Saturday, March 19, 2016

Kicked in the Shins by Lent

This Lent, I didn't plan much in the way of sacrifice, abstinence, or penance. Frankly, I have done the bare minimum to meet requirements on Fridays and Sundays, and otherwise gone on my merry way.

Despite my laxity, this season of Lent has still managed to kick me in the shins. And that's not a bad thing.

I suffer from intermittent bouts of self-love and pride, which fortunately have always been quickly quenched with a cold splash of humiliation.

I will start with the most recent experience first:

I pride myself on being pretty good in the kitchen, particularly with baking. I enjoy making snooty French confections most of all. Well, despite my skills with meringue and ganache, I managed to ruin a basic buttercream frosting! That day I was on the clock, trying to get vanilla cupcakes frosted for a church bake sale. I thought I would get all fancy and make a reduction out of organic summer berries, and fold it lovingly into my buttercream. For those of you who have attempted something similar, you know the outcome. My buttercream became liquid, and the fat begin separating. No matter how much time I spent whipping it, or how long I tried to get it to set up in the refrigerator, it just wouldn't return to that thick, luscious consistency. I ruined my frosting - and thwarted my attempt at a good deed - by trying to show off.

Previously, I had baked some pies for a bake sale that went over very well, so naturally I wanted to raise the bar higher and impress everyone. You know how I fixed that frosting? I DIDN'T!! I found a can of Betty Crocker's processed, hydrogenated chemical waste in the back of my pantry! I covered the whole thing with sprinkles, and called it a day. So much for outdoing my fellow bakers, and so much the better for my stupid, stupid pride.

Next comes mama pride:

I consider myself a pretty laid-back mom. I don't restrain my boys from experiencing the outdoors or getting dirty. That being said, I usually have the foresight to bring along a change of clothes wherever we go, because it is likely that the boys will get wet, muddy, sandy, or a combination of all of those. Anyway, we were recently at the zoo, where I let the boys play freely in a water fountain. I'm sure some onlookers thought we were nuts, and many parents were shouting at their kids to not mimic mine, but to me it was an opportunity to relax while my boys had some fun in the sun! I was thinking all kinds of silly thoughts to myself, like how I was so much cooler than these uptight helicopter moms, and how lucky my kids were to not have their "fun" micromanaged by bossy grownups. Because I had forgotten a change of clothes for the kids that day, I decided to let them wander barefoot and barechested through the rest of the park while their shoes dried. It was only after my eldest came to me shouting, "ouch, ouch!" that I realized his uncovered feet had got bitten by ants. And of course, my kid is allergic to ants. So we had to quickly leave the zoo, while my son went through he first throes (rash, hives, swelling) of his reaction. I felt like an idiot for not being more prudent and careful with my kids' safety, and of course ashamed for comparing myself to other mamas.

And finally, the pride and vanity I struggle with in my fitness pursuits:

So, I work pretty hard to stay fit, and no matter what changes life has brought, I have always made my routine a priority. I like to believe that exercise and clean eating are the answers to just about every physical and emotional ailment. I certainly did not expect to start experiencing heart palpitations just before Lent began.

It started with one episode of flutters that took my breath away, but I didn't think much of them, because they happened while I was kneeling in church. I have fainted in Mass once before, and I simply changed my body position and the sensation went away. I brushed it off as a fluke and went about my business. But as the days turned into weeks, and these flutters continued to happen, I became concerned that something more was going on. Could it be that all my efforts to stay healthy, fit, and strong were completely pointless? Was all of this for nothing, and I was going to die young of an unforeseen heart condition? The thought was disconcerting to say the least, and  I finally broke down and went to the doctor to get checked out. After some tests, an exciting day with a Holter monitor, and a couple of follow-ups, I learned that I have a mild tachycardia. The doctors say it is nothing to worry about, but it hurts my pride to have this blip on my health record. And a body that isn't keeping up to my standards. And to have to ask for prayers. And cause my loved ones to worry. And to lean on them. That is hard for me.

But that is Lent.
I didn't set ambitious goals, or really any goals, so I guess that gave God plenty of room to do His work.

Lord, keep working in me, please.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Dear CDC

Dear Centers for Disease Control:

Thanks for the recommendation that I get on artificial birth control or else stop consuming alcohol. I know you have my best interests at heart.

However, I think I'm going to keep both my fertility and my booze.

