily under the rug while we entertain for a while. But the messes are still there… and really, it takes guts to be open. It takes courage to invite others to come and see how fallen we are, not for the depraved purpose of basking in our pity but for the sake of promoting true empathy, true authenticity and true love. Ironically, it is through the open manifestation of our weaknesses in daily life that the glory of God is demonstrated the most profoundly. How can others know how deeply we ought to praise Him, less they see His mercy and love reaching down to the lowest parts of who we are, calling us by name and making us new? That’s true love. True love is not some whitewashed entity that exists by living in the minds of others.True love has been defined and explained for centuries in many different ways. But ultimately, for all that love is and all that love isn’t, I think we all can probably agree on this: true love is inviting and it is real.

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photo 1Some of us may be tempted to feel like we are ‘bad Catholics’ if we aren’t feeling over the moon when we see those double pink lines of a new pregnancy. Then when we get around to announcing the baby, and people say “Congratulations!” we are thinking cynically: Yeah, really. But we can’t express our misgivings. We smile politely and make some joke about God’s sense of humor while inwardly feeling devastated. Our fears may be physical, mental, financial, emotional… whatever the case may be, we do NOT want to admit to our good, Catholic friends—much less to our hostile non-Catholic family— that the idea of more children is gut-wrenching.

So we all move along in this faux reality of a Catholicism where being open-to-life means everyone is giddy about being pregnant when it happens. But I think there are many of us living in this reality who have to constantly do some serious internal wrestling, trying to accept God’s will and trying to love yet another baby-on-the-way. The fear is sometimes crippling. We can’t talk about it. Will people think I don’t love my children? That I have a weak faith? That I’m a bad mom?  What about the duty to bear witness to the truth, to set a positive example of the Church’s teaching on openness to life? Yet after the weeks of pregnancy go on, we eventually become reconciled to the idea… and so by the time baby is born, or shortly thereafter, we are in love all over again with this new creation and we can’t imagine our lives any other way. Being horrified at the idea of yet another name-less, face-less pregnancy, is a completely different story than being horrified at another child in your family.

But I often wonder how helpful it would be, if we were a little more honest or vulnerable with our true feelings?! How many of us can raise our hands and say that we are testimonies to the fact that an “unwanted pregnancy” does NOT equal an “unwanted child”? I know I can.

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  When I became pregnant with my fifth child, I had just gone through two back-to-back miscarriages. I was in a dark place, mentally. The pregnancy was fairly rough on me physically. I didn’t feel a sense of bonding with the baby the entire time. I confessed to my midwife toward the end that I was feeling a “pre-partum depression” if there was such a thing… she said there was. I was terrified to go through labor again and I honestly dreaded his birth. Who could I talk to about this? My husband knew, but didn’t really understand. And I think one or two of my closest girlfriends knew. And while I wouldn’t think it appropriate to dump all this on the general public, I made sure not to share the misgivings, dread or fear I had with my friends and certainly not family members who disapproved of my family size already. I felt guilty. I felt like I was a bad person for feeling such awful things. Who dreads her child’s birth after all? I didn’t want people to think I was crazy, depressed or faithless.

When the time came, I prayed to God to NOT let the baby be born just yet. All the kids had the Coxsackie Virus, and my husband and I were on different communication wavelengths. It was a bad time. Yet, he was ready, right on his due date. I labored silently alone for a couple hours… I had just read something by Blessed John Paul II where he kept encouraging his readers with the word: Corragio! (Courage!) For some reason, that became my prayer, my petition… and I whispered it to myself over and over. It was an awful, intense labor, lots of back pain, lots of emotional blockage. When he finally entered the world, in that last push of courage, agony, blood and water… I finally cried. But it wasn’t over the joy of my new baby. I was weeping in relief that it was over. I couldn’t look at my son. The midwife put him on my chest and I felt his warm, wet body breathing in his first gasps of air. But I couldn’t look at him. I just was thanking God that the labor was over. I wasn’t ready to see him. I didn’t feel ready to love him. But I did. I knew I did, even if I didn’t feel it immediately.

Eventually, we of course, bonded. And in all honesty—despite it sounding trite—that child became the absolute joy of my life. He is the most amazing, lovable baby and both my husband and I truly can’t remember enjoying the babyhood of any of our children quite this much. What miracles God can work on hearts! Who would have guessed, that this little one was once just a dreaded theory… a ‘pregnancy’ for so long?! Others would be ashamed to admit it; it is scary to be vulnerable! It takes corragio to admit the truth! But I want to have that courage. I want people to know the amazing graces showered on my unworthy heart. How can people know the goodness He is capable of, if we can’t reveal a little bit of just how far He’s brought us? How can we testimony to women who are experiencing fear or doubt over an unwanted pregnancy if we are afraid to empathize with them? So often women just want to feel like they aren’t alone. They want to have hope that it will indeed be okay. How can they know that if we aren’t open about living it? As far as they can tell, if you aren’t thrilled about a pregnancy, you will never want your child. What pity! What a lie! The transformation of the heart isn’t just some spiritual assumption people talk about. It’s a living and breathing presence that I believe many ‘open-to-life’ Catholics experience all the time. We have to be more willing to share that glorious hope in our culture of death!

We are now expecting our sixth child. This is the very first time, in all my pregnancies, that I have felt such an immediate sense of delight, hope, joy and wonder at the life inside of me. (Usually pregnancies were met with resignation or some such; I always wished for— but never had— that Hollywood-portrayed instant excitement.) A friend pointed out that the news came right after I finished making a consecration to the Blessed Mother, on the feast-day of Our Lady of Fatima. I’d like to think it was her gift to me—that I can know such an overwhelming sense of happiness at being a co-creator with God. My love for God may be weak. But every now and then, I have moments at looking at my flock of children and think of the ways each of them have brought me closer to Him. Each pregnancy may be a temporary test of faith, but the story always ends the same: each baby born stretches my willingness to surrender a little bit more. Each baby born stretches my capacity to love a little bit more. And each baby born has carved out new dimensions of joy that I never knew existed before. In that, there is truly nothing to fear.