I fail to see how consuming a type 1 carcinogen whose primary effect is to:
flood my system with synthetic hormones to prevent ovulation

and whose secondary effect is to:
create a hostile uterine environment in which a newly conceived babe could be aborted

is best for women or babies. I'm actually feeling rather condescended.

Tell you what?

How about I continue to honor my fertility and read my signs rather than put a bandaid over any pathology or mute the conversation between my husband and I about family size?

How about we discuss the long term risks of using hormonal birth control, instead of putting a prescription in the hand of every woman who goes to her doctor with some kind of female complaint?

How about honoring biology and scientific evidence? We've got to stop divorcing sex from babies! It is completely insane.

And what about honoring "scientists" as the gods of Truth? When we give our bodies into the hands of these people and corporations unquestioningly, we lose the chance to learn and get real answers.

Ranty ranty rant rant! I need a drink.

Don't worry! I know exactly where I am in my cycle, and my husband and I make daily decisions about how to wield this amazing feminine power. I am being responsible, people.

I raise this glass to YOU, empowered Catholic (and non-Catholic) feminists***!

***No bras were burned in the making of this post

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My Brother's Peeper Keeper

Every time I read an article on the culture wars and our society's increasing sexualization of....everything....there are always comments about women's attire. Always the exhortation to "dress modestly" to protect the eyes and hearts of our menfolk. Well, damnit this grinds my gears, but not because I don't think we ought to help our brothers and sisters better themselves and admonish their faults, but because it makes me somehow responsible for someone's potentially deep-seated issue with lust. Think of the man who has looked at porn since childhood; his brain will respond differently to visual stimuli, to men and women, and alter nearly all of his relationships. His thoughts, conversation, and actions may all be bent toward scratching that festering but delicious itch of his lust. And you are telling me that wearing a maxi skirt everywhere is my duty to people like this? I mean, I'm all for dressing appropriately for situations - moral dilemma aside, a woman dressed like she is soliciting sex at, say, her kid's graduation, simply ain't got no class.

The tacky and immodestly dressed will always be among us. What to do?! While I am adorned in a long skirt (which frankly with my toned butt is not doing the men chained by lust any favors anyway) and cardigan, that "tramp" in the pew in front of us at Mass is showing FAR too much thigh. What can my husband do in the face of such temptation??

He can look away.

Yes, I just pinned responsibility for his thoughts and actions back on that man. My man. Your man. You and I. Miss Daisy Dukes isn't going anywhere, but he can move away or at least avert his eyes.  We cannot control the choices other people are making, but we darn well can control ourselves.

I struggle at times with letting my admiration of the human form  slide over into lust. Male, female - if there is a lot of exposed flesh, my eyes are riveted. I was in the gym when some big rugby tournament was on TV, and my treadmill was stationed directly in front of it. Almost imperceptibly, my pleasure in watching these masculine specimens hurl themselves at one another became an objectification. When I noticed it at first, I tried to laugh it off. Then I put myself in my husband's shoes; how would I feel if he were ogling beautiful women on TV? I knew exactly how I would feel - like I had been punched in the gut. Like the floor - and the important place I imagined I held in his heart - had collapsed beneath me. So I looked away.

I. Looked. Away.

I didn't complain to the manager for showing something provocative on TV, because who except a crazy person like me would be having an issue like this with a rugby match?! Lust can be so individual and take so many forms that it would be impossible to anticipate in one's dress or behavior what might or might not titillate another person. I also refrained from complaining to the woman on the treadmill next to me. It is likely that she was not having any issues whatsoever, though we were viewing the same game. If I had been unable to avert my eyes for some reason, I would have gotten on a different piece of equipment, or even left the gym. It was ultimately my responsibility to deal with my issue.

I think - and it's my blog so I get to say that often - that we should simply dress to suit the occasion. If we all hearken back to the classic rules of dress, this might not be so much of an issue. Of course, we also should embrace and respect the attire of other cultures, which may show more or less skin, colors, cuts, and fabrics. It is a wonderful and beautiful world, and someone struggling with lust could twist anything beautiful into fuel for their addiction. Or maybe, truly beautiful dressing - the kind that is an art, the kind that is so classy that you notice the woman and not her clothes - will serve to elevate everyone's thoughts among the murk and mud of our culture. So, I exhort you go forth and dress beautifully! Dress to impress! Dress in a way that suits the occasion, and that makes you feel beautiful! Because you are, a beautiful child of God.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Spiritual Weight Room

As another new year approaches, I am again bombarded with healthy recipes, sales on diet supplements, and quick fix exercise plans on my newsfeed and in my inbox. I read the public resolutions folks make to eat less, move more, and improve a myriad of personal flaws. And I just. Don't. Get. It.

I've never been someone who starts over on Monday, or vows to eat better "tomorrow". I only have this day, and it is far too short and precious to either beat myself up over mistakes, or miss opportunities to exercise my body, mind, and spirit.

You might think that's all fine and well for Miss Fitness to preach, but what do I really know about the struggle? About your personal struggles - not much. However, I can tell you what mine have taught me and maybe something will resonate.

The more I think about my prayer life as a weight room, the more sense it makes. The inertia, the setbacks, the one-step-forward-two-steps-back feelings. Also the joy and inner peace that hard, sweaty, uncomfortable work brings.

What lifting weights has taught me about prayer is this:
- You don't quit simply because results aren't immediately apparent.
- Overcoming inertia when you are out of shape is HARD.
- It can be so discouraging, especially in the beginning, when all you feel is soreness and burning lungs and self consciousness, and maybe your loved ones don't support you or care. You see no end to the suffering, you see no fruits from your labor. But go back into that weight room you must.
- Those first days back HURT so much. Actually, it is always going to hurt, at least a little.
- If it isn't uncomfortable, you need to check yourself and dig deeper until it is.
- It is much easier to stay "fit" than to visit the gym in random, guilt-ridden spurts.
-Results don't appear and gains don't stick if you aren't consistent.
- It is madness to train toward some goal and then stop when you get there. Exercise and prayer don't work like that. This battle will NEVER end. There is no rest till we die!
- It doesn't matter if you don't feel like doing it. You do it anyway.
- Guilt and fear can be powerful drivers, but a LOVE for what you are doing will make it a life long pursuit. It might take ages to get to that point but....what else are you doing that is more important?
- When you hear an inner voice correcting you ("kneel DOWN when you pray!" or, "it's time to put more plates on that bar"), DO IT. Don't hesitate. It is hard at first, but obeying that still, small voice - the one asking you to take the path of most resistance - is leading you to great holiness. And buffness? Maybe both. Sweet.

Do you have to choose the exercise plan that will take up loads of time, require lots of equipment, and wear down your body to the point of injury? Nope. You also don't have to commence a prayer life with daily rosaries. Take it from a total spiritual slacker: giving 15 focused minutes a day to the God of the Universe who lowered Himself and took on flesh to save me from death sometimes seems like.....too much. Pathetic, I know, but I am a weakling in the spiritual weight room. I have to start light and work my way up. An, "I love you, Jesus!" here, a, "have mercy on me, a sinner!" there, is sometimes all I muster in a day. But pray daily, I must. I must also obey - instantly - that small voice that calls me gently but firmly to better myself. To pray an extra Hail Mary, just because. To run for an extra minute even when my lungs are screaming. To pick up the rosary when I feel spiritually dry and physically exhausted.

This isn't a resolution for the New Year, or for next week, or for Monday. This is stuff for NOW because the present is all we have. It is the most deadly serious business, and it doesn't respect your calendar.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Don't Take Offense - Try This Instead

I have just read yet another blog post about what not to say to expectant mothers, mothers of many, couples without children, or mothers of few. I am wondering who the audience is of these posts, and whether the offending parties are going to be exposed to these lists, or whether they would even care. Are they able to recognize in themselves the offensive behaviour that sparks all these angry mama blog posts? I cannot imagine the well-meaning-yet-tactless people in my life reading these types of articles and/or taking them to heart. They probably have no idea that when they ask us if we are having more children, trying for a particular sex, or if we are done, that they are leaving us offended or triggering some kind of deep wound. I think it might be more sensible, if not more easy, for us as the mommies to have responses ready. No, I do not mean the snark-filled responses that I have seen on other blog posts. Lists of quirky, sarcastic things to say in response to the usual questions well-meaning strangers ask. Yes, I said WELL-MEANING! Why can't we assume the best about our brothers and sisters? Why must we think that someone is sincerey and maliciously probing for deep, personal information? Why must we take things so personally? Why not get outside of our own heads (and while we are at it, get our heads out of our butts), and use this as an opportunity for evangelization and charity? I personally love these opportunities to express my openness to God's plan for my family size. Sometimes I even mention that I use natural family planning! No, it is not a the business of the person who asked if we "are done" having kids, but are we not called to correct those in error? With great love? I find a genuine, honest sharing of information is positive and can be fruitful. At the very least it quiets a person down without shutting them down. At the very best, it can plant a seed of thought, and perhaps direct their dialogue to more appropriate veins in future. It may even lead to them reconsidering their thoughts on family size, family planning, and birth control! When they see our joy, and hear our positive yet honest responses, they may be pleasantly surprised. If we immediately come back with biting sarcasm, or make it clear that their comments are not appreciated, we may have lost that opportunity.

Here is my list of positie responses to common and well-meaning (however thoughtless) comments and questions about our family:
1. Are you hoping for a boy / girl?
- I will be pleased with whatever the Lord provides! More boys (in my case) means fewer new things to buy, but having a girl would be a fun and new experience! Either way I feel so blessed.
2. Are you done?
- I don't know what God has in store for us next, but we continue to prayerfully discern that question every day! (Could be the segue to an NFP discussion!)
3. You've got your hands full!
- I don't find this remotely offensive. Folks tell me this with a smile on their face every time. Sometimes I just say, "yeah. Aren't they cute?". People are just being conversational, and if we shut down every remark out of their mouth regarding our family, we are going to lose opportunities. Not to mention our peace of mind!
4. Was it planned?
- Ok, I admit this crosses a line for me, but what a great chance for an NFP discussion! If a stranger does not wish to hear me joyfully discussing my cervical mucus signs, then they probably should not have asked this question in the first place. Note that I am NOT sarcastic or rude when I respond to them, I give them cheerful yet honest information; "I track my fertility signs, so we were able to plan Junior's conception with the accuray of a lunar landing! I know my due date better than my OB!" I realize that not everybody will be comfortable with this response. In which case you can simply answer "no", and be done with that conversation. No need to let a senseless comment destroy your joy and ruin the rest of your day or week. Let it go.

Now, I have not addressed questions that come to those of us who have dealt with devastating loss or infertility. Obviously these questions open deeper wounds and trigger emotions these strangers cannot fathom. I cannot tell you what to say, but I use the same rules that I did up above in responding to family size questions. I am honest and I am cheerful. I do not hold back from telling people about my losses, if that is an appropriate response to their question. Miscarriage, stillbirth, and infertility are part of this world and a part of so many women's lives that it seems unfathomable that people these days don't realize it. Once again, you have the opportunity to plant a seed in someone's heart. Why not be brave and go for it? It seems like a better option than wallowing in personal hurt and anger over every perceived barb that comes your way.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, the tactless people are always going to be among us. Let us use their goofy questions as an opportunity to educate, evangelize, and show great love and joy. Don't let senseless blather steal your joy or ruin your day. Forget the lists of what-not-to-say to people who are never going to read them, and be ready with your own happy responses to the inevitable. Probably at your next grocery store trip or family gathering! ;)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Haters Gonna Hate.....on NFP Teachers

So you're taking Pre Cana classes with your beloved, and the time comes for the Intro to Natural Family Planning (NFP). A nice looking, middle-aged couple speaks to you about the wonders of NFP in their marriage; how they recreate their courtship and honeymoon every month through the practice of periodic abstinence (though now that they are in menopause those sweet, romantic days are behind them). They assure you that all 12 of their children were planned using the method and that they will be delighted to see you at the full instructional series so you can get better acquainted with your cervical mucus!

Let's analyze this couple's motives. Are they here teaching because:
a) The Diocese of Wherever provides them with a hefty stipend
b) They are sadists who enjoy watching couples writhe in awkwardness as they discuss the "post-intercourse discharge" guidelines
c) Something about the practice of NFP spoke to them in their marriage to the extent that they feel compelled to share it with others

I get the impression that many couples, even years into the trenches of practicing NFP, harbor some bitterness about their marriage prep classes in general, and NFP in particular. I, too wrote off my instructors as irrelevant, out of touch, and full of platitudes that could but scratch the surface of "real world" NFP. I was right....and I was wrong.

My husband and I started teaching NFP about a year into practicing it in our own marriage. This is why:
1) Our instructors mentioned that our diocese needed more teachers and thought we'd be great
2) We saw NFP work some good in our marriage - though it certainly isn't a magic bullet - and wanted to share that with others
3) We had a reversion testimony that made us unique.

Most teaching couples in our group either had a bunch of babies and were 40 yrs or older, or else came to NFP late and had 1-2, or else were young and SO, SO PURE and holy that it frankly scared us dirty sinners. My husband and I thought we'd be easy to relate to because we cohabitated and hadn't initially liked NFP.

These were our motives, and I'm guessing your NFP teachers were/are there because they love you, too! It's not the money. Trust me.

I think criticism is warranted when teaching couples are not presenting scientific data accurately or don't have the sources to back up their claims, or else over-inflate the good or bad depending on the topic. When we taught, there was a script, but of course we were free to insert anecdotes or place more emphasis in certain places. I knew our students were intelligent and I made sure our info was well researched. When I couldn't find an answer in our teacher's manuals I'd ask our own instructor trainers and do research online until I got to the truth.

What I couldn't do was tell you how NFP would make you feel, or the frustrations it would bring you specifically. Maybe the abstinence won't be so hard, but you'll be horrified to find you only get a good basal body temp vaginally (!), or else you have irregular periods or some pathology that makes charting extra-challenging. Maybe your spouse won't help you out, but demand you follow the "rules" all the same. Maybe you have had trouble with chastity and you are scared that abstinence will drive your spouse to seek illicit means for pleasure. Maybe you will never be able to find your cervix...

I don't think publishing all the possibilities for frustration when you are charting "in the trenches" makes good sense. For one, we don't have enough time to get into it when we are taking an in-depth course on female fertility and human reproduction, checking your charts, following up with you individually, and being available 24/7 by phone for questions. You are just not there yet. You won't know about the hard stuff until you arrive. You won't know the agony of losing a baby or the sorrow of infertility or the fear of conceiving when you just CAN'T right now until you are there. And when you are there, that couple that taught you is praying for you, and they will always ALWAYS be praying for you.

I've wailed and beaten my breast plenty about NFP over the years, but maybe not for the reasons you have. I don't know what your cross will be but I DO know that I taught with love and a commitment to the truth.

So whether you are in the trenches or just starting marriage prep, trying to conceive or trying to space, try to cut your teachers a little slack. Try praying for us, too.

Monday, January 12, 2015

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Cry Room

I was so smug. My super easy infant, my dapper husband and I, attending the Extraordinary form of the Mass, raising eyebrows at those who couldn't wrangle their children into pious submission. Raising our eyebrows even higher at those who brought their children to the Novus Ordo Mass and allowed them to scamper around on the pews, dropping Cheerios and ripping hymnals with wild abandon. "We won't suffer OUR child to behave in such a barbarous way! And we certainly won't bribe with food!".



That was before we had a 3 year old and a 2 month old. That's before our son raised the doleful lamentation, "NO CHURCH!", and wept during the entire drive - and attempted to escape throughout Mass.

He knows it's coming when I start styling my hair. Because I NEVER style my hair. He sees me get out my fancy clothes and cries of, "no church!" begin. I try to tell him that Jesus is going to give himself to us in the Eucharist and it is a small sacrifice to spend a couple hours in church when Christ DIED for us. Yeah, that line of reasoning has been shockingly unsuccessful.

So you know what I did this past Sunday? I went to what I've snarkily called EZ-Mass at my local parish. While the Latin Mass is held in a small, historic church with creaky wood floors and questionable air conditioning, the Novus Ordo is held in the ginormous church down the street, replete with a CRY ROOM! The place incompetent parents take their snot-nosed monsters with their noisy toys and Cheerios, right? Wrong. As usual, I am so so wrong.

This particular cry room is huge, has a wall full of wooden rocking chairs, an en suite bathroom with a baby changing table, an adjustable volume control so you can actually hear the Mass, and flat screen TVs that show everything going on up at the altar.

It isn't a place for bad parents or bad kids. It isn't a place where couples who are - hello - fulfilling their wedding vows by being fruitful are sequestered with their ugly spawn. It is a courtesy and a luxury this parish has been able to afford. It allows parents to bring their whole family to Mass and pray in comfort while their kids behave like, well, kids. Cheerios are ok. Quiet toys are fine. And wiggling and strolling around? That's cool, nobody is judging you in here.

This is my new little haven for this season of parenthood, and I humbly admit that I was wrong about the cry room.

I've got my Cheerios packed for next week